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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt

1. How does Consuelo’s American democratic background vs. the duke’s aristocratic one merge or clash in the story? Should she have handled things differently? Why did the duke hate America?

2. Consuelo’s handling of her mother over the years says a lot about both women. Should Consuelo just have cut her mother off after she was forced to marry the duke? Is Alva strictly a villain? Does she redeem her earlier conduct? Why do you think she acted so dictatorially?

3. Do you believe in love at first sight? We know Jacques claimed to, but does Consuelo show signs of this, too?

4. I could not have possibly made up a character like Gladys Deacon. Is she a sympathetic character or just the opposite? Can you understand her being unbalanced? Also, did you suspect she was after the duke? At what point? Before Consuelo realized it? Why didn’t she catch on right away?

5. Is it wrong for parents to favor one child over another, or is it understandable or permissible? Why did Consuelo favor Ivor? Did she try to make up for those feelings by bolstering Bert? Have you seen or experienced parents who do this? Also, in what ways did Winston favor Ivor?

6. What does Mrs. Prattley mean to Consuelo? Something beyond mere charity? Why does Consuelo continue to think of the old lady over the years?

7. How much do early relationships affect us in adulthood? How did her governess, Miss Harper, have an impact on Consuelo? What about the ill child she took presents to in her pony cart child at Idle Hour?

8. So many of us tend to see war that is distant from us in time or place in abstract generalities. Today’s media close-up-and- personal coverage makes the human impact of war more real. How does Consuelo’s contact with refugees make the impact of war hit home for her?

9. I knew quite a lot about Sarah Jennings, the first Duchess of Marlborough, because before I visited Blenheim, I had watched the excellent BBC series “The First Churchills.” Sarah had quite a temper, almost as explosive as Alva’s. Is her “ghost” hostile or friendly to Consuelo and why? Are you aware of any other cases of historic ghosts tied to their homes or to their great achievements?

10. Jacques Balsan’s life greatly paralleled the history of early flight from hot-air balloons to war planes with bombs. Since Americans tend to focus on the Wright brothers, I was not aware that France was also key in the race toward modern flight. Did any other historical details surprise you in this novel? For example, I was amazed how many people of this era were divorced.

11. It seems that both Alva and Conseulo changed houses frequently. In what way were their surroundings an extension of themselves? Do you find this is also true about yourself in your choice of home and décor?

American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt
by Karen Harper

  • Publication Date: February 26, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062748335
  • ISBN-13: 9780062748331