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. In the prologue, after admiring a family photo, Adam Swann reflects on the unique characteristics of his four eldest children, while at the same time admitting to himself that he really does not know much about the people they are or will become. In what ways do Adam’s early descriptions of Stella, Alexander, George, and Giles hold true throughout the story? In what ways do the children grow up different from the ways their father has described them?
2. Throughout the story, Adam makes several references to his family as a business or part-time hobby. At one point, Adam even refers to tactical tools he can use to get his family to show him a profit. How does Adam Swann’s businesslike approach to parenting affect his children, both negatively and positively? How successful is this approach? Do you agree with the capacity in which Adam chooses to be a father to his children?
3. Henrietta Swann is an ever-present and faithful wife and mother. She runs Tryst with commanding strength and confidence. A clear matriarch, in what ways does Henrietta also serve as a father figure for her children? Do you admire to her ability to step in and solve a crisis when Adam is away, or do you think she sometimes acts to hastily?
4. When describing his willingness to hire men off the streets and give them fair wages Adam says, “That’s my notion of clarity. Give a man a push and let him forge ahead or run clean out of steam, whichever he chooses.” In many ways, Adam successfully applied this bootstraps philosophy to his own life, starting Swann-on-Wheels with nothing but a small savings and a love and knowledge of horses. Is the success of his company solely a product of Adam’s ability to forge ahead, or did other factors contribute as well? Can determination really overcome anything? Do you think this philosophy still holds true today?
5. Adam and Henrietta offer their adult children a wide amount of freedom and independence, serving almost as advisers rather than figures of authority. How does each child react to this freedom? Do they all flourish with independence? If they set out on the wrong path, are they able to correct themselves before it’s too late?
6. In part one, during a conversation with Giles, Adam describes a doctrine called “the inevitability of gradualness” in which, as a country prospers, the people slowly profit as well. From what you’ve read in Theirs Was the Kingdom and what you’ve seen in your own life, does this doctrine hold true? As a country prospers, do all of its citizens have an equal chance to prosper as well? Do you think those at the top are willing to make room for others to join them as Adam describes?
7. Stella and Giles seem to share a special bond. He is the only one she confides in during the depression she enters after the demise of her first marriage. Who of the other Swann children share a special relationship? Are any of the children more distant from the group? Do any of these relationships change as spouses are introduced to the mix?
8. During their proposal, Stella tells Denzil Fawcett, “I’ll make you a good wife…A far better one than I would have made you before.” What does Stella mean by this? In what ways does Stella change during the time she spends rebuilding Dewponds with Denzil?
9. In part two, Giles easily identifies the life purposes of his parents and older siblings. His father has the business, his mother the family, Stella has her husband and child, and Alex has glory. Yet Giles struggles in determining his own life’s purpose, admitting that he has so far only been able to gather clues. What clues do you see in the text hinting to Giles’s life purpose? By the end of the book, has Giles defined the meaning of his life yet, or do you think he is still searching?
10. In order to keep George on as his apprentice, Maximilien Korner is willing to sacrifice the virtue of his granddaughters in order to satisfy George. How did you react to this? Were you offended that Maximilien had no concern for the future of his granddaughters or their widowed mother? What does it say about George that he ultimately did not take Max up on this offer?
11. Although Giles has always been fond of education, he chooses to forgo a scholarship to Oxford in order to travel through England on foot and eventually work for his father. Why do you think Giles chose to explore the English countryside on foot rather than by train or traveling through Europe? What do you think he hoped to gain from his trip?
12. Alex’s fiancé, Lydia Corcoran, baffles Adam, who cannot see the appeal in a woman who has flat chest and has a boyish appearance. What does Alex see in Lydia that makes him fall in love with her? How important is it to you to have a partner who is physically attractive? Do you think outer beauty is valued more by society than inner beauty and personality?
13. When Giles breaks off his engagement to Romayne, she begs him to reconsider, claiming that she will become a different, less spoiled person as soon as they are married. Do you believe her when she says this? Do you think it’s possible for someone to change who they are just by entering into marriage? Would Giles and Romayne’s relationship have been different if they had gotten married earlier?
14. When Stead publishes his article on child prostitution in the Pall Mall Gazette, his newspaper and his reputation are viciously attacked. Adam is outraged at the hypocrisy of the British people—that they can claim to live to a high moral code and at the same time, be blind to the social responsibilities that lay before them. What do you think contributed to this moral hypocrisy of nineteenth-century England? Do you think a similar hypocrisy still exists today?
15. After Romayne runs away, Giles asks her father if he feels responsible for her behavior. He says no, telling Giles that people are who they are and remain that way. Do you think this is true, or do people change who they are based on personal situations and things like career choices and marriages? Which of the characters in this story change, and which remain the same?
16. By the end of the story, the eldest six Swann children are all in happy, loving marriages. Which couples seem best suited for each other? Which siblings seem to have learned the most from their spouse and their relationship? Do you think all six marriages are destined for a lifetime of happiness?
17. As her children grow, Henrietta frequently ponders the ways in which they take after their parents and grandparents. Which of the Swann children share characteristics with Henrietta and which take more after Adam? Do any of the Swann children seem to have an equal mix of both parents’ personalities?
18. How have the Swann children influenced Adam and Henrietta? What, if anything, has each parent learned from serving as counsel and friend to their adult children?
19. Adam considers Deborah Avery a “feminist of deepest conviction” even though he sees little about her that is similar to the feminists whom he knows to be loud and aggressive. What is your definition of a feminist? Which characters would you consider feminists? Do they each act as feminists in their own regard?
20. After secretly witnessing George’s successful test drive of Maximus, Adam hurries out to congratulate his son, quickly swallowing his pride and admitting that he was in the wrong for doubting the importance of a motorized vehicle. Is there a time in your life when you had to admit that you were wrong about something? If so, were you able to do it as easily as Adam was? Do you think it is harder to admit being wrong about something to your children than to a friend or colleague?
21. After thirty years and nine children, Henrietta and Adam are as happy in their marriage as ever. They share a mutual respect for each other as well as a loving and physical relationship. What have been the keys to their success as husband and wife? What do you think are the most important aspects of a happy and healthy marriage?
22. Theirs Was the Kingdom both begins and ends with Adam Swann in a moment of self-reflection, overlooking the Thames in his office. What does this important river, situated near both the political and economic center of London, symbolize to Adam? How have the politics and economics of nineteenth-century England impacted his personal and professional life?