About the Author
Born in 1912, R. F. Delderfield was a journalist, playwright, and novelist, renowned for brilliantly portraying slices of English life. He is one of England’s beloved novelists, with many of his novels being adapted into television and film, including the landmark BBC miniseries of To Serve Them All My Days.
Reading Group Guide
1. How has Adam’s military background affected his approach to business? Why is he so eager to start his own business?
2. “I’ll make it with dignity and, so long as it doesn’t involve detours, observing some kind of standards as regards the use I make of people.” How does Adam make good on his promise? Are Adam’s aims different from other business owners?
3. When Adam returned to England, industry was rapidly changing the face of society and commerce. Yet he saw the hypocrisy and double standards everywhere as, “evidence of a signal failure on the part of Western Man to match his technical achievements with self-knowledge and a real, rather than fraudulent, civilization.” What is “civilization” as Adam defines it? In what ways is our civilization real? In what ways is it fraudulent?
4. What did the Colonel mean when he said to Henrietta, “A wife’s first duty as I see it is to put a sparkle in a man’s eye, and everything follows from that…”? Did Henrietta fulfill this role, or did she do something else entirely?
5. Is Henrietta manipulative in her early marriage to Adam, using sex to get her way? Or is it the only mode of persuasion open to her since he doesn’t take her seriously? Are there situations in which it is acceptable to use sex as a bargaining chip or a tool of manipulation?
6. Why does Adam to force Henrietta to help clean the dead chimney sweep’s body? Is Henrietta’s indifference to the boy’s plight a sign of her lack of education or of a cold heart? Is sympathy or compassion something that can be taught?
7. What are some of Adam’s strengths and weaknesses as an entrepreneur? In general, what are some of the qualities that make a successful businessman? What qualities would make your ideal businessman?
8. Look at the relationship between morality and economics throughout the novel; does the one ever detract from the other? For example, Adam backs Catesby when he refuses to deliver illegally shipped cotton from the American Confederacy. Was this the right thing to do, or is good business a strictly amoral enterprise?
9. Is Henrietta the only one to blame for the incident with Miles Manaton in the bower? Do you see her decisions as an act of vanity, a need for attention, a passing whim got out of hand?
10. Swann-on-Wheels becomes more than just a business to everyone involved. Outside of financial considerations, what did the people involved receive in return for their work? What should someone get out of their job beyond a paycheck?
11. Was Henrietta really as immature as Adam suspected during the first part of their marriage, or was she simply responding to what she thought was expected of her? How did changing expectations affect Henrietta’s life and view of the world?
12. Why does Edith give up her job to marry Wickstead? Is it simply because he told her she had to if she wanted children, or would she have done it anyway? Do you agree with her decision? Do women face the same decision today in some measure?
13. How did Adam and Henrietta’s marriage change throughout the novel? What caused the changes in their relationship? What things have caused changes in your own relationships?
14. Responsibilities let characters such as Adam, Edith, Henrietta and even Rookwood and Ratcliffe develop and flourish as individuals. Do people need that weight of responsibility and expectation to bring about a sense of fulfillment?
15. There are many different types of faith in the novel. There are men with religion and ethics like Keate and Tybalt, as well as the deep, calming devotion of Deborah. Then there is Adam’s kind of faith that has nothing to do with God. How does each person’s faith affect him or her and those around?
16. If Edith had not been romantically attracted to Wickstead, would she have gone to such great lengths to catch him stealing? Did she just want to prove herself an able manager or did she act from a curiosity about the man himself? Have you ever done something far above and beyond what is usual because you were attracted to someone?
17. Consider Wickstead’s background. Does poverty ever justify crime? Is it possible to blame society for shaping the man he became, or do you think each individual should be held to the same standards of morality regardless of circumstances?
18. Look at the various reactions to the news of Adam’s accident and possible death. What does this say about his role in people’s lives?
19. Edith and Henrietta, despite vastly different backgrounds and experiences, turn out to be more similar than they first appear. What are some of the things they have in common? How are they still very different women?
20. Various characters balance business and family life in different ways. How do you balance your own business and family/social life? How does the one affect the other?
21. “Change. Movement. Speed. Money. Expansion. Innovation.” Has business changed all that much since Adam Swann’s time? Would Adam be as successful today?