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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions


1. How does the Spaulding Smashup set the tone for the novel? What does Morgan discover about his own strengths and limitations as the chapters unfold?

2. How did you react as Silk and Fletcher decide how far to take their torture of Morgan? At St. Stephen’s, is power derived solely from seniority and rituals of physical strength?

3. Morgan has many beautiful, tender memories of his mother. How are the boys affected by the absence of a constant maternal presence? Are Matron and her male colleagues able to provide “mothering”?

4. What are the boys taught about their changing adolescent bodies? How do they use sex and sports (especially rugby and cricket) to experiment with what it means to be a man?

5. What did you believe when you read the rumors that are woven into the story line, from possible liaisons between Rees and Spaulding to the alleged inappropriate use of Gallowhill’s skull?

6. Is Morgan truly able to think of Polly as being different from the steamy fictional characters he secretly reads about? How would the story of their relationship look if described from Polly’s point of view?

7. When the lab exploded in chapter 7, what did you discover about Morgan, particularly as his attitude toward Alex shifted to worry and concern?

8. How does the storytelling in WILBERFORCE balance the perspectives of schoolboys with the perspectives of the men in charge of educating and supervising them? What are the ultimate challenges faced by S-K, Burton-Lee, John Grieves and Dr. Sebastian? Who is to blame for the shortcomings of St. Stephen’s?

9. How did you react to the Bishop’s discussion of penitence versus punishment in chapter 50? Is either approach a deterrent to teenage rebellion?

10. What motivated Morgan to refuse confirmation? How does he process the meaning of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14, which begins “Batter my heart, three-person’d God”? What do his conversations with the Bishop and his reactions in the closing scenes say about his evolving understanding of the nature of life?

11. What is special about the 1920s as a backdrop for this novel? What transitions do St. Stephen’s students, as well as Britain, experience during this decade?

12. What were the hierarchies and social circles of your youth? In what ways is St. Stephen’s a microcosm of adult worlds, from professional to political realms?

13. Does knowing the gender of H. S. Cross affect your reading? 

14. What do you predict for the next phase in the life of St. Stephen’s Academy?

by H. S. Cross

  • Publication Date: September 15, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Gay & Lesbian, Literary Fiction
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374290105
  • ISBN-13: 9780374290108