As part of Bas Bleu’s 2014 Book a Month program, each month we’re offering discussion questions about the featured work—for book clubs as well as thoughtful individuals. You may use the questions to reflect back on each book once you’ve finished it or to guide you as you read. Either way, we hope these features will enrich your reading experience. (We’ll do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but you should proceed with caution!)
In a 2011 edition of the Guardian, journalist Rachel Cooke wrote, “I am not going to lie. There are times—they grow more frequent as I get older—when I find that I would much rather read minor Mitford than major Other People. Times like right now, for instance, when the days are too short, and good jokes—or any jokes at all—are in such pitifully short supply.” Our final 2014 Book a Month selection, Christmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie consists of novellas that were originally published separately, in 1932 and 1940, respectively. Considered “minor Mitford” compared to her masterpiece, The Pursuit of Love, Christmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie are nonetheless sharp and witty, offering droll insight into the “Bright Young Things” of 1930s English society.
1. Nancy Mitford wrote the humorous Christmas Pudding, an account of the misadventures of the attendees at a country house party, while she herself was suffering heartache from an aborted love affair. Do you think it’s true that artists produce better work in the midst of suffering? Can you think of other examples?
2. In the 1920s, Mitford counted Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell among her friends. How does her literary take on British high society compare to theirs? Which do you prefer? Is one approach more effective than another?
3. Do you think satire enables comic novels to better capture human foibles than dramatic ones? Why or why not? How does the character of Paul Fotheringay in Christmas Pudding reflect upon or personify Mitford’s (presumed) opinion about literary aspirations?
4. Mitford completed Pigeon Pie in 1939, but it wasn’t published until 1940. By then England was immersed in the horrors of war, and the novel was accused by some of mocking the conflict. Which characters and plot aspects do you think would have been the most offensive to wartime readers? Do you think reading it in 2014, seventy years removed from the war, allows you to appreciate the novel better than Mitford’s contemporaries did or does your knowledge of the war’s history still color the story?
5. Pigeon Pie’s protagonist, Lady Sophia Garfield, is a spoiled upper-classwoman who fancies herself a spy…though her success at espionage owes more to accident and luck than perception or skill. Mitford herself was a young married socialite at the time. What are the pros and cons to factoring an author’s private life and personal experiences into their fictional characters’ development and experiences?
6. Mitford’s early novels sold well but were dismissed as “vulgar” by the old guard. What recent “light” or (dare we say “trash”) novels do you think will hold up for future generations? Can you think of any literary classics that are praised as “high lit” today yet were poorly received initially?
If you enjoyed this year’s Book a Month reads, be sure to check out the lineup of twelve brand-new (to Bas Bleu) titles that we have queued up for next year’s Book a Month series. Order yours today, and stop in at the Bluestocking Salon every month in 2015 for discussion questions, interviews, and more!