Short History of Women (Walbert)

Discussion Questions 
1. Throughout the novel, Walbert consistently reveals future events before they occur—from Father Fairfield's death to Dorothy Townsend (Barrett's) impending divorce. Why do you think she chooses to do this? How does this change the pacing of the story?

2. How is Evelyn's release of the canary symbolic of her own desires? (p.15) Why do you think she gets so angry when the bird refuses to leave on its own? How does she feel once it is gone? How does this parallel the actions that Evelyn eventually takes?

3. The novel opens with Evelyn Charlotte Townsend's mother starving herself for her cause, a death "brought on by modern ideas, pride, acertain vanity or rather, unreasonable expectations." (p. 76) How does her death spur on the next generation of this family? How do you think things would have been different if she had not died? Would Evelyn and subsequent Townsend generations have been as bold as they were? Why or why not?

4. Discuss how all the women in the novel struggle between their rebellious ideals and trying to lead a "normal" life. Do you believe Dorothy when she says that she "didn't sign on for this?" (p. 74)

5. How did you feel when Evelyn lied to Stephen Pope about her family? Why do you think she says "I'll start from nothing...I am now no one's daughter." (p. 90) Does she really reject her past or is she more like her mother than she wants to admit?

6. Each of the women in the novel at one point or another rejects the life they are leading. The most notable instance is Dorothy Townsend's (Barrett) radical change following her son's death. Discuss how each of the women, like Dorothy Townsend, "shed a skin." (p. 104)

7. Discuss the theme of loss in A Short History of Women. What are the major losses that each character experiences? How does this affect the women they are and the women they become?

8. Evie has a long standing relationship with Stephen Pope and has a love for him that she claims is "not what a woman's love should be or look like, absent, as it is, a family, a husband." (p. 173) Yet, they have a very solid and caring relationship. How does this compare to someone like Dorothy Townsend (Barrett) who has a husband she no longer loves?

9. How does Fran's question of "Did you ever ruin your life for a feeling?" (p. 191) reflect the struggles that each woman has experienced? What is Elizabeth's response to Fran's question? Do you think she believes her response? What do you think her response would be if asked the same question about her mother?

10. Which of Dorothy's descendants do you think best embodies her strength and will for the cause? Which do you think embodies it the least? Why?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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