Beyond Mr. Darcy: Romantic Historical Fiction discussion

The Kitchen House
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Group Reads 2014 > April 2014: The Kitchen House

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Christie (cereale) | 202 comments Mod
When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family. Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin.

Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.

Kathi (kkreilley) | 28 comments I read this book awhile back and loved it. One of my all-time favorites.

April (AJoyS) | 129 comments I also read this last year and I am planning rereading it with the book group. It is an excellent book!

Christie (cereale) | 202 comments Mod
Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story through two narrators? How are Lavinia's observations and judgments different from Belle's? If you could choose another character to narrate the novel, who would it be?

2. Why does the captain keep Belle's true identity a secret from his wife and children? Do you think the truth would have been a relief to his family or torn them further apart? At what point does keeping this secret turn tragic?

3. Consider Lavinia's history. Do you think the captain saved her life by bringing her to America as an indentured servant? Or do you think it was a fate worse than the one she would have faced in Ireland?

4. Marshall is a complicated character. At times, he is kind and protective; other times, he is a violent monster. What is the secret that Marshall is forced to keep? Is he to blame for what happened to Sally? Why do you think Marshall was loyal to Rankin, who was a conspirator with Mr. Waters?

5. Describe the relationship between Ben's wife, Lucy, and Belle. How does it evolve throughout the novel? Is it difficult for you to understand their friendship? Why or why not?

Amber | 49 comments 1. I think the author chose Lavinia and Belle as narrators to show the fine line between master and servant/slave and black and white. Both women begin as slaves, so they share something in common, but their race separates them, ultimately leading them down different paths.

2. I'm thinking that if you have an emotionally fragile wife, as the captain does, you don't want her to know you got one of the slaves pregnant. I believe to that he is ashamed, ashamed because he loves Belle as father is suppose to love a child, but socially it is unacceptable for him to love his colored by-blow. As everyone's assumption was that Belle was his mistress, it would have been better had he told the truth. Especially considering the jealously is caused in Martha and the rage in Marshall.

3. Considering the time period and Lavinia's age, I believe without a doubt the captain saved her life. And while her life wasn't perfect she had an adopted family who cared for her and ultimately received an education and good prospects.

4. Marshall is one messed up person. I think a great deal of this has to do with Sally's accident, which I believe was an accident. And also with the incident with Waters. It doesn't help that no one really took Marshall in, there wasn't really anyone for him to confined in or who cared for him, he was alone. So when Rankin took him under his wing, Marshall was starving for that relationship.

5. In some ways Lucy and Belle's relationship is difficult to understand. But I think it's a relationship born of necessity. One of those things you don't want to except, but you do for the greater harmony. In addition their friendship blooms over the shared love of Ben and the need to be close to him, even if that closeness comes from knowing the other woman.

Christie (cereale) | 202 comments Mod
Thanks Amber!

1. I would add that rotating between Belle and Lavinia's perspectives led to a richer story. The problem I have found with first-person books is that you are limited by their perspective and don't really know what is going on in the wider story and that's why I enjoy multiple narrators. I think I would have liked a "Big House" perspective in the novel. Lavinia gets there but in the early days she is very limited to the slave quarters. I think the Captain, or even Marshall would have been an interesting narrator.

2. I agree that the Captain's wife was very fragile and probably wouldn't have taken the news about Belle being the Captain's daughter very well, though I wonder if it would be due to the fact that he had a daughter or because he had loved somebody before her. I do think if the truth had come out earlier things might have gone better in the family.

3. I have to wonder if Lavinia would have even made it back to Ireland judging by the shape she was in at the beginning of the book. She was a very sick child and I think being in a place where she could get food easily helped save her life. Even though bad things happened to her, I would not consider her fate to be worse than death.

4. I agree that Marshall had no one to confide in. His mother was emotionally distant and his father was never around. This fact led to both the tutor and Rankin taking advantage of him. After this I think he had a hard time trusting people and controlling his emotions. It doesn't excuse his actions but it makes them a bit understandable.

5. Throughout history multiple women have occasionally shared one man and many times these women have developed friendships out of necessity. Its something that we aren't very comfortable thinking about in our modern society. I think both women realized they needed each other, especially when they were bought by Will Stephens and were the only women on his farm for awhile.

April (AJoyS) | 129 comments Great insight , Amber and Christie. I am rereading the book right now (I had to wait for to be available at the library).

Christie (cereale) | 202 comments Mod
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