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Plantation Reader’s Guide

By Dorothea Benton Frank

Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank


Questions and Topics for Discussion


Caroline Wimbley Levine always swore she’d never go home again. But now, at her brother’s behest, she has returned to South Carolina to see about Mother—only to find that the years have not changed the Queen of Tall Pines Plantation. Miss Lavinia is as maddeningly eccentric as ever—and absolutely will not suffer the questionable advice of her children. This does not surprise Caroline. Nor does the fact that Tall Pines is still brimming with scandals and secrets, betrayals and lies. But she soon discovers that something is different this time around. It lies somewhere in the distance between her and her mother-and in her understanding of what it means to come home…



The sands of Sullivan’s Island follow me everywhere. No matter where I have traveled, worked or lived, I am only and always a woman whose home place is the beach. Growing up there gave me lots of time to dream – to dream of what my life would become. And writing this book gave me lots of time to remember. One of my happiest summer memories – besides digging holes to China and sliding down the hill fort – is of the Bookmobile. This old clanker of a bus/van would stop in front of my momma’s house and I would run for my fortnightly dose of juvenile literature. Three books under my arm, I’d dive into our hammock and finish them all in one day without moving. Then I’d have to wait thirteen days until the Bookmobile returned. Waiting became a theme in my life – waiting for more books, waiting to be old enough to do this or that, for life to give me permission to pursue my dreams, for a million things. I’ll probably never develop the virtue of patience, so waiting is my cross. It should be the worst thing I have ever had to bear.

Unlike my sister Lynn, I was a terrible student. Around my twelfth year, I stopped studying in school. I was the classic case of wanting to be cool, the Saving Ophelia Syndrome, rebelling against everything and a whole long list of pathetic excuses. I only reveal this now to let you know that where you start seldom has anything to do with where you land. Life is not like the trajectory of a bullet. I never stopped reading and I never stopped working. Both of these I do with frightening vigor. I managed to graduate from a fashion school on sheer luck and worked on Seventh Avenue for years. I took what skills I had used there into the world of volunteerism for a few more years, raising money for the arts and education.

That vigor is the thirst I could never quench, and the harsh realities of the business world and volunteer fundraising made me understand just how critical a complete education is. But love of words (and my compulsion to be understood) is what made this miracle of becoming a published author come true. So now I’d like to do something for other women who for whatever reason didn’t get the educational experience they longed for and who can’t find the courage to change their lives. And, needless to say, I’d like to do something for women and children without hope, who don’t dream. Please take a moment to visit the Foundation link and share your thoughts.

So what else? I am ecstatically happy with my delicious husband Peter, and adore my two children, Victoria and William down to their last freckles. I have two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Henry and Buster who are as cute as cookies. I play awful tennis, cheat at cards to make my children laugh, speak emergency French and Italian – lots of gesturing, love to cook and entertain. I also garden like mad, still love to visit Sullivan’s Island as often as possible, and am always looking for an adventure. I still read like a lunatic – favorite authors are the ones I shamelessly tortured to give me endorsements for my book – John Berendt, Pat Conroy, Bret Lott, Fern Michaels, and Ann Rivers Siddons. I’m always on a diet and admit to being slightly neurotic. If I could have anything in the world, it would be to pick up my entire life and drop it on the beach at Sullivan’s Island. Writing is the next best thing.


  • Caroline and Richard never really had much in common. What was the attraction? Was Richard a father figure? Would she have been better off marrying a Lowcountry boy? Were Richard and a life in New York an act of defiance?
  • Caroline suspected very early on that Richard was still involved with Lois, yet denial kicked in. Why? Was that part of the “Wimbley Family Law”? When it’s too tough to deal with, just pretend it’s not there?
  • Caroline’s memories of her Father are vivid. How does his death affect her feelings about him? How does it influence her relationships with other men? With which parent does she identify and why? And, do we become our parents?
  • Why is Caroline’s relationship with Lavinia so complicated? Isn’t she more like Lavinia than she chooses to admit? How does Caroline benefit from acknowledging their similarities?
  • Their father’s tragic death played a huge role in shaping Tripp and Caroline. Discuss the impact that Lavinia’s reaction had on both children. How did Nevil’s death change Lavinia’s life? Do you think she ever really recovered?
  • As Lavinia’s closest friend and an alternate mother to Caroline and Tripp, Millie is a key character in all their lives. Discuss how she influenced each of their lives.
  • Healing is at the heart of this book. Though Millie has an encyclopedic knowledge of herbal remedies, her most important healing was done simply by listening and advising. Do you think she passed on that wisdom more so than her herbal skills?
  • The ACE Basin is a full-blown character in Plantation. How does the familiar beauty of the Edisto help the Wimbley family heal? Discuss its importance as a refuge and a “home” to each member of the family.
  • Like Caroline, Tripp chose his spouse as a reaction to the void he felt in his family life. How is the healing of the family responsible, in part, for the dissolution of his miserable marriage?
  • How does Eric’s move to Tall Pines change his life? Do you think Lavinia’s ability to openly adore Eric reveals something important to her own children? What draws Eric and Tripp together? And why does Lavinia reject Tripp’s children.
  • If Lavinia, Caroline and Tripp are so civilized, why can’t they overcome their feelings about Frances Mae? Do being so very wealthy and also the family matriarch give Lavinia the right to be so judgmental? Do you think Frances Mae hates them all?
  • Caroline rediscovers Lavinia and has a new level of respect for much of Lavinia’s behavior that she did not understand in the past. Now, Caroline will assume Lavinia’s role as head of the family. How will this change Caroline and Tall Pines?
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