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“Début” – Book I           

American Gilt – Début (Vol 1)

  1. In 1880’s America, women enjoyed few liberties or rights. They could not vote and were considered the ‘property’ of the husband or father of the home.
    1. How do you think this affected Sara’s life?
    2. Do you believe women have come very far in gaining their independence?
    3. How have these rules affected your life?
  2. Men were the owners of most property with the exception of dowager widows. Upon the death of the head of the household, all property was transferred to the eldest male in the family, even if he was a distant cousin. Mrs. Whiting was a dowager widow, bequeathed real estate and money upon the death of her husband, Augustus Whiting.
    1. How do you think this affected Sara’s upbringing?
    2. How do you think this affected Oliver’s upbringing and outlook on a career?
    3. Do you have any experience in regard to property settlements or estate transfers?
    4. Do you believe any legal will and testaments were impacted by your birth order or gender?
  3. Sara was raised with the understanding that she would marry. This was considered her ‘vocation’ and she was trained specifically with this goal.
    1. How do you think she felt about her ‘Vocation of Marriage’ at the beginning of the book?
    2. Did her opinion change during the story?
    3. Do you feel women today are affected by these long-standing traditions?
  4. In the 1880’s marriages among aristocrats were arranged for the purpose of wealth or royal titlEngagements were prearranged and approved by both families before any formal announcement was made.
    1. Why do you think Mr. and Mrs. Belmont, Oliver’s parents, objected to his engagement to Sara?
    2. Why do you think Mrs. Whiting insisted on upholding Oliver’s marriage proposal?
    3. How has social status, wealth or money affected your marriage considerations?
  5. Mrs. Astor was widely considered the queen of society. She wielded the power to blacklist a person or welcome them into the fold of the set.
    1. How do you think her fondness for Sara, was a benefit or detriment to our heroine?
    2. Do you believe her friendship with Mrs. Astor’s daughter, Carrie, was a benefit or detriment?
  6. As Sara makes her debut into society, she also ushers in her own maturity and sexuality. Forbidden to go out in public alone, Sara must always have a chaperone.
    1. Why do you think Sara broke protocol and met with William K. Vanderbilt?
    2. How do you think Sara and William’s picnic affected Sara’s outlook on this protocol?
    3. How do you think this event impacted her afternoon in George Rives’ apartment?
    4. Have you ever experienced strict rules of conduct? How do you react to these rules?
  7. Sara is friends with Edith Jones, who later became Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist Edith Wharton. At a time when a career as an author was frowned upon for women, Edith insisted on using her given name and not assuming a male pen name.
    1. What hardship did Edith endure by insisting on a career as a writer and authoring her stories and novels in her own name?
    2. Generally speaking, what impact did Edith’s decision have on women and women writers?
  8. Oliver Belmont was brought up in a home of great prestige and wealth. The grandson of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, who was renowned for commanding the naval expedition that opened Japan in 1853-54. Oliver was the nephew and namesake of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the victor of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. As a result, Oliver was guided to follow a life in the navy.
    1. How do you feel his upbringing affected Oliver’s attitude toward a career?
    2. Do you think it was a benefit to come from such historical lineage or a detriment?
    3. Do you think this affected Oliver’s desire to marry Sara?
    4. Have you ever been impacted by such demands in your life?
  9. Sara receives a proposal from the much sought after James Waterbury, yet she is only interested in him as a dancing partner. Oliver is away in the navy, yet Sara thinks only of him.
    1. Do you think Sara should have accepted Mr. Waterbury’s proposal?
    2. Do you agree with her choice to wait for Oliver and fulfill her quest for ‘true love’?
    3. Have you ever been torn between two loves and what was the outcome of yourdecision?
  10. Oliver resigns from the navy while on leave in FrancHe then proposes to SarAs a result he is sent to Bremen, Germany to learn the banking trade at the House of Rothschilds. While there he becomes fond of absinthe, a liquor with strong hallucinogenic properties.
    1. Do you think Oliver was justified in ‘drowning his sorrows? Why or why not?
    2. Do you think Oliver’s penchant for absinthe has/will have an impact on his relationship with Sara?
    3. Have you or someone you know been in love with an addict?

“Absinthe” – Book Two

American Gilt – Absinthe

  1. As Sara and Oliver begin their honeymoon in Paris, the future looks happy and carefree.
    1. In light of the challenges of their engagement, how do you feel about the events in Paris?
    2. Sara is now ‘Mrs. Belmont’. Do you think her new position in society will work to her advantage?
  2. Whiting and Sara’s older sisters Jane and Milly, plan on joining the newlyweds on their honeymoon to ‘announce them to French society’. Sara is the ‘baby’ of the family as she is the youngest by 14 years
    1. Why do you think Oliver initially agreed to the living arrangements?
    2. Do you have any experience where your family or personal loyalties collided with other duties or alliances?
  3. After a few weeks, Oliver starts going out on his own.
    1. Do you think Oliver is justified in wanting to escape the Whitings?
    2. How do you feel about the clubs he is patronizing?
    3. How do Oliver’s activities reflect on Sara?
  4. Absinthe becomes a favorite drink of Oliver’s, and he joins the ranks of Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway, among others.
    1. Do you think the liquor is affecting his personality?
    2. Is absinthe the root of their marital problems? Why or why not?
  5. As the situation escalates into violence, how do you feel about Oliver’s behavior toward Sara?
    1. Do you think Oliver’s anger is justified?
    2. Do you think Oliver truly loves Sara?
    3. Have you ever been in a situation like this?
  6. Sara travels to New York City from Paris accompanied only by Bridget, her maid, to attend the Vanderbilt Fancy Ball.
    1. How do you feel about Sara’s decision to take this trip, with only Bridget as a companion, taking into consideration the year – 1883?
    2. Do you think Sara is justified in attending the ball alone?
    3. Have you ever traveled alone without your family’s knowledge?
  7. Alva Vanderbilt refuses to acknowledge Mrs. Astor or Carrie, not inviting them to the ball of the season.
    1. Was Alva justified in her refusal to send an invitation until Mrs. Astor came to her home and acknowledged her into the ‘400’ set?
    2. How do you think this affected the future of upper-class society?
  8. While Oliver is reportedly seen in Spain traveling with a French dancer, Sara discovers she is pregnant with his child.
  9. What course of action do you think Sara should have taken after finding herself pregnant and abandoned by her husband?
  10. What do you think Oliver should have done upon getting word of the pregnancy?
  11. At this point, do you think there is a chance for the couple to work through their differences? Why or why not?
  12. Mrs. Whiting orders the family back to Newport on the advice of Sara’s doctor.
    1. Do you think Mrs. Whiting’s concern for Sara, and her anger with Oliver, entitled her to accept Sara’s telegrams and respond to them as if she were Sara?
    2. Do you think Sara should have waited for Oliver to return?
    3. What do you think would have happened if Sara had received the telegrams herself?
  13. Mrs. Astor cautions Carrie to keep her distance from the Whitings and the Belmonts.
    1. Do think this was good advice?
  14. How do you think Mrs. Astor’s fondness for Sara will help her reputation?
  15. Do you think Mrs. Astor’s favoritism will hurt Sara’s position?
  16. How do you think the Belmonts’ attack will affect Sara’s reputation?
  17. Upon the Whitings’ return to Newport, R.I., Mrs. Whiting goes to the New York World newspaper with the story of Oliver’s abandonment.
    1. Do you think this was the right thing to do?
    2. Do you think Mrs. Whiting should have discussed her plan with Sara?
    3. The newspaper reports made the situation publiDid this help or hurt Sara?
  18. Sara tries to sneak out and meet with Oliver to have a personal discussion.
    1. Do you think Mrs. Whiting was right in blocking the meeting?
    2. What do you think would have happened if Oliver and Sara had been able to talk without the influence of their parents?
    3. Do you think Sara should have stood up to Mrs. Whiting and gone to the meeting in spite of her mother’s objections?
  19. Oliver demands Sara join him at his new estate, Oakland.
    1. Do you think Sara should have obeyed Oliver and joined him at Oakland?
    2. Are Sara’s concerns for her safety and that of her unborn child justified?
    3. Do you believe Oliver truly wants Sara to join him?
  20. By the end of 1883, instead of celebrating her wedding anniversary, Sara is facing divorce proceedings.
    1. Do you think Sara can regain her place in society despite her status as a divorcée and unwed mother?
    2. Is Sara’s consideration of suicide a betrayal of her baby, Natica?
    3. Have you ever felt trapped by a seemingly hopeless situation? 

“Scandal” – Book Three

American Gilt – Scandal

  1. In chapter one, Sara finds herself shunned by society because of her divorce.
    1. Do you think Sara’s family is aware of how hopeless she feels?
    2. How did you feel about Sara’s decision to overdose on laudanum?
    3. Do you think Mrs. Astor should have done more to help Sara?
  2. Oliver continues life as usual without any social repercussion.
    1. Do you think Oliver learned anything from the scandal?
    2. Has society changed much in regard to sexism?
    3. What repercussion does Raymond’s death have on Oliver’s conduct?
  3. Although Oliver and his family have publicly declared Natica is not Oliver’s daughter, he continues to show interest in her.
    1. How did you feel about him watching her over the years? How do you feel about him sending gifts in spite of Sara’s objections?
    2. Do you think he regrets his decision to disown Natica?
    3. If given the chance, do you think he would have been a good father?
  4. George Rives shows romantic interest in Sara.
    1. Do you think Sara loved George?
    2. Do you think Sara married him to escape the stigma of divorce?
    3. Carrie tried to persuade her mother to ease up on SarHow did you feel when Mrs. Astor’s divorced daughter is welcomed into society without repercussion in spite of outrageous behavior and publicity?
  5. Sara catches George with a mistress, a socially accepted dalliance for men.
    1. Do you think Sara should have left George?
    2. How do you feel about the social double-standard between the sexes?
    3. Oliver and Alva have an affair. Does wealth affect their social standing in light of such behavior?
  6. Plagued by heart disease and typhoid, among other health hazards of the day, the Whiting family loses many members.
    1. How did you feel about Mrs. Whiting’s deathbed apology?
    2. What did you think about Gus’s engagement to Miss Clagnett? His death?
    3. How did you feel about Millie’s wedding, then sudden death? How do you think Sara and Jane felt after so many family deaths?
  7. Charlotte is raised by her Aunt Sara and Uncle GeorgAfter she marries the focus moves to Natica’s début.
    1. Suspicious about Oliver, how do you think finding out the truth of her birth father affected her?
    2. Why do you think Natica is reluctant to marry? How do you feel about her attraction to Michael Vincente versus William Burden?
    3. Why do you think Natica is plagued by illness? Do you think it’s physical or emotional?
  8. After years of avoiding Oliver, Natica finally confronts him.
    1. How did you feel about her confronting Oliver?
    2. Would you have had the courage for such a confrontation?
    3. Do you think Natica and Oliver could have rebuilt their relationship?
  9. A loose gas fixture causes Natica’s death, but the coroner suspects suicide.
    1. Do you think it was an accidental death or suicide?
    2. Do you think Natica wanted to have a baby?
    3. Was Natica happily married? Do you think she loved Will Burden?
  10. The social set possesses tremendous wealthand seeks interests and entertainment to occupy their time.
    1. What do you think about Oliver and William’s animal menagerie?
    2. How did you feel about the guest of honor being a chimpanzee?
  11. After an attack of appendicitis, Oliver dies suddenly.
    1. Were you sad about his death? Did you feel sad for Oliver never getting to know Natica? Why or why not.
    2. Oliver sees Natica in a vision before passing. How did you feel about this? Do you believe father and daughter were reunited in death?
    3. What do you think about the imposter making claim on Oliver’s money?
  12. After so much death and loss, Sara struggles for strength to find joy in life.
    1. How do Bayard and Mildred help her move on?
    2. How does George help?
  13. After Sara’s death, Swanhurst is bequeathed to Mildred.
    1. Do you think Sara made a mistake by including the Newport Art Association in her will, instead of stipulating the house go to Bayard in the event of Mildred’s death?
    2. Do you think Mildred was remiss by not changing her own will or otherwise securing Swanhurst for future generations?
    3. How do you think Bayard felt about losing Swanhurst to the Newport Art Association?