Synopses & Reviews
London, 1711. As the rich, young offspring of the city's most fashionable families þll their days with masquerade balls and clandestine court-ships, Arabella Fermor and Robert, Lord Petre, lead the pursuit of pleasure. Beautiful and vain, Arabella is a clever coquette with a large circle of beaus. Lord Petre, seventh Baron of Ingatestone, is a man-about-town with his choice of mistresses. Drawn together by an overpowering attraction, the two begin an illicit affair.
Alexander Pope, sickly and nearly penniless, is peripheral by birth, yet his uncommon wit and ambition gain him unlikely entrance into high society. Once there, privy to every nuance and drama, he is a ruthless observer. He longs for the success that will cement his place in society; all he needs is one poem grand enough to make his reputation.
As the forbidden passion between Arabella and Lord Petre deepens, an intrigue of a darker nature threatens to overtake them. Fortunes change and reputations even lives are imperiled. In the aftermath, Pope discovers the idea for a daring poem that will catapult him to fame and fortune.
"'Hunchbacked satirist poet Alexander Pope finds inspiration in the foibles of 18th-century London's young, rich and arrogant in Gee's shrewd debut, an erudite period piece filled with outrageous flirtation, social maneuvering and contests of wit. The low-born Pope is permitted entry to London's upper echelons after some of his poems gain a gilded readership, and his literary ambitions and adventures in the city with childhood friends Martha and Teresa Blount are offset by the passionate but clandestine romance between the beautiful Arabella Fermor (who happens to be related to the Blounts), and the haughty Lord Petre, whose involvement in a plot to assassinate the queen lands him in a tight spot. The stories intersect when Pope immortalizes the lovers' high-class intrigue in a scalding poem. The novel is sprinkled with literary cameos and jokes English lit majors will appreciate, while crackling verbal one-upmanship and crude double entendres should keep the hoi polloi turning pages. The main disappointment is that Pope's much talked about poems never appear in full. But that's a small blemish, and Gee's take on the Paris Hilton like figures who pranced through London 300 years ago manages to be simultaneously tabloid bawdy and academy proper.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A reader unfamiliar with The Rape of the Lock will leave this work without a more holistic sense of the richness of the original, and, by extension, a key motivation for telling this story. But while this might hold less 18th-century passion and intrigue than the original poem, it is still an enjoyable tale." Charlotte Observer
"Occasionally, the overabundance of historical detail intrudes, slowing the pace and distancing the reader from the characters with references to their actual existence as historical personages....Nevertheless, this work is highly recommended." Library Journal
"Gee writes with scholarly confidence, underpinning the racy intrigue of her account with a real understanding of the characters and their world." New Yorker
About the Author
Sophie Gee is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Princeton. Born in Australia, she graduated from the University of Sydney and received her Ph.D. in English from Harvard. She was recently named a John E. Annan Bicentennial Preceptor, the highest distinction that can be given to a member of Princeton's junior faculty.
Reading Group Guide
The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee
London, 1711. Renowned beauty Arabella Fermor leads a lively life with masquerade balls, opera engagements, and social engagements filling her every day. Though she enjoys the attentions of a large circle of suitors, she fancies none of them...until she meets the strikingly handsome Robert, Lord Petre, the seventh Baron of Ingatestone, and embarks upon a forbidden affair that threatens to destroy reputations, fortunes -- even lives. As their affair and the political events of the era unfold, the young, penniless poet Alexander Pope observes the workings of high society from his spot on the periphery, using his wit to transform Arabella and Lord Petre's affair into the literary sensation of the era and gaining entrance to a world formerly closed to him. Based upon true events, The Scandal of the Season vividly brings to life the forbidden passions of key historical figures and political intrigues that inspired Alexander Pope's poem, "The Rape of the Lock," one of the most important literary works in history.
1. Two mysterious figures abduct and murder a priest in the prologue of The Scandal of the Season. Before he dies, the priest says, "You are too late. Others already know." To what is he referring? Who were the Jacobites and what was their mission? How does their mission affect the lives of the characters in The Scandal of the Season?
2. Describe Alexander Pope's personality and temperament. What is his greatest weakness? Does your opinion of Alexander change over the course of the story?
3. Compare the sisters, Martha and Teresa Blount. What motivates each of them? Who do you admire more and why? When you find out in the epilogue how they spent the rest of their lives, does it change your opinion of them?
4. Consider Alexander's relationships and his opinions of women in the novel, including Martha, Teresa, Lady Mary Pierrepont, and Arabella. What does he admire most in a woman -- beauty, intelligence or wit?
5. What kind of a person is Arabella Fermor? Does she have an equivalent in today's society? Why does she enter into an affair with Lord Petre, risking her family's honor and position in English society -- and consequently, her future?
6. Lord Petre pursues an illicit affair with Arabella and becomes involved in a plot to assassinate the queen although both have potentially dangerous consequences. Why drives him to take such risks? Do you think he is at fault for the disastrous ending?
7. Alexander is sometimes scornful of London's literary community and also of high society, and yet he longs to become a part of both circles. How does the approval of each of these groups contribute to his success? Which do you think is more important to him?
8. How does gossip influence the events and characters in The Scandal of the Season? How do the characters use it to manipulate one another? Is gossip as powerful today as it was in eighteenth-century England? Why or why not?
9. Sexual freedom was one of the most important, and perhaps most surprising, aspects of eighteenth-century culture. In what ways do the characters' attitudes towards sex and love mirror our own? Do the men and women in the novel have an equal level of sexual freedom? What about men and women today?
10. Discuss the options available to women in the eighteenth century, comparing the Blount sisters, Arabella, Catherine Walmesley, Lady Castlecomber, Lady Mary Pierrepont, and Molly Walker.
11. During the time period when The Scandal of the Season takes place, anti-Catholic sentiments were on the rise, with laws being enacted to limit the rights of Catholics. Do you see parallels between the Protestant/Catholic situation in the eighteenth century and religious and political events today?
12. "The Rape of the Lock" is considered a "mock epic"; in it Pope satirizes society and the affair between Arabella and Lord Petre. Read the version of the poem included in the book. What are some examples of how Pope mocks society? How does Gee incorporate Pope's judgments and opinions into the novel?
13. Each chapter begins with an epigraph from "The Rape of the Lock." Compare the meanings of these lines in the poem to how they are used in The Scandal of the Season. What does each epigraph represent about the chapter in which it is used?
14. In the afterword, the author documents what happened to the characters in The Scandal of the Season. Whose fate surprised you the most? Which character do you wish you could learn more about?
1. Do some basic research about British history to learn more about the time period in which Alexander Pope and the other characters lived. Start your meeting with a brief overview to ground the story and your discussion.
2. Read the short version of "The Rape of the Lock" included in the back of The Scandal of the Season (the longer 1714 version is available at www.gutenberg.org/etext/9800). Compare the sequence of events in the poem and in the novel.
3. Visit The National Portrait Gallery's website at http://www.npg.org.uk and search for portraits by Charles Jervas or others from the time period to see what the characters looked like (hint: there's a portrait of Alexander Pope) and what sort of clothing they wore.