How do the mysterious circumstances surrounding Amy’s birth link her to the Vennaway family? Given Lady Celestina’s tragic history of miscarriages, why do she and her husband prefer to turn Amy over to an orphanage rather than rear her as their child?
2. “What am I? Respectable young woman or guttersnipe? Servant, sister, or friend? My role in the tale of Aurelia Vennaway puzzles no one more than me. . . .” At the start of the novel, how is Amy’s identity inextricably tied to her relationship with Aurelia? How would you characterize the nature of their connection—is Amy more like a sister or a daughter of Aurelia’s?
3. What aspects of Aurelia’s affluent upbringing does she accept and what does she reject? What does her rescue of Amy against the wishes of her parents indicate about her? How would you describe Aurelia’s relationship with her parents?
4. Aurelia’s character is mostly revealed, through her letters to Amy, through Amy’s recollections of her, and through the details provided by the many friends and acquaintances Aurelia made during her time away from Hatville Court. How do these details add up and define Aurelia? How would you describe her temperament, personality, and preoccupations? In what respects does Amy seem like a good companion for Aurelia, and vice versa?
5. As Amy grows up, she finds herself reared by some of the staff at Hatville Court, including Cook; Robin, the undergardener; Benjamin, the groom; and Mr. Henley, the tutor. How well do they substitute for parents? How does Aurelia improve Amy’s quality of life?
6. “[Aurelia] knew that if any one thing on earth could compel me onwards, it would be my sense of devotion to her. She could be dead a thousand years and I would still want to please her.” How does the theme of devotion recur in this novel? How does Amy symbolize devotion in all that she does to follow Aurelia’s posthumous instructions? How does her burgeoning independence threaten her devotion?
7. Much is made in Amy Snow of the rise of Queen Victoria and the condition of women. Discuss some of the feminist themes and concerns that emerge in the book. Consider, for example, the feminist Mrs. Bolton, the decidedly antiman sentiments of Mrs. Riverthorpe, and the marriage predicament of Aurelia as the terminally ill only daughter of landed gentry.
8. How does Amy’s arrival at the home of the Wisters in Twickenham mark her transition from nobody to somebody? What role does Aurelia play in that transformation? How does Amy’s transformation from ugly duckling to swan change how others see her? To what extent does it alter how she sees herself?
9. How does the character of Quentin Garland illustrate the old idiom: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? How do Amy’s naive interactions with Mr. Garland serve as a romantic education of sorts?
10. “Even if I could tell you in person, how would I choose my words? We are not given a language for it, in our chaste society.” How does Aurelia’s premarital relationship with the gardener Robin defy social expectations for a young woman of her standing? How do the mores of this era, with its emphasis on female chastity rather than sexual pleasure, affect men and women differently?
11. How does Henry Mead’s presence in Bath change the quality of Amy’s stay at Hades House and her perception of life in general? What qualities does Henry have that mirror Amy’s personality? How is Henry more compelling than Quentin from Amy’s point of view?
12. At separate balls in Twickenham and Bath, Mrs. Ellington and Mrs. Beverley confront Amy and condemn her publicly for flaunting herself before society and mingling amongst respectable people. How would you characterize the importance of class and social status in this era? How far does Amy’s newly inherited wealth go in securing her social status?
13. Why does Amy resent Aurelia’s final imperative, “Go to York”? How does Amy’s love for Henry threaten to topple her commitment to concluding Aurelia’s treasure hunt? What do Amy’s irritation and frustration suggest about her emergence as a person in her own right? How does the interrupted nature of her departure from Bath hint at the different forces at work in her life?
14. How does Amy’s journey to York alter her grief for Aurelia? What does the Louis Josslyn Capland represent to Amy ? How does her encounter with Louis and her implicit obligation to him, bring Amy’s relationship with Aurelia full circle?
15. How does the epilogue of the book affect your understanding of Lady Celestina? Does it make you agree with Aurelia’s decision to conceal her child from her parents? How does the epilogue shed light on Amy?