1. How would you describe Texier’s writing style? Why has she chosen to structure the narrative around a single day late in Victorine’s life and interweave it with flashbacks? How does this structure work with the plot and the atmosphere of the novel? What effect does the structure have on the reader that a straightforward, chronological structure would not? What is the purpose of Texier’s prologue and epilogue?
2. Describe the different places in Victorine. What do the landscapes hold for the characters and the story? How do the characters react differently to the various landscapes? How are Victorine’s houses in both Vendée and Vietnam described? Why are they described in such detail?
3. How has growing up in a small village in Vendée, on the Atlantic coast of France, affected Victorine’s personality and desires? How has it influenced her decisions and compromises? Why does she escape this world and then abandon her new life and return to France?
4. Why is the tale of how Victorine got her name important? Does it reveal anything about her and what she is going to be like? How do her childhood and her parents mold the adult that Victorine becomes? Describe her parents. In what ways is she similar to her father? How does he encourage her to follow her dreams?
5. Antoine tells Victorine, “I will not betray you” [p. 158]. But Victorine reflects that she is the betrayer. Discuss the theme of betrayal in this novel. What types of betrayal occur in the novel? Who betrays whom? Is silence a betrayal? Antoine tells Victorine, “It’s your silence that is poisoning your life” [p. 241]. Do you agree with this statement? Are the French betraying the Vietnamese? Are they betraying the democratic ideals of their home country?
6. What is the role of opium in the novel? How do the various characters react to it and change their opinion of it over the course of the novel? How do the French use it to control the Vietnamese? How do various people use it to control others? Why do the French tax opium? What do you learn about French colonialism in Indochina through reading Victorine?
7. Discuss the theme of the corset and the unhooked woman in Victorine.
8. How are the characters of Antoine and Armand both similar and different? How does each court Victorine and win her heart? What attracts her to each man? Is her relationship with each man different? What determines and undermines Victorine’s romantic attachments? How do the events of the novel shift her ties to each man? Armand explains to Victorine, “If you’re never satisfied with what you have, you’ll always be miserable” [p. 121]. Does she have a satisfying relationship with either man?
9. “How can she, just like that, walk from one man’s bed to another’s?” Victorine asks herself [p. 154]. How and why does she?
10. Describe her relationship with the Buddhist monk. What do they share? What does she learn from him and perhaps he from her? How is he different from the other men in her life?
11. Contrast Victorine with the other women in the novel—her sisters, Armand’s sisters, her mother, and Camille. What is her relationship like with these various women? Why does she want to continue working when all the other women around her are housewives?
12. What kind of mother is Victorine? Why doesn’t she take her children with her when she escapes to Vietnam? How has motherhood transformed or hindered Victorine? What is Victorine’s mother like?
13. The novel raises the question of whether responsibility to one’s family and society is more sacred than being true to oneself. Discuss the tension between responsibility and freedom in Victorine’s life. How does she both escape and embrace her feelings of captivity and independence? Does she remain true to herself with her decisions?
14. Victorine is filled with references and allusions to books and to writing. In what ways is the novel both telling a story and commenting on the importance of stories and novels in our lives? What is the importance of novels about women and far-off lands to Victorine? Who are her favorite novelists? Name some of the books mentioned. What is the significance of the references to writing—postcards, journals, letters, teaching the students to spell, and learning Chinese calligraphy?
15. Why does Victorine throw away the notebook of her journal entries after keeping it for so many years?
16. What is the significance of the abundant ocean and water imagery (the canals of Vendée, the Mekong River) in Victorine? What do the beach and the ocean represent for Victorine? What about the stuffed seagull?