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Keeping the World Away Reader’s Guide

By Margaret Forster

Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Before the affair between Rodin and Gwen began, Gwen found most of her passion from painting. She could sit for hours, focused intently on her canvas. Suddenly, when she started modeling for Rodin and their physical attraction blossomed, “she had no desire to produce any work at all. She no longer wanted to paint. Why should she?…It was enough to pose for her master… and make love with him afterward.” What do you make of this either/or scenario? Do you agree with the sentiment that “good” art often stems from an inadequacy: depression, insanity, loneliness, desire, etc.?

2. What do you make of Ursula’s interpretation of Gwen’s painting of her room as “a life inside which had been brought outside”?

3. When the feisty Charlotte is fourteen, she dreams of becoming an artist. Part of the appeal is that “…a true artist did not care about money” and that “being without money would be exciting.” To this day, people still have the opinion that being a starving artist is glamorous and thrilling for that very reason–that it’s somehow romantic to be poor. Where do you think this perception comes from, and do you agree with its sentiment?

4. How are each of the women in the novel connected? Do they share similar perspectives? Does the book’s title apply to them all?

5. Many of the women in this book long to be “real” artists but instead feel trapped by the responsibilities that come with marriage and motherhood. Do you think it’s possible in today’s working-mother world to do both, or do you think it’s still as difficult as it was?

6. If you had to choose one woman to whom you related to the most in Keeping the World Away, who would you choose and why?

7. Do you think rooms have spirits as Gillian does? If so, do you have a room that speaks to you in the way Gwen’s room painting spoke to its owners?

8. What do you like to do when you are in the mood to “keep the world away?”

9. If you had to pick your favorite painting, what would it be (and by whom?) and why?

10. If you were to stumble upon a painting that utterly possessed you, what would it look like? Where would you hang it?

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