Reading Group Guide
From the moment Makepeace Burke fishes Englishman Sir Philip Dapifer out of the Charles River in pre-Revolutionary War Boston, saving his life, her own is forever changed. Suddenly finding herself ranked a traitor for rescuing a member of the English aristocracy, Makepeace is forced to leave her home and set out on a journey that will steer her in directions of which she could never have dreamed.
A Catch of Consequence is at once a vivid historical novel, a haunting love story, and an unforgettable portrait of a remarkable woman. Diana Norman has crafted another richly textured tale of passion, loss, and courage—and of the power and the pain wrought from being true to oneself against all odds.
ABOUT DIANA NORMAN
Having worked on local newspapers in Devon and the East End of London, Diana Norman became, at twenty, the youngest reporter in what used to be Fleet Street. Now the author of biographies as well as historical novels, she is married to film critic Barry Norman, with whom she settled in Hertfordshire. They have two daughters.
"Drama, passion, intrigue...I loved it and didn't want it to end ever." —Sunday Times (London)
"She captures the feel of the period with wit, verve and emotion."—Woman's Own
"Quite simply splendid."—Frank Delaney, author of At Ruby's
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSEarly on, Makepeace and her brother Aaron stand on opposite sides of the politics of the day, i.e., colonial autonomy vs. British rule. Yet even when they "were back on their ancient battlefield," it is made "more bitter by the knowledge that both had truth on their side." What is meant by this? Are they both, in fact, right, in their differing views, and if so, how?
After Makepeace learns that Captain Busgutt and his crew aboard the Gideon have been pressed—when she at first feared the news would be that they were dead—"the word tolled through the kitchen like a passing bell. It was almost as dreadful, it was almost the same." Why? What did it mean for an American sailor to be pressed? Why is it that this news causes Makepeace to "come to terms with an altered future"?
Dapifer first calls Makepeace 'Procrustes' in her bedroom at the Roaring Meg. How did this nickname evolve, and what does it come to mean between them as their relationship deepens? Although Dapifer "set[s] her blood fizzing," why does Makepeace reject his offer to accompany him to England—even though "she'd cherish it for the rest of her life"? Why, at this point in time, does the thought of marriage occur to neither Makepeace nor Dapifer?
Betty and Tantaquidgeon—besides Aaron—are Makepeace's family, her greatest supporters, her dearest friends. They are also both her servants and people of color. Do their differences in class and color ever cause conflict for any of them? Why is Makepeace devoted to Betty? To Tantaquidgeon? How do Makepeace's and Betty's views of their relationship differ? Do you see Betty's ultimate decision to return to Boston as a defection?
After Susan Brewer assists her with a requested makeover aboard the Lord Percy, Makepeace experiences the revelation at dinner that "men responded to the wrapping, not the content." Why does Makepeace bother getting rouged up and corseted? Was she trying, despite the fact that since boarding the ship she had "fallen out of love with him," to woo Dapifer? She had been aware of Dr. Baines' desire to propose; did she suspect, subconsciously, that Dapifer too had marriage in mind—and that she was, in fact, still in love? Why does Makepeace feel that "their relationship was now alienated beyond repair" and that "she was a burden to him"? Do you think this was Dapifer's view, at any point?
When Catty and Makepeace first meet at Grosvenor Square, Catty greets Dapifer with, "Husband, welcome home," despite the fact that he has procured a divorce from her in America. Is this foreshadowing of the brutal battle Catty is about to wage? How serious does it appear at this stage—did you imagine Catty's greed and desire for vengeance could reach such colossal heights? How is it that, although "Makepeace knew she'd been born to hate her," and even as Catty spews cruel declarations—from insulting Makepeace's dress to calling Tantaquidgeon a "totem pole" and Betty's son Josh "a little picaninny"—the term "exquisite" remains the mot juste to describe Catty? What is exquisite about Catty? Is it merely her petiteness and delicacy? What does her "animal quickness with a smile of tiny, white, backward-sloping teeth" signal about Catty's character?
Had Dapifer not chosen to journey all the way to America to obtain a divorce, Catty wouldn't have had any grounds for her accusation of bigamy. What does Dapifer's—eventually fatal—decision in the divorce matter say about him? Do you believe he truly had no idea that a divorce acquired outside his native country might not be honored within its borders? What does her opinion of her husband's choices tell us about Makepeace?
At Hertfordshire, as she considers her guests contrasted with her kitchen staff, Makepeace thinks: "How irritating these people were and how unexpected. Observed from across the Atlantic, England appeared as lofty as the Dover cliffs and as little concerned with what it looked out on, a view confirmed by her reception here. But the men and women below had a rough humanity their ruling class did not; their indifference was more a lack of deliberation, or an innocence. So sure were they of their own fair play, they were surprised that other peoples were not in accord with them. Here, in its greed and good humor, was the England that built empires. She had encountered the same breed in Boston." Discuss the effects of British rule in the early days of New England colonization, and the resultant reverberations of class distinction. Was Makepeace ever truly accepted into upper-class English society? Was the issue of class very different from the way it is today, in America? In England?
Makepeace lived for years on her plan to exact revenge on Catty and Conyers. How did her quest for reprisal impact her life? Did her campaign to settle the score shape who she became to those who loved her? How did Betty take Makepeace's grim crusade? What effect did it have on Philippa?
The coal-lined netherworld that Makepeace descends into with Andra Hedley is a metaphor for death: pitch-black darkness, like "the coffin lid coming down, the withdrawal of self, of hope, of God. In that moment she knew what death actually was....She lost Dapifer then." Hedley tells her, "Persephone comes yearly out the shadows and you'll do the same." This is both belated acknowledgment of reality and our earliest glimmer that Makepeace might recover from Dapifer's death. Is there yet more underlying this encounter? Do you see, at this stage, any sign that her relationship with Hedley might symbolize something beyond a means to the wealth she requires to carry out her revenge? Does it seem unlikely, here, that she could have an intimate relationship with a man who is Dapifer's antithesis? Does Makepeace entertain the idea at all?
Relatively late in life—although she is young yet—Makepeace discovers the satisfaction of female bonding, beyond the rich relationship she has long shared with Betty, in her friendship with Susan Brewer. Do you think Makepeace's relationships with the women whom she employs in the mines are significant in her discovering who she really is? As a hardnosed, goal-driven businesswoman whose sole ambition is to settle a grudge, how great is Makepeace's capacity to appreciate her female helpers and colleagues?
When Makepeace and Hedley become trapped in the mine and share their near-death/sexual experience, does it seem like a fluke—a freakish representation of what can happen during times of crisis, when life is threatened? Is it merely Makepeace's release after such prolonged and intense grieving? Does it seem plausible that she can feel for a man after losing one "for whom there was no comparison"? In what direction, at this critical moment, do you think Makepeace's life will head?