As part of Bas Bleu’s 2016 Book a Month program, each month we’re offering discussion questions, author interviews, or other bonus material about our Bluestocking BAM selection to enrich your reading experience—for book clubs as well as thoughtful individuals. (We’ll do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but you should proceed with caution!)
September’s Book a Month selection, A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor (the esteemed British novelist, not the actress!), is a graceful and amusing portrait of a British seaside town in the 1940s. Like Jane Austen, to whom she is often compared, Taylor writes about the English upper middle class with both evident sympathy and sharp satire. Her beautiful, elegant prose doesn’t shy away from the darker themes of the human experience.
1. A View of the Harbour encompasses the perspectives of a large cast of characters, all of whom are deeply flawed. Who do you think the protagonist is? Did you feel sympathy with her (or him)?
2. In the open pages of the book, Bertram gives his artist’s view of Newby: “The lighthouse was the pivot and the harbor buildings, the wall, the sea were continually shifting about it; re-grouping, so that it was seldom seen against the same background.” What symbolic role does the lighthouse play in the novel? Why is Bertram the first character introduced to the reader? What comparisons can you draw between A View of the Harbour and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse?
3. Taylor ascribes a rather feminist perspective to the character of Beth Cazabon, a novelist, who laments her domestic responsibility, blaming “the artfulness of men….They implant in us, foster in us, instincts which it is to their advantage for us to have, and which, in the end, we feel shame a not possessing.” At the same time, Beth’s self-absorption is comically parodied, and her focus on her writing—at the expense of her children and husband—has grave consequences. Do you see a contradiction here? Do you think Beth’s friend, Tory, may be more advanced in some ways?
4. The action in the story takes place directly after World War II. What effect has the war had on the characters, both in obvious ways and in more subtle psychological ways?
5. Who were your favorite peripheral characters—the nosey Mrs. Bracey, her long-suffering daughters, poor Prudence, the widowed Lily Wilson, another resident of the town? Did you wish for more focus on any of them?
6. Infidelity and betrayal are at the heart of one of the biggest conflicts in the novel. How did you hope things would end up in the love triangle? Were you disappointed in the resolution?
7. Perhaps the main theme throughout the novel is loneliness, yet A View of the Harbour is often described as one of Taylor’s lightest novels. How was she able to convey the loneliness of the characters with markedly unsentimental prose? Would you read another of Taylor’s novels?
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