The Runaway Duchess by Joanna Lowell
1. Neal tells himself that “intellectual affinity and common interests” matter more than physical attraction when it comes to choosing his wife. How does this idea strike you? What would you prioritize if you wanted to form a long-term relationship?
2. As a wealthy young woman in Victorian London, Lavinia struggles to meet a particular set of social expectations and embody the feminine ideal. Why does she try so hard to conform? In your own life, how have you found yourself embracing (or rejecting) certain norms? How have others reacted?
3. After reading Muriel Pendrake’s manuscript, Lavinia objects to the very idea of traveling the world to slap Latin onto birds and flowers. How do you understand her objection? What’s your own perspective on the historical development of scientific knowledge?
4. Paris is often described as the city of love. Lavinia adores Paris, but by the end of the book, she sees beauty and romance in the Cornish countryside. What makes a place romantic? What’s the most romantic place you’ve ever been?
5. Lavinia feels betrayed by both her mother and her father. Should she forgive them, and if so, what might forgiveness look like?
6. Neal attributes his parents’ happy marriage to their ability to agree on what’s important, in their case “dinosaur bones, bryophytes, and children.” He and Lavinia disagree on many things. What three things do you think they can agree on? Why would those things be important to their marriage?
7. Lavinia decides to write a romance about pirates. Why do pirates appeal to her? What do you think she’ll write next?
8. Neal describes his courtship with Lavinia as a “fairy tale in reverse.” What are the fairy-tale elements in the book? What do fairy tale and romance have in common?
9. What’s your favorite plant and why?