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The Bolter


The Bolter Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. Depending on who you ask, Idina Sackville was a hundred different things. Her lifelong friend Rosita Forbes claimed that not only was she a vibrant delight to her friends, “she was preposterously—and secretly—kind.” The poet Frédéric de Janzé wrote, “I is for Idina, fragile and frail.” And Frances Osborne’s mother, Idina’s granddaughter, raised her own children to believe that Idina was a bad, selfish woman. After reading The Bolter, which assessment are you most inclined to agree with?

2.  “Along with hunting, shooting, fishing, and charitable works, adultery was one of the ways in which those who did not have to work for a living could fill their afternoons.”  Does this statement fit in with your own ideas about Edwardian England? How does it differ?

3. In Edwardian England, the upper classes could misbehave so long as they were not found out. As the actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell said, “It doesn't matter what you do in the bedroom, as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.” What do you think of this moral code of behavior?

4. Muriel, Idina’s mother, was an unconventional woman herself. How do you think Muriel’s decision to divorce Gilbert and follow her friend Annie Besant into Theosophy affected Idina’s worldview? How could her marriage to Euan be called an act of “rebelling”? Was she right to marry him?

5. World War I obviously took a toll on Idina and Euan’s marriage. Do you think the relationship would have turned out any differently had the war not forced them into such “strange wartime married life”? When Idina bolted with Charles Gordon, do you think things could have still been repaired with Euan, or was she right in thinking her marriage was a lost cause?

6. Is your opinion of Idina’s decision to be separated from her children at all affected by the double standards of the era’s divorce laws or the distant manner in which many upper-class parents brought up their children? What about Euan’s rigid ultimatums?

7. Frances Osborne writes that Idina’s passion for Kenya was to become “her longest love affair.” What do you think drew her to Africa?

8. Idina planned on having an “open” marriage with Joss, both of them were allowed to have lovers, provided that “nothing got too serious.” Do you think that an open marriage could ever work?

9. When asked whether she minded Alice de Janzé sleeping with Joss, Idina said, “But Alice is my best friend.” Idina knew that Alice would not take Joss away from her, but do you think that she really did not mind that relationship?

10. “Idina’s greatest sin was not her need for new sexual excitement but that she insisted upon marrying her boyfriends . . . thus shaking the traditional social structure grounded on lifelong marriages.” Frances Osborne suggests that it was a way to play up her role as a socially outlawed femme fatale. Do you agree? Or do you think Idina meant what she said when she wrote that marriage “is probably the only real solution to happiness”?

11. Idina was a successful and hard working farmer. She treated the people who worked for her well and, like them, went barefoot. How does this affect your view of Idina’s bad behavior?

12. Idina reconnected with her sons when they were adults and struck up a strong bond. To what extent could her relationship with them at this stage be considered mothering? Is it possible, do you think, for a woman to suddenly become a mother to her children after so many years apart? How do you think the relationship would have developed had David and Gee not been killed so soon?

13. In her glittering review of The Bolter, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times wrote that “Idina Sackville could have stepped out of an Evelyn Waugh satire about the bright young things who partied away their days in the '20s and '30s, and later crashed and burned.” In what ways do you feel that Idina was emblematic of her times? In what ways do you feel that Idina was a victim of her times?

14. Do you think Idina could ever have had a successful marriage? How different do you think Idina’s love life would have been if she had lived in the 1990's?

15. Who might be considered an “Idina” today? Or have we lost that compelling combination of sophistication and sin?

16. Do you think Idina made any good decisions in her life? Or, which do you think was the most unfortunate one?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit

Product Details

Osborne, Frances
Vintage Books USA
Europe - Great Britain - General
Africa - East - Kenya
Rich & Famous
biography;non-fiction;africa;1920s;kenya;history;england;british;1930s;divorce;wwi;women;adultery;20th century;marriage;happy valley;scandal
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.14x5.30x.76 in. .75 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Women
Featured Titles » History and Social Science
History and Social Science » Europe » Great Britain » 20th Century
History and Social Science » Europe » Great Britain » General History
History and Social Science » World History » Africa
History and Social Science » World History » England » General

The Bolter Used Trade Paper
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Product details 368 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780307476425 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , Jazz Age celebrity Idina Sackville dazzled men and women alike, and made a habit of marrying whenever she fell in love--five husbands in all and lovers without number. Hers was the age of bolters, and Idina was the most celebrated of them all. Brilliant and utterly divine.--Michael Korda, "The Daily Beast."
"Synopsis" by , US
"Synopsis" by , A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year

An O, The Oprah Magazine #1 Terrific Read

In an age of bolters—women who broke the rules and fled their marriages—Idina Sackville was the most celebrated of them all. Her relentless affairs, wild sex parties, and brazen flaunting of convention shocked high society and inspired countless writers and artists, from Nancy Mitford to Greta Garbo. But Idina’s compelling charm masked the pain of betrayal and heartbreak.


Now Frances Osborne explores the life of Idina, her enigmatic great-grandmother, using letters, diaries, and family legend, following her from Edwardian London to the hills of Kenya, where she reigned over the scandalous antics of the “Happy Valley Set.” Dazzlingly chic yet warmly intimate, The Bolter is a fascinating look at a woman whose energy still burns bright almost a century later.

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