Summer Before the War (Simonson) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. An important subject in The Summer Before the War is women’s lives: their role and limits, and how women work within and against Edwardian strictures. Do you think we can take any modern lessons from these women’s lives?

2. Beatrice and Celeste both idolize their fathers. However, are they both betrayed? Do all the characters place too much trust in father figures? Do you think this a useful metaphor for England as it goes to war?

3. Why do we love the Edwardian era so much? Is it the gentility and supposed innocence of the age? Does this attraction remain for you after reading The Summer Before the War?

4. The author presents two strong women in the characters of Beatrice Nash and Agatha Kent. How are they similar and different? Why do you think the author chose to present both voices?

5. Who is your favorite character and what draws you to him or her in particular? Whom do you dislike in the book, and does he or she have redeeming features?

6. The author has said she thinks the whole world can be explained in a small town. Did she succeed at that in this book? What do you think can or cannot be described and explained within such a setting?

7. Though The Summer Before the War is set in Edwardian En-gland, did you recognize elements of your own town, city, or -social circle in this novel? Could the good ladies and gentlemen of Rye only exist in England, or are such characters found everywhere?

8. Why are books about war so compelling? Do you agree with Beatrice that no writer can ever write about war in a way that will prevent it? Is it a valuable topic anyway?

9. Did The Summer Before the War change what you knew or how you thought of the First World War? How so?
(Questions issued by the pubisher).

Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for The Summer Before the War…then take off on your own:i

1. Talk about the status of women's rights (or the lack of) during the setting of The Summer Before the War. What prejudices does Beatrice, as a woman, have to confront?

2. Comparisons of Simonson's book have been made to the television series Downton Abbey. What parallels do you see? Consider class and gender issues, as well as the effect of the war on the staid Edwardian sensibilities.

3. How would you describe Beatrice Nash? Why does Beatrice reject the idea of marriage?

4. Some of Simonson's dialogue is very funny. Find a few of the quips for fun...but also talk about the serious realities that underlie their surface humor. Consider, for example, this one about the arrival of Belgium refugees: "It is quite impossible to ask our ladies to take absolute peasants into their own houses, however charming their wooden clogs." Underneath its humor, what does it reveal about societal mores?

5. Talk about the incidents of cruelty, both on and off the battlefield. What might Simonson be hinting at when it comes to the cruelty of organized warfare vs. a "peaceful" village society engaged in rivalry for civic boards and pageants...or guns vs. sarcasm?

6. Describe the gruesome conditions and suffering in the battlefield trenches. How does the novel juxtapose that suffering with the naivete of the villagers back home?

7. Talk about how the rigid class attitudes were changed by the war. Hugh Grange, for instance, thinks that the "earthbound ruffians formed as indelible a part of England’s fabled backbone as any boys from Eton’s playing fields."

(This set of questions is by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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