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A Novel

  • reading group guide
With "some of the greatest words ever written on thwarted love since Romeo and Juliet" (The Times, London), Clara reignites, from between the lines of history, the great love of Robert and Clara Schumann.
This impassioned novel gives voice to Clara Wieck Schumann, one of the most celebrated pianists of the nineteenth century, who today is best remembered not for her music but for her marriage. "How often you must purchase my songs with invisibility and silence, little Clara," says Robert, and, for Clara, the price of his love is dear. Shrouded in alternate layers of music and silence, the Schumann union was anything but a lullaby, marked by her valiant struggle for self-expression and his tortuous descent into madness.
With Clara, a deeply moving fugue of love, solitude, and artistic creation, Janice Galloway "has taken a melodic line and scored it for an orchestra" (The New York Times Book Review).
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 448 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743238533 | 
  • February 2004
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Seit ich ihn gesehen

Since first I saw him

Half-light and rain.

The path of the street shines along the rim of guttering. Look up.

Behind the glass, a girl, a little girl, a young woman, maybe, is looking back. She can't see you, she won't object. You can look as long as you like. The light is bad but she's distinct enough, hair pulled back and her eyes full almond shapes, the size of bay leaves. Wide. She has a generous lower lip, a gypsy mouth; skin pale as cheese. You see braids and ribbon, the sheen of dark hair slatted with something that might be pearls, can almost smell the lavender, pomade. Nine,... see more

Reading Group Guide

Janice Galloway, Clara
1. Were you familiar with the real life story of any of these characters? If so, how did you find the novel's treatment of them? If not, were you inspired to learn more about them?
2. What kinds of details are provided in the first scene? As Clara looks at her reflection in the water, how does the author paint a striking and full picture of our heroine? "Touch [the surface] and it breaks. For all that, it's not fragile. Watch and what scatters on the water's surface comes whole again, the same as before." How do images like this shed light on what is to come for Clara?
3. In what ways does the author's writing style -- succinct, controlled prose that evokes startling images -- reflect the world of the novel itself? How does the contained yet beautifully evocative writing help to reveal the nature of Clara's playing?
4. In the early 1800s, the stereotypical crazy man -- a sex-crazed maniac akin to a beast -- is the only version of insanity or mental illness that people recognized. In what ways do these popular conceptions of "madmen" hinder Clara from seeing the extent of her husband's illness? How do you think Robert's life (and therefore Clara's life) might have been different had he been born in modern times? Do you think he would be diagnosed with a mental illness?
5. Robert Schumann was, if not a musical genius, then certainly a prodigious talent in his own right, and yet he was an utter failure as a conductor. How does his exp see more

About the Author

Janice Galloway
Photo Credit: Michael Wolchover



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