Reading Group Guide
A Touchstone Reading Group Guide
The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy
By Elizabeth Aston
1. Alethea makes a hasty marriage to Mr. Napier to stop wagging tongues. Why doesn't she flee to Pemberley, her family's estate, when her marriage takes a frightening turn? Why doesn't she confide in Fanny, with whom she has a good relationship? Why does she choose to travel all the way to Italy, masquerading as a man instead? How much of a role does her desire to travel and be free play in her dangerous decision?
2. Both before and after leaving her husband, Alethea seeks the support of her sisters. Yet both Letty and Georgina refuse to believe Alethea's stories of her husband's cruelty. Why are they so adamant that Alethea must be lying or otherwise blowing things out of proportion? How does insisting Alethea return to Mr. Napier benefit the two sisters?
3. Alethea's journey to Italy forces her to become tougher and more intrepid, but she also finds the trip to be an opportunity to blossom and grow into womanhood while seeing sights that many of her generation could only read about. How does the journey affect her coming-of-age?
4. If you've read Jane Austen's novels--Pride and Prejudice in particular--do you think Elizabeth Aston has captured Austen's style and spirit?
5. Alethea and Titus seem to be well matched in many ways. Early on, we learn that they have similarly unconventional experiences with and thoughts on marriage. Titus slept with and supposedly loved a married woman for years. Alethea had premarital sex with her first love, then married Mr. Napier, whom she later ran away from. How much of a role do these atypical experiences have in Titus's decision to keep Alethea's secret when he first discovers her masquerading as Mr. Hawkins?
6. The author chooses many names with significance in this novel. For example, Titus's yacht is named the Ariadne, after the mythical daughter of King Minos, who was wronged by her lover and then rescued and married by the god Dionysus. There is also Titus (like Titan) Manningtree and Diana Gray. What other names in the novel have meaning to you?
7. Both art and music play a large role in this novel. Alethea's obsession is music--and it leads to her downfall as an abused wife. Titus becomes obsessed with a painting, which leads him into a duel and almost to his death. In fact, it isn't until Titus nearly kills a man that he finally comes to his senses about the direction his life has taken. Alethea notes, at one point, that music is not an accomplishment but an art in and of itself. How do the two disciplines relate to each other? How do they relate to these two characters?
8. There are many instances of first impressions leading characters astray in the novel. Alethea was so blinded by Penrose's charm that she mistook him for an honorable man. She similarly allowed herself to be charmed by Mr. Napier, who seemed sensitive and thoughtful before marrying her, and proving himself a brute. Titus instantly assumed that Alethea was cavorting as a man for fun, while she mistakes his later concern for nosiness and conventionalism. Can you think of other instances where characters turned out to be not what they seemed? Have you ever been misled by your first impression of someone? How did you resolve your mistake?
9. Why does Alethea agree to marry Titus in the end, when he's made it clear that he'll live with her, forever loyal, regardless? Why do you think the convention of marriage has persisted? How have the reasons to marry changed over the years?
10. In the first of Elizabeth Aston's novels, Mr. Darcy's Daughters, we were introduced to the five Darcy girls. Does The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy fulfill your expectations of the kind of adult (and wife) each girl might turn out to be? What would you like to see happen in a third novel?