A Reader's Guide to Prospice
In reading and thinking about the novel, consider the following questions:
- The crucial and everlasting significance of the relationship between mothers and daughters (as well as fathers and sons) is essential to the foundation of the book. Prospice is told from the perspectives of only two characters: Caroline and Dinah. How does the resonance of this mother/daughter relationship contribute to the emotional impact of the story?
- The style in which Prospice is written is distinctly formal and proper. How does this inform your overall perception of the characters and the story?
- The evolution of social mores and the immediacy of communication in today’s world would effectively preempt much of the sense of taboo, misunderstanding, and heartache found in Prospice. How does the setting contribute to the romance and sense of anticipation in the novel? Would this story be as compelling, complicated, or even interesting today?
- In the beginning of the story, Caroline moves to Salem to escape “…the ghost who sat in Gideon’s chair….” At the end of the story, Caroline, Tru, and Dinah have moved back to Beaufort. What role does place play in the novel?
- When Tom and Caroline first talk, he mentions his wife Margaret’s suicide. Was the fact that her suicide followed on the heels of Whit’s accident a noticeable clue to the secrets yet to be discovered, or did the subtlety elude you? What other clues did you find along the way to foreshadow what was to come?
- The title Prospice is taken from a poem by Robert Browning, written after his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, had died. It is also the Latin imperative to “look ahead.” How do these ideas relate to the themes in the novel?
- Readers tend to relate best to things they recognize from personal experience. Caroline’s reaction upon discovering the feelings of Dinah and Tru may have surprised you. She was dismayed, yet remained circumspect and somewhat measured. Is this how you would have reacted? Did it affect your feelings about Caroline—or about Dinah and Tru? Do you think her reaction was affected more by the mores of the time or by her own particular personality traits? Do you think personal experience informs your perception of the plausibility of a character’s actions?
- In the same vein, when Tom reveals that he had always known that Tru was Whit’s son, what was your reaction? Does his acceptance surprise you? How would you imagine that scenario might go if it happened within your own life?
- When reading dialogue, personal interpretation of tone can affect perception. Did the character of Jemima come across to you as sympathetic and appealing, or pesky and occasionally irksome?
- Looking back, what foreshadowing can you recognize of Jemima’s ultimate tragedy?
- How does Dinah’s unusual maturity and academic intellect serve the story? Do you see adolescents and young adults today as being less mature or more mature than those of another generation?
- What conscious or subconscious impact do the letters that Dinah finds have on her? How does the love story between Nathanial Hawthorne and Elizabeth Peabody that unfolds in the letters relate to the love story in the main plot?
- The clues that Tru leaves for Dinah in the first half of the novel are sometimes subtle. Which ones stood out as the most telling? Did the underscored lines in Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales effectively clue you in to his feelings?
- What role does Coco serve in the novel? Throughout the story, do you think her character evolves, or is it the empathy, perception, and open-heartedness of those around her that evolves?
- What do you think the real relationship is between Coco and Harley?
- What did you find most surprising within the story?
- Who are your favorite characters in the book?
- Does the book end as you expected? How did the ending affect you?