Reading Group Guide
Octavia Darcy's friends and relatives keep telling her that a single woman is always in want of a husband, especially an impoverished widow whose late husband's estate has all gone to a pinchpenny male relative. But to Octavia, an orphan whose half siblings have always bullied her and whose husband was kind, but not the love of her life, the idea of giving herself up to the control of another is anathema. When she unexpectedly inherits a fortune, she is overjoyed and looks forward to a new life of independence. Escaping from the efforts of her half brothers and sisters to marry her off, Octavia goes to Yorkshire to find out more about the family she never knew, and while she is there she meets and crosses swords with landowner and politician Sholto Rutherford. And her encounters with him, unbeknownst to her, are destined to continue.
After her time in Yorkshire, Octavia returns to London and shares a house with the dashing Lady Susan. Although she is now secure in her new life as a wealthy heiress, Octavia is quickly caught up in the romantic problems of her young niece and the confusing, but pleasant, meetings with Lord Rutherford. But when the shadow of her loathsome relative, and her late husband's heir, George Warren, falls over her, she is threatened with the loss of both inheritance and reputation. Octavia seeks relief from Warren's intrigue by spending Christmas as a guest of the Rutherfords at Netherfield House (the same house that Bingley rented in Pride and Prejudice), which brings not only festivities and theatricals but also unexpected solutions and happiness for more than one member of the party.
1. Elizabeth Aston creates a number of unusual character names in The Second Mrs. Darcy, such as Octavia, Dance, and Forsyte. Make a list of these names, and discuss with your group why you think she chose them and how they relate to the story.
2. On page 70, Sophronia Rutherford says to her brother, "I have no more desire to attend all day long to household trivia than you have. Simply being born a woman does not mean that I am naturally domestic, all women are not that way inclined, however convenient it is for the male sex to believe it is the case." Were you surprised by this comment? Did Sholto assume his sister should tend to the household because of the time period, his own beliefs about women, or another reason?
3. During the hey-day of the British Empire, many English expatriates made their lives and fortunes in India. The result left these expatriates with a fascinating blend of East and West culture and lifestyle all their own. How does Octavia compare her life in Calcutta with her life in London?
4. Compare Octavia's Melbury stepfamily and relations with the Darcy side of the family, as introduced in this and other Aston novels. What characters in The Second Mrs. Darcy remind you of characters from previous novels in the series, or in Pride and Prejudice itself, and why?
5. Octavia's marriage to Christopher Darcy, though brief, was amiable. She found pleasure in her husband's company and came to care for him enough to truly mourn his death. Why, then, is Octavia so set against another marriage?
6. What is Sholto's first impression of Octavia? How and why does his opinion of her change with each encounter? When does his heart first seem to warm to her?
7. Why do you think Sholto didn't tell anyone he'd witnessed George Warren scheming with Lieutenant Gresham? When did you begin to suspect what he was up to?
8. As part of their family Christmas tradition, the Rutherfords direct their guests in a performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Do you think this is an apt choice, given the various situations of the characters involved both in the play and in the novel? Why or why not? What other plays might also be appropriate?
9. Why, in the end, is Sholto Rutherford still not completely happy about his sister's engagement to Mr. Forsyte?
10. There are certain elements of Jane Austen's novels that writers have respectfully put to their own use throughout the years. If you have read Pride and Prejudice or any Austen books, what elements of The Second Mrs. Darcy are familiar to you?
11. Have you read any of the first three novels in this Darcy series (Mr. Darcy's Daughters, The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy, and The True Darcy Spirit)? If so, did you find it helpful to know those chapters of the story before reading The Second Mrs. Darcy?
12. What other Jane Austen novels would you like to see Elizabeth Aston tackle? If you were to write a spin-off, which novel or series would you choose and why?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB EXPERIENCE
1. Throw an Indian-style book club gathering, complete with ripe mangoes, Darjeeling tea, and the nimbu pani drink that Octavia's servants bring her lawyer guest, Mr. Gurney. You can find a great recipe for nimbu pani, along with other Indian delicacies, at www.Indianfoodforever.com and www.cuisinecuisine.com.
2. William Shakespeare's works are performed with regularity throughout the United States. Find a local performance of Twelfth Night, or rent Trevor Nunn's 1996 film rendition to watch the folly of lovers who ignore, or hesitate to reveal, their hearts.
3. Spend some time browsing the author's website, www.elizabethaston.com. Check out the reviews listed there, or search the Internet for other reviews. Share your findings at your next book club meeting, and discuss whether or not you agree with the critics and why.