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The Favored Child

A Novel
By Philippa Gregory

Reading Group Guide

    The Favored Child
    By Philippa Gregory
    Reading Group Discussion Guide

    INTRODUCTION
    Description

    The Wideacre estate is bankrupt. The villagers are living in poverty and Wideacre Hall is a smoke-blackened ruin. But, in the Dower House, two children are being raised in protected innocence.
    Equal claimants to the estate, rivals for the love of the village, they are tied by a secret childhood betrothal but forbidden to marry. Only one can be the favored child. Only one can inherit the magical understanding between the land and the Lacey family that can make the Sussex village grow green again. Only one can be Beatrice Lacey's true heir.
    Sensual, gripping, sometimes mystical, The Favored Child sweeps the reader irresistibly into the eighteenth century, a revolutionary period in English history. This rich and dramatic novel continues the saga of the Lacey family begun in Philippa Gregory's bestselling and enduringly popular Wideacre.
    DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
    1. How would you describe Julia Lacey's feelings toward her cousin, Richard, and his toward her? How does the fact that they are -- in fact -- siblings color your impressions of their childhood alliances and squabbles?
    2. Why do Richard's failures at equestrian pursuits, music, and his studies intensify his desire to become the squire of Wideacre? What explains his penchant for failure, and how does this tendency affect his reputation among the villagers of Acre and his influence on the land?
    3. "We know about the Laceys ...you rob the poor of reapers' rights. You don't pay your tithes. You set the soldiers on young men." How does the Laceys' past stewardship of Wideacre continue to impose itself on Richard and Julia? How would you describe their concerns for the land, and how do those concerns change as they grow older?
    4. What role do dreams play in Julia's everyday life? How do dreams connect Julia to the private experiences of her biological mother, Beatrice? To what extent are Julia's dreams responsible for saving the villagers in Acre from death and destruction? What is the source of these dreams?
    5. How does the return of John MacAndrew alter family dynamics at Wideacre? How do Richard and Julia feel about John's determination to share profits from the land with the village of Acre?
    6. "I was here the night of the fire...I led them up to the hall, to burn it down, and to murder Beatrice. I'm Ralph Megson, her lover from the old days, and her killer. In those days they called me the Culler." Why doesn't Julia reveal Ralph Megson's true identity to her family once she learns of it? Why does Ralph's presence at Wideacre threaten Richard?
    7. What explains Richard's obsession with being the "favored child" at Wideacre? To what extent is the unusual entailment of Wideacre, in which Julia and Richard share equal rights as the joint squires of the estate, conducive to the kind of jealousy, suspicion, and physical violence that Richard exhibits toward Julia?
    8. What does John MacAndrew mean when he tells Julia and Richard: "Both of you bred very true. All you care for is this filthy estate, all you chase is your own lusts. You are both Beatrice's true children."? To what extent was Richard and Julia's incestuous entanglement foretold by their mother and father's own incestuous transgressions?
    9. What does Julia's determination not to impose another squire on the people of Acre reveal about her character? Why do you think she is unable to see Richard for the person he truly is until after the tragic deaths of Celia and John?
    10. "I knew what I had to do: to set myself free, to set Acre free, to finish the Laceys and to destroy Richard." How is Julia's decision to give up her newborn daughter, Sarah, motivated by the various concerns she identifies? In what way does her abandonment of her baby daughter promise to alleviate the legacy of incest and land troubles at Wideacre?

    ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
    1. Does the sibling rivalry between Julia and Richard seem all-too familiar? To read more about the causes of sibling rivalry and ways to alleviate this common childhood condition, visit: http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/sibriv.htm
    2. British land law in the era of The Favored Child is radically different from contemporary land law in America. To learn more about the specifics rules governing Julia and Richard's rights to Wideacre, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fee_simple
    3. The estate of Wideacre is fictional, but it's set in the real world in Sussex, England. If you're interested in paying a visit to the region that inspired Philippa Gregory in The Favored Child, visit http://www.sussextourism.org.uk/STA_attractions.htm and click on one of the links to read more about tourist areas of interest.

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