The Gilded Hour: discussion questions

I hope these questions might encourage you to discuss The Gilded Hour with others. As is always the case, if you are reading this page it is assumed that you have already finished the novel because: many, many spoilers.
NYT 12 Dec 1883-Handball
NYT 12 Dec 1883-Handball
Extra credit: Did you realize handball was being played in Manhattan at this time? And more seriously:
  • The women in Aunt Quinlan’s household live a pretty progressive and free lifestyle for their time. If most of the men of the household had not all died in the war, would that still be the case?
  • How does the extreme wealth and poverty in the novel compare to life today?
  • Were you aware of the history of laws against birth control and abortion before reading this book?  What was your reaction?
  • Did the novel move you to read more non-fiction on the topics raised? Which ones? Any surprises?

  • What did you think of young Mary Augustine’s attempts to subdue her own interest in medicine?
  • When Mary Augustine leaves the convent and seeks out Anna, how does this impact the family? Do you think that as Elise she will be good for Anna? How?

  • The Russo children get separated from one another and everyone seems to think that it is a reasonable way to handle the orphans. How did people see children at this time? Is the casual acceptance of their fate the result of ethnicity, poverty, or something else?
  • What was it about Anna that Rosa trusted her so much to risk running away to get to her? Compare this episode to the evening when Rosa tries once again to run away.
  • Does Lia’s curiosity help her heal and move forward faster than Rosa, or is it her youth that makes her more easily adapt to her new life?
  • What would you guess Lia goes on to become later in life? Rosa?
  • Every lead that Jack and Anna have followed has been a dead end. Then they stumble onto Vittorio while on a stroll. The baby is happy and healthy in a loving family. What would you do?
  • How would you face the challenge that is Tonino?
  • Anna gets unsettled when her brother is mentioned. Do you think that Rosa was onto something in claiming that Anna’s brother failed her?
  • Do you think dealing with Rosa and Lia’s grief helped Anna face her own? Was her conversation with the girls healing for Anna?

  • In the first half of the novel we see Jack as extraordinarily fair-minded and willing to accept people as they are without judgment, which sets him apart from other men of his time and place.  How does his family history explain this? Bambina is his opposite, but why?
  • Jack enjoys putting Anna off balance, emotionally. Does Anna enjoy this?
  • What are your thoughts on the exchange between Jack and Anna when he removes her glove to look at her hand? How does it influence the way she sees him?
  • How does Jack’s playfulness change Anna?

  • Cap has the most buildup before we meet his character. Do you feel he is almost a mythical figure before we meet him? Does his character stand up to expectations?
  • “Cap, who loved her and wanted her for his widow.”  The stark reality of Cap’s situation is evident. What are your thoughts? Could you do as Sophie plans to do and marry Cap?
  • Sophie believes that in time, Cap would come to regret a marriage between them. Is she right? Is this a sign of maturity or immaturity on his part?

  • Consider Janine Campbell’s reproductive history. Did she confide in Sophie about her fears because she is a woman? Did the fact that Sophie is a woman of color play into it at all?
  • Do you think Archer Campbell is blind to his wife’s fear or does he not care?
  • Does the letter from Rhode Island offset Oscar ‘s revenge on Archer Campbell?

  • Comstock works for the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice with a man who owns a company that produces pamphlets and items that aide in contraception. This man has not been arrested or prosecuted in any way. Thoughts?
  • Why do you think the midwife Amelie kept quiet about being run out of town?
  • James Cameron goes into retirement as police are getting close. Nora Smithson, a woman who had some interesting things to say about Amelie, is his granddaughter. Coincidences?

  • Some readers are disappointed — and others are angry — that the identity of the person or persons responsible for the deaths of so many women is never revealed. What are your theories on the murders? *
*Where the Light Enters, the sequel to The Gilded Hour, comes out on 9/10/19, and all will be revealed.