WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW! If you haven’t read the book yet (and plan to), I don’t recommend reading this post!
Please share your favorite lines
‘It’ll be a change,’ says Marcus. ‘Something different.’
‘Not a mystery.’
Marcus laughs. ‘No. Not a mystery. Just a nice safe history.’
Ah, my darling. But there is no such thing.
The beginning of the end:
1. Duty is very important to the youthful Grace. Did Grace’s sense of duty contribute to the novel’s conclusion? If so, how? Would things have turned out better for the characters if Grace had made different decisions?
Absolutely. Duty defines the first part of Grace’s life, while she is in service, and her decision to remain with Hannah until the end shows the extent of her dedication. If she hadn’t wanted to please Hannah, to feel close to her, she would have admitted much earlier that she couldn’t read shorthand. If she hadn’t feared not knowing Hannah’s plans, she wouldn’t have read the note that was meant for Emmeline and misunderstood its intention.
2. Why again the mention of guilt on Grace’s part? Do you think she could be over reacting?
I can understand why Grace feels guilty over the way things end, as it is a deception on her own part that is partly to blame for the resulting events. But at the same time, she is not responsible for Emmeline’s obsession with Robbie, nor for Robbie’s shell-shocked condition. Many different factors play into the tragedy that unfolds that night and in the months to follow. If Grace feels her guilt so keenly, it is probably because she loved Hannah so much and only wanted to help and please her.
Questions on the whole novel:
3. Do you think of The House at Riverton as a tragic novel?
Yes–I don’t think the ending can be interpreted any other way, even if there is hope for the younger generation. Grace’s generation is one that is marked by tragedy because of the war and all the evil that it spawned, and although she has some happiness in her life, it has always been overshadowed by tragedy.
4. How important to the novel’s outcome is Grace’s longing for a sister? When Grace finds out about her true parentage, why does she choose not to tell Hannah? Is it the right decision? Would things have ended differently had she done otherwise?
This is the part of the story that leaves me wondering, even after I’ve finished it. I suppose Grace felt her own position as a servant so strongly that she wouldn’t have dared make the assumption of telling Hannah the truth about their relation. She remains subservient to Hannah to the very end, even as she tries to help her. I think it’s sad, though, that Hannah never knows the truth. I’m not sure it would have changed the outcome of the story, but it might have made Hannah a bit more understanding about Grace’s deception and could have fostered a greater closeness between them. After all, Hannah sacrifices her chance at happiness with Robbie to save her sister Emmeline–family is obviously of utmost importance to her. Maybe she wouldn’t have felt so alone if she knew that Grace was her sister.
5. The First World War was a catalyst for enormous social and cultural change. Not a character in The House at Riverton is left untouched by this. Whose life is most altered? Why?
I think Grace is the most changed by the war, as it opens up opportunities for her that might otherwise never have existed. She is able to have a full life after leaving service, and even manages to have a relationship with Alfred again in the later part of her life.
6. Is there a heroine in The House at Riverton? If so, who is it and why?
I’m not sure. I wish we could have seen more of Grace after she leaves service, as her life as a housemaid and lady’s maid doesn’t give us a chance to see her as a fully developed character. She is the one who survives, and in that sense she’s a heroine, but I’m not sure she ever really overcomes all that happened.
Thanks to Emma of Words and Peace for hosting The House at Riverton readalong. Although I was a bit late finishing the book, I did enjoy it!