READERS GUIDEReaders Guide
A Lady’s Formula for Love by Elizabeth Everett
1. In the book, Violet draws a great deal of strength and solace from her friends. At the same time, she feels removed from them when they make light of her insecurities. Do you have friends with whom you have complicated or ambivalent relationships? How do Letty and Lady Phoebe push Violet to be a better person, and what does she give to them?
2. While many people associate the Victorian era with the movement for women’s suffrage, the first few years of Victoria’s reign were socially conservative, a reaction against the excesses of the Regency period and the economic instability following the Napoleonic wars. In addition, with the rise of the middle class, women’s roles as keepers of hearth and home became romanticized, and society had less tolerance for outliers. Do you think the secret scientists at Athena’s Retreat would have been accepted for their pioneering discoveries, or was anonymity their only choice? How much did their financial and social circumstances come into play? What about women today? What commonalties do successful women share in our time?
3. Even though Violet did not have children, and had enough wealth that she could hire servants, she still could not manage to juggle her study of chemistry and the running of a large household. Which role do you think she should have prioritized? How many women do you think gave up the pursuit of their passions to focus on their familial duties? How much has this changed in almost two hundred years, and how much has stayed the same for women?
4. Class still mattered in early Victorian England. Do you think Arthur and Violet will continue to face apprehension about their relationship from people of Violet’s aristocratic class? Do shared values trump shared backgrounds?
5. There are no straightforward villains in this book. Even Adam Winters has multiple layers to him. For example, even though he doesn’t support Winthram’s transition, he still loves and misses him. Do you prefer ambivalence in your villains, or do you want a traditional “bad guy” in your books?
6. One theme running throughout the book is the importance of self-love. Both Violet and Arthur must come to some peace with their internal conflicts before they can fully love each other. How do the other characters in this book inspire this journey? What are some impediments to self-love that women still face today?
7. Violet’s late husband found female desire to be distasteful, and throughout history, women have been made to feel ashamed of their sexuality. How much has this changed over time?
8. Lady Phoebe’s experiences illustrate the phenomenon of the silencing of the female voice in society. While many women accepted that their ideas and opinions could be talked over and ignored because of their gender, Phoebe raged against this practice. Ultimately, she believed that women were justified in using fear and violence to gain attention. Violet disagreed, calling for collaborative advocacy. Does Phoebe have any of your sympathy? Are some marginalized women facing the same choices today?
9. Athena’s Retreat is loosely based on the women’s social clubs that sprang up in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some were modeled after the gentlemen’s clubs, others devoted to politics and education. One was even named for Mary Somerville, the Scottish mathematician. Do you think the tradition of single-sex clubs and schools is beneficial? Would you have belonged to one?
10. In A Lady’s Formula for Love, there are explosive (pun intended) results to the silencing of the female voice by society. Have you had instances in your personal or professional life where you struggled to be heard because of your gender? Today there is controversy over the role of scientists in public discourse. Can you draw parallels between the necessity for secret scientists in the novel and the role of scientists today?