A Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917

A Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917

by Amy Ephron


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Rosemary Fell was born into privilege. She has wealth, well–connected friends, and a handsome fiance, Philip Alsop. Finally she has everything she wants.

It is then, in a moment of beneficence, that Rosemary invites Eleanor Smith, a penniless young woman she sees under a streetlamp in the rain, into her home for a cup of tea. While there, Rosemary sees Eleanor exchange an unmistakable look with Philip, and she sends Eleanor on her way. But she cannot undo this chance encounter, and it leads to a tempestuous and all–consuming love triangle –– until the tides of war throw all their lives off balance.

Inspired by a classic Katherine Mansfield short story, A Cup of Tea engages with its vivid –– and often amusing –– cast of characters, wonderful period detail, brilliant evocation of the uncertain days of World War I, and delightfully spare and picturesque sense of story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060786205
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/28/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 308,658
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.12(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Amy Ephron is the bestselling author of the acclaimed novels One Sunday Morning and A Cup of Tea. Her magazine pieces and essays have appeared in Vogue; Saveur; House Beautiful; the National Lampoon; the Los Angeles Times; the Huffington Post; Defamer; her own online magazine, One for the Table; and various other print and online publications. She recently directed a short film, Chloe@3AM, which was featured at the American Cinematheque’s Focus on Female Directors Short Film Showcase in January 2011. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alan Rader, and any of their five children who happen to drop in.


Los Angeles, California

Date of Birth:

October 21, 1952

Place of Birth:

Beverly Hills, California

Read an Excerpt

A Cup of Tea

A Novel of 1917
By Amy Ephron

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Amy Ephron
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060786205

New York City
January, 1917

A young woman stood under a street lamp. It was difficult to make her out at first because she was standing almost in shadow and the mist from the ground, the rains and approaching night made the air and the street seem similarly gray and damp. It was dusk. A light rain was falling.

A man walked up and solicited her. It startled her. She shook her head and turned away. Without another thought of her, he hailed a cab which stopped for him at once. She pulled the thin sweater, hardly protection from the rain, tighter around her shoulders as she stepped back from the curb to avoid the spray of dirt and water as the taxi pulled away.

Down the streets a very different scene. In an antique store famous for accepting only quality estates and European shipments where not a speck of dust had ever been allowed to gather on the shelves, a woman, slightly older than the woman under the street lamp, stood in front of a display case. Her name was Rosemary Fell. Her clothing was exquisite. Her dark hair framed her face even though in the morning she had put it up severely but it was of such thickness that no amount of Coaxing, particularly in damp weather, could ever get it not to fall, a few moments later, softly around her face. She liked the effect and would sometimes play with one of the curls about her forehead when she wanted to appear as though she was thinking of something. Her stance was casual, almost disinterested, her gloves and coat still on as though she had not yet decided whether she had stopped in long enough to actually consider anything. Mr. Rhenquist, the owner of the antique store, was all over her.

"You see, I love my things," he said, in low respectful tones, waiting for her reaction. "I would rather not part with them than sell them to someone who has not that"-he gestured with his hand displaying a pale green jade ring on his ring finger that Rosemary could not help but notice -- "feeling of appreciation which is so rare."

He unrolled a tiny square of blue velvet and pressed it on the glass counter with his pale finger-tips. It was an enamel box he had been keeping for her with a glaze so fine it looked as though it had been baked in cream. "I saved this for you."

On its lid, a minute creature stood under a flowery tree. A hat, no bigger than a geranium petal, with green ribbons, hung from a branch. And a pink cloud like a watchful cherub floated above the creature's head. Rosemary took her hands out of her long gloves to examine the box ...


Excerpted from A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron Copyright © 2005 by Amy Ephron. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Jane Smiley's has lauded Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin for the artistry with which "the power of brilliant analysis" is "married to great wisdom of feeling." How does The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton measure up to this standard?

2. Why does Ms. Smiley choose to describe Lidie's adventures as "all-true" in the title of her novel? How would this work differ had the author chosen to turn her research into a narrative of nonfiction?

3. How does the novel authenticate as well as undermine myths about the North and the South in antebellum America? What traditional notions about frontier life, Westward expansion, and gender roles are confirmed or challenged?

4. After her husband's death, Lidie describes herself as a "new person, " one she "never desired or expected to be." What is the relationship of her former self to her present self? What are the roles of chance, will, and ambition in the shaping of Lidie's life and character?

5. How does landscape function as a major character in the novel?

6. Of the Kansas Territory, Lidie writes, "you could easily act one way one minute and another way the next minute." What is the relationship between Lidie's character in the place she inhabits? How does the K. T.'s lack of definition make possible her discovery of self?

7. Lidie leads a life of adventure as well as a life of the mind. How do her physical endeavors compare to her contemplative pursuits--particularly storytelling--in terms of defining her character?

8. Ms. Smiley said that the novel was born of her desire to explore "the intersection of ideology and violence in American life." What connection does the novelsuggest exists between these two extreme forms of expression?

9. In what ways do the sensibilities of the abolitionists mirror those of the slave-holders? How does each group use religion and history to justify its perspective on slavery?

10. How does the manner in which Lidie and Tom handle the vagaries and challenges of their relationship affect the progress of the social change they are attempting? What relationship exists between one's private life and public endeavours?

11. What purpose is served by introducing each chapter with an excerpt from Catherine Beecher's A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Young Ladies at Home?

12. Experience and reflection help Lidie to move from ignorance and innocence to some sort of understanding of herself and others, yet confusion and ambivalence persist. What is the value of leaving the reader in the company of a conflicted character?

13. Smiley has said that the purpose of great literature is "to help us face up to our responsibilities instead of enabling us to avoid them once again by lighting out for the territory." Does her novel fulfill this purpose? How?

14. What connection lies between gender and violence? What is the significance of Lidie pursuing revenge disguised as a man?

15. What can the reader of Lidie Newton discern about morality and violence? Are the K. T. Free Staters justified in pursuing freedom through violence? What are the antecedents and repercussions of this issue in America?

16. Lidie Newton provides a novel perspective on antebellum America. What other historical events need telling from a woman's point of view?

17. Conjecture about the course of Lidie's adventures had Thomas not died. What are the repercussions of his presence and absence in her days?

18. How do the characters Papa and Helen Day contribute to the moral complexity of the novel? What is the significance of such complexity? Does the character of Lorna deepen or diminish it?

19. In an essay on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jane Smiley reproached Mark Twain for presenting a facile standard of heroism in his novel. She wrote: "All you have to do to be a hero is acknowledge that your poor sidekick is human; you don't actually have to act in the interests of his humanity." Does Lidie successfully act in the interest of Lorna's humanity?

20. "A writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature, " wrote John Steinbeck. What can one say about Ms. Smiley's perspective on such perfectibility given this novel? Does her work leave one with a sense of optimism? What is the novel's defining tone?

21. When presented with the opportunity to share the story of her experiences with Lorna, Lidie hesitates. "I was disinclined to do this, and I pondered my disinclination at length, " she explains. "Did I owe it to Lorna to tell her story to the world?... Mr. Thayer's friend candidly admitted one thing--Lorna herself would never benefit from my telling her story." What is the value of Lidie telling Lorna's story? Of Ms. Smiley telling Lidie's? What can literature accomplish?

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Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is quick and engaging. After reading it I quickly went out to buy another book by her.
Guest More than 1 year ago
great love story even if novella its as if you have read a longer novel. I got much pleasure from it.Its a book Club pick and I am happy the young lady chose this.Appeals to any age.
EllenH on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was reccomended to me. When I started it I thought it was going to be too victorian & predictable. But, what a nice surprise! It is a romance, set in New York during WWI, a chance meeting changes lives.
TakeItOrLeaveIt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a quaint, quick and witty read, Cup of Tea is an excellent telling of the relationships in class, family, and sexuality at the dawn of World War I in New York. The composition of this book is perfect; like a classic pop album. The beginning vividly paints a picture, the middle swirls the paint and the end is a shock discovery hidden behind the canvas. Amy Ephron has a way with words and I feel honored to be given this book by her personally.
Nickelini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Amy Ephron's A Cup of Tea is an interesting literary experiment that works best when read in concert with the original Katherine Mansfield short story (of the same name). Something in the tone seems anachronistic, but other than that, it's a quick and interesting read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the best book i ever read! I would recomand this to any anyone who enjoys reading love stories ! what i also love about this book is that u can't stop reading it u stay hoooked on it day and night =]
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