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A Bigamist's Daughterby Alice McDermott
Reading Group Guide
1. What were your reactions to Tuppers novel, which shapes the opening scenes of A Bigamists Daughter? Would you have bought his book, joining the hordes of readers he confidently predicted would have been intrigued? What was the effect of reading a book whose plot is built around the publishing process itselfalbeit a very different form of publishing from the one Alice McDermott experienced?
2. A Bigamists Daughter was originally published in 1982. Has our image of single women changed very much since then? Would Elizabeths experiences with dating, living alone, and establishing a career remain the same if she were a twenty-first-century character?
3. How would you describe Elizabeths relationship with her mother? What did her mother teach her about the role of women? What transformations did both women undergo after they began living apart?
4. What is the effect of the novels shifting points of view? In what way did it enhance the storytelling to use past-tense, first-person narration with the chapters set in Maine, allowing you to hear Elizabeths voice in those passages, while the rest of the novel unfolded in the present tense, with third-person narration?
5. How do Ward and Tupper compare as romantics? What makes them attractive to the women in their lives? What accounts for the tremendous differences in their approaches to love?
6. What were your initial impressions of Tupper? Did your opinion of him shift throughout the novel? Would you have trusted him and dated him?
7. What does sex mean to Elizabeth? What did she hope to achieve by staying celibate for several months? What determined whether she found a sexual encounter to be fulfillingemotionally or otherwise?
8. How do Joannes attitudes about weddings and marriage compare to yours? What did her upbringing prepare her for in terms of marriage and having a family of her own? Did she have an advantage over Elizabeth? Would you have preferred to live Joannes life or Elizabeths?
9. To what extent is Elizabeth influenced by her Catholicism and by her Irish ancestry? Does she reject or embrace these legacies? How do these legacies mesh with Tuppers notions of being a Southern gentleman?
10. How is Elizabeth affected by the fact-finding trip to Long Island? Is Tuppers approach to finding an ending appropriate? Is the best ending to a novel found in actual events from someones past?
11. Discuss your reactions to Tuppers comments about men and women at the end of Chapter Seventeen: “If a man fails to connect with a certain woman, he just goes on to someone else. But womenand Im not condoning this, Im just talking about the way things arewomen derive so much more of themselves, their identity, their self-confidence from men.”
12. Which is the greater crime in the novels “bigamies”: disloyalty or dishonesty? What lies does Elizabeth tell? Are they harmful? Or are they necessary for her survival?
13. What parallels run between the seductive hope Elizabeth offers to prospective authors and the romantic seductions she experiences in her personal life? In the end, does Elizabeth become like her father?
14. What patterns did McDermott craft in her literary career with A Bigamists Daughter, her debut novel? What threads continued to be woven throughout her subsequent books? In what way is A Bigamists Daughter completely distinct from the fiction she would later write?
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