Susan Dennard is holding a book club over the course of August for her awesome Victorian zombie series that begins with Something Strange & Deadly and continued in the recently released A Darkness Strange & Lovely. These two books are some of my top reads of 2013, so I was super excited to see that Susan was holding an online book club for all the fans of her series to discuss her work of awesome.
Along with the questions, Susan shared some fun extras on her blog, such as an authentic etiquette manual from the 1860s and pictures of the mental hospital featured in the beginning of A Darkness Strange & Deadly.
This is the first week’s set of questions are below. Potential spoilers for Something Strange & Deadly are in my answer to the A Darkness Strange & Deadly question at the end.
For Something Strange & Deadly:
Eleanor’s mother expects a lot from poor El. She wants Eleanor to marry and save the family from financial ruin (despite the fact that Eleanor is only 16), she wants Eleanor to become friends with the rich “cool” kids (like Allison or the Virtue Sisters), and she wastes money the Fitt family doesn’t have on new gowns and fancy house decor. She demands Eleanor behave according to “proper etiquette” and squeeze into a corset that deforms her ribs.
Do you think, given the time period, Mrs. Fitt is justified in her demands on Eleanor? Why or why not?
While this is a common sort of behavior shown in Victorian-era literature, I’ve never found it to be very rational. After the death of her father, the responsibility of maintaining the family’s well-being fell on the shoulders of Eleanor’s older brother, who took off on some studious mission that eventually leads to the events in the first book. With him out of the picture it really should have been Mrs. Fitt’s duty to maintain their stature or at least face the facts that things needed to change. By grasping onto the final threads holding up the Fitts’ stature by essentially trying to sell her daughter off to the highest bidder, she’s showing that she cares more about money and reputation that her own daughter’s health and happiness.
In the context of the era though, I suppose it makes sense for a woman raised on the misguided morals and expectations of the upper class to place all her expectations on her 16-year-old daughter when the men in her family disappear rather than face truth and start living a more modest lifestyle. Still it makes me sad that Eleanor is faced with such epic expectations at a young age. And corsets didn’t make much sense at any point in time.
For A Darkness Strange & Lovely:
Eleanor finds herself with next to nothing at the start of A Darkness Strange and Lovely. Do you think she is justified in leaving Philadelphia and leaving behind her mother? On the flip side, can you put yourself in Mrs. Fitt’s shoes and understand why she might be so cruel toward Eleanor?
Mrs. Fitt infuriated me in the first book, but it was nothing compared to the abysmal treatment of Eleanor in the one scene they shared in the second book. The circumstances behind Mrs. Fitt’s breakdown into a blind rage that leads her to disowning her daughter all fit together. The events involving Eleanor’s older brother in the first book don’t fit into the small society world that is her mother’s life, so it’s inevitable that rather than face reality and cope, she has a mental breakdown. Eleanor did the best she could with what she had, putting her mother’s care and well-being before her own and doing everything she could.
But when her mother chooses the magically resurrected son Eleanor claimed was dead over her daughter, there is absolutely nothing left for Eleanor. Her mother is beyond reason and the only thing that can be done to keep her safe is to leave Philadelphia. Despite the devastation that she felt after her mother’s outburst, she still did what was best for her mother’s well-being.
From the perspective of her mother, I can understand why she chose her son instead of her daughter. That her son was still alive fit better into the world view she was grasping on to so tightly. Even so the outburst of outright disowning Eleanor is over the top and beyond irrational. I can’t empathize with her going that far, but she’s also not even close to being in her right mind.
And those are my thoughts for this week’s book club. If you’ve read Susan’s amazing series, what do you think about Eleanor’s mother? Is she your average over-bearing Victorian age house wife or is she over the top?