Reading Group Guide
The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee
London, 1711. Renowned beauty Arabella Fermor leads a lively life with masquerade balls, opera engagements, and social engagements filling her every day. Though she enjoys the attentions of a large circle of suitors, she fancies none of them...until she meets the strikingly handsome Robert, Lord Petre, the seventh Baron of Ingatestone, and embarks upon a forbidden affair that threatens to destroy reputations, fortunes -- even lives. As their affair and the political events of the era unfold, the young, penniless poet Alexander Pope observes the workings of high society from his spot on the periphery, using his wit to transform Arabella and Lord Petre's affair into the literary sensation of the era and gaining entrance to a world formerly closed to him. Based upon true events, The Scandal of the Season vividly brings to life the forbidden passions of key historical figures and political intrigues that inspired Alexander Pope's poem, "The Rape of the Lock," one of the most important literary works in history.
1. Two mysterious figures abduct and murder a priest in the prologue of The Scandal of the Season. Before he dies, the priest says, "You are too late. Others already know." To what is he referring? Who were the Jacobites and what was their mission? How does their mission affect the lives of the characters in The Scandal of the Season?
2. Describe Alexander Pope's personality and temperament. What is his greatest weakness? Does your opinion of Alexander change over the course of the story?
3. Compare the sisters, Martha and Teresa Blount. What motivates each of them? Who do you admire more and why? When you find out in the epilogue how they spent the rest of their lives, does it change your opinion of them?
4. Consider Alexander's relationships and his opinions of women in the novel, including Martha, Teresa, Lady Mary Pierrepont, and Arabella. What does he admire most in a woman -- beauty, intelligence or wit?
5. What kind of a person is Arabella Fermor? Does she have an equivalent in today's society? Why does she enter into an affair with Lord Petre, risking her family's honor and position in English society -- and consequently, her future?
6. Lord Petre pursues an illicit affair with Arabella and becomes involved in a plot to assassinate the queen although both have potentially dangerous consequences. Why drives him to take such risks? Do you think he is at fault for the disastrous ending?
7. Alexander is sometimes scornful of London's literary community and also of high society, and yet he longs to become a part of both circles. How does the approval of each of these groups contribute to his success? Which do you think is more important to him?
8. How does gossip influence the events and characters in The Scandal of the Season? How do the characters use it to manipulate one another? Is gossip as powerful today as it was in eighteenth-century England? Why or why not?
9. Sexual freedom was one of the most important, and perhaps most surprising, aspects of eighteenth-century culture. In what ways do the characters' attitudes towards sex and love mirror our own? Do the men and women in the novel have an equal level of sexual freedom? What about men and women today?
10. Discuss the options available to women in the eighteenth century, comparing the Blount sisters, Arabella, Catherine Walmesley, Lady Castlecomber, Lady Mary Pierrepont, and Molly Walker.
11. During the time period when The Scandal of the Season takes place, anti-Catholic sentiments were on the rise, with laws being enacted to limit the rights of Catholics. Do you see parallels between the Protestant/Catholic situation in the eighteenth century and religious and political events today?
12. "The Rape of the Lock" is considered a "mock epic"; in it Pope satirizes society and the affair between Arabella and Lord Petre. Read the version of the poem included in the book. What are some examples of how Pope mocks society? How does Gee incorporate Pope's judgments and opinions into the novel?
13. Each chapter begins with an epigraph from "The Rape of the Lock." Compare the meanings of these lines in the poem to how they are used in The Scandal of the Season. What does each epigraph represent about the chapter in which it is used?
14. In the afterword, the author documents what happened to the characters in The Scandal of the Season. Whose fate surprised you the most? Which character do you wish you could learn more about?
1. Do some basic research about British history to learn more about the time period in which Alexander Pope and the other characters lived. Start your meeting with a brief overview to ground the story and your discussion.
2. Read the short version of "The Rape of the Lock" included in the back of The Scandal of the Season (the longer 1714 version is available at www.gutenberg.org/etext/9800). Compare the sequence of events in the poem and in the novel.
3. Visit The National Portrait Gallery's website at http://www.npg.org.uk and search for portraits by Charles Jervas or others from the time period to see what the characters looked like (hint: there's a portrait of Alexander Pope) and what sort of clothing they wore.