Discussion Questions for With This Curse

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1. How does Clara change after being dis­missed from her posi­tion as cham­ber­maid at Gravesend? How does she change as a result of her mar­riage to Atti­cus? Com­pared to her posi­tion at the start of chap­ter one, in what ways has Clara grown and matured by the end of the nov­el?

2. Atti­cus is nick­named for the mytho­log­i­cal fig­ure Atlas, a Titan who was con­demned by Zeus to hold up the world or the heav­ens. In what ways does this nick­name suit Atti­cus? Is the asso­ci­a­tion neg­a­tive, pos­i­tive, or both? Why?

3. Clara comes to real­ize that she has roman­ti­cized Richard in her mem­o­ries of him. In what ways are her mem­o­ries of Richard inac­cu­rate, ide­al­ized, or warped by her own predilec­tions and wish­es? What makes her real­ize that her mem­o­ries of Richard dif­fer from the real­i­ty? What does Clara gain by rec­og­niz­ing that her mem­o­ries were inac­cu­rate?

4. The past plays a large role in the sto­ry, espe­cial­ly Clara’s and Atticus’s past. In what ways are Clara and Atti­cus trapped in the past? When do their mem­o­ries and past expe­ri­ences inter­fere with their lives—including their life together—in the story’s present? By the end of the nov­el, have they freed them­selves from the past or learned to move beyond it? How?

5. Genevieve’s arrival at Gravesend is a cat­a­lyst in some ways. What hap­pens as a result of her pres­ence? What response does Clara have to her? Lord Telford? In what ways does know­ing Genevieve bring Clara greater under­stand­ing of her­self and of Atti­cus? What might Genevieve rep­re­sent in Clara’s eyes?

6. In the Vic­to­ri­an era, women were fre­quent­ly cat­e­go­rized as either angels or whores, with no gra­da­tions in between. In par­tic­u­lar, women who strayed from the path of sex­u­al virtue were often demo­nized. Where do we see this atti­tude exem­pli­fied in the sto­ry? What are some of the con­se­quences of this black-and-white cat­e­go­riza­tion? When is a more com­plex or nuanced view of women shown, and by whom?

7. Class dis­tinc­tions were very much in force in Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land. How do they come into play in the sto­ry? In what ways are they harm­ful or dam­ag­ing? Is the bound­ary line between mas­ter and ser­vant ever breached in the sto­ry, and, if so, what are the con­se­quences?

8. Par­ent­hood is an impor­tant motif in the sto­ry. What exam­ples do we see of good par­ent­ing and bad par­ent­ing? To what extent do the char­ac­ters’ par­ents shape them? Would you describe Clara’s moth­er as a good par­ent? Lord Telford? Will Clara and Atti­cus be good par­ents?

9. Clara’s per­spec­tive on life—particularly life at Gravesend—is shaped in part by her expe­ri­ence as a cham­ber­maid. What insight does this expe­ri­ence give her that is not present in oth­er char­ac­ters? In what ways do Clara’s years in ser­vice give her an advan­tage in her life as Atticus’s wife, and in what ways are they a dis­ad­van­tage?

10. Clara reflects at one point that secrets can be “poi­so­nous.” What are some of the most sig­nif­i­cant secrets that the char­ac­ters in the sto­ry keep? What are the con­se­quences of these secrets, both when they are kept and when they are revealed? How might the sto­ry have been dif­fer­ent if all of these secrets had been revealed imme­di­ate­ly?

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