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Through a Glass Darkly

Through a Glass Darkly

By Karleen Koen

About the Author
Karleen Koen is interested in the place of women in history. Historical settings and details, gender issues of both sexes, and spiritual quests are themes she explores in her fiction. She lives in Houston, where she works as an editor for the University of Houston. She is also the author of Now Face to Face, a sequel to Through a Glass Darkly.

Reading Group Guide

1. The estate, the house, Tamworth, is symbolic of haven, of safety. For Barbara, it is both a mental talisman, a place she can escape to in order to put her life aright or to heal, and a physical one. Do you have a mental talisman, a mental haven? Do you have some place that is a physical haven? What is the importance of having such, mental or physical?

2. What rights did a well-born girl of the 18th century possess as regards to marriage? What rights do you possess as regards to marriage? Discuss the contrast between that century and this one. Which would you rather have lived in? Why?

3. Marriage among the nobility was a transaction in the 18th century, a way to gain power, prestige, and property. In what ways has marriage changed? In what ways are some marriages transactions today?

4. Barbara’s mother, Diana, is petitioning Parliament for a divorce in a time when divorce is rare and unseemly. What does this action say about Diana’s character? Do you admire her boldness or despise it? Why?

5. On page 8, marriage is described as a “sacred sacrament, forever binding, and people made the best of what they had.” How many of you are divorced? What if divorce was a rare and very difficult thing to obtain? In what ways would your life be different if you had not been allowed a divorce?

6. The Duchess of Tamworth, an old woman for the time, is taking care of her grandchildren. Is this a duty or a chore? A love or a pain? What are the obligations of a grandmother?

7. Hannah Henley, a poor relation, is introduced on page 8, “the dependency of her position has sketched bitter lines in her face.” Why is she dependent? What is the connection between money and dependency? Have you ever felt like Hannah?
Barbara is faced with the life-changing circumstance of marriage when she is fifteen.

8. When you were fifteen, what were you doing? Were you dating? Studying? Planning for college? What did you think you knew about life and love? Were you right?

9. When Jane meets Barbara in the apple orchard in Chapter 2, she is resigned to giving up her love for Harry and marrying the man her parents have selected. How do you feel about her decision? Is she a coward?

10. “Even the greatest love will fly out the window without truth, honor, and duty to anchor it down,” the Duchess says in Chapter 2. Does she speak from experience or is she trying to control Barbara’s enthusiasm? What is your experience?

11. Is Roger less manly because he is fashionable? What is the life of a nobleman in the 18th century? Why do so many people like Roger?

12. In Chapter 5, Barbara dares to do something scandalous when she visits Roger on her own in London. Why is that action so scandalous? Why are her mother and her aunt so upset? Are they wrong? Did you ever do anything dangerous or scandalous when you were fifteen or so? What were the consequences?

13. What does it say about Barbara’s character that she dares to visit Roger on her own? Is it a childish, heedless action or a reflection of the woman she will become? If it is a character trait, will it aid or hinder her––remembering that she is a woman of the 18th century, not ours?

14. France in the early 18th century was decadent and world-weary. If you were young and set in such a sophisticated and cynical milieu, how do you think you would respond?

15. Barbara carries an ideal about romantic love: it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It never fails. Is it possible to love this way? Does she doom herself by the attempt? Or is she right?

16. Roger is bisexual. Does that make him less attractive as a character? Why or why not?

17. Therese, who is a servant, has an abortion. How do you feel about her decision? How have expectations about proper conduct for men changed in the last century? How has that expectation impacted women?

18. Therese chooses to sleep with LeBlanc. Why? Do you agree with her decision? What does it say about her status in 18th century life?

19. Is it possible that Philippe and Roger truly love one another? Does their being gay or bisexual make a difference? Why or why not?

20. Barbara takes a lover in response to Roger’s infidelity. Do you agree with that response? Why or why not? Have you dealt with infidelity, your own or someone else’s? What was your response?

21. In the second half of the book, Barbara is judged harshly by those around her for her scandals. Is this because she is a woman or simply because of her conduct? Do we judge women more harshly than men? What is your experience?

22. Why isn’t Roger angry about Barbara’s conduct? What does it say about his character that he is not?

23. In Chapter 22, Jane learns she is pregnant again. At the beginning of the book, Diana has borne 10 children, 4 of them dying young. Continual pregnancies are a fact of life for an 18th century sexually active woman. How has reliable birth control reshaped women’s destinies? What if you had no reliable birth control? How might this affect your life?

24. In Chapter 22, Jane frets about not telling Gussy about the green gloves. Why doesn’t she tell him? What do the gloves represent?

25. In Chapter 22, Barbara envies Jane, and Jane envies Barbara. What does each have that the other wants? Why are they still able to remain friends?

26. Roger gives out bribes and does special favors centering around South Sea stock. Is his corruption a characteristic of his time? Is it simply business?

27. The crashing of the South Sea Bubble hugely impacts Barbara and Roger. Have there been financial setbacks that have impacted you and your family?  What were some of your survival tactics?

28. Dying young is a fact of the 18th century. What has changed our life spans and our ideas about health?

29. Jane faces the fact of Jeremy’s dying by fighting harder. Is this a natural reaction? What might you do faced with the death of a loved child?

30. Abigail believes that everything she does is for the best. What do you think of that? Do you understand it? Is it possible to do the best for others? When does doing something out of love turn into just wanting to be in control?

31. Barbara uses her beauty at times to get her way. Is this instinctive? Natural? Manipulative? Is she wrong? Do beautiful people have an easier time in life? Do beautiful people have any obligation that comes with their beauty?

32. Is Tony foolish to love Barbara? Why wou


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