Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Linked stories have a long tradition in American fiction — Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” and Ernest Hemingway’s “In Our Time,” for instance. How do these stories about Nancy Culpepper work together? What threads unite them into a sustained narrative?
2. Photographs play an important role in the stories, from Jack’s artistic compositions to the family photos that Nancy seeks. How is the relationship between Nancy and Jack suggested by the different ways they regard photographs?
3. There are several weddings and at least two long marriages in Nancy Culpepper. How is the marriage of Nancy’s parents different from Nancy’s marriage to Jack? How similar? How is a “good marriage” defined in the different generations and places, and what would your own definition be?
4. The cultural divide that Nancy feels is expressed in numerous ways. Where exactly does she live in her mind and heart? Is this “schizophrenic” sensibility familiar in modern life? Does her devotion to her parents and her home place hold her back, as Jack believes?
5. What happens to Nancy in “Proper Gypsies?” After the burglary and the conversation with the locksmith, Nancy tours “London by fury.” How do we account for her state of mind in the music store, Westminster Abbey, the restaurant, Trafalgar Square?
6. In the final story, “The Prelude,” Nancy’s history professor comments, “history is imagination.” How does this comment apply to Nancy as a historian? In “The Heirs,” is the story of the farm women something Nancy imagines? How convincing is it? What do you see of Nancy herself in the story of Nova and Artemisia?
7. Images of garden vegetables, especially peas, appear in several of the stories. How do these images reflect Nancy’s attitude toward her rural heritage? Why does her mother (page 138) want to remember to “Tell Nancy about the peas”? When Nancy is in the Lake District in the final story, how do the Scarlet beans complete this thread?
8. Spence’s view of his farm in the first paragraph of page 131 informs his view of the world. Compare this to how Nancy understands the world. Consider the passage at the end of “the Heirs,” page 202, the landscape Nancy remembers from her childhood.
9. Nancy goes to England several times over the years. Why do you think Nancy, in “The Prelude,” was “On a Romantic kick . . . tracing the footsteps of Coleridge and Wordsworth”? Where does the news Jack brings fit into her preoccupation? Does her obsession help her to deal with change?
10. Why is the last story called “The Prelude?”