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bentley
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Re: THEMES: Characters



3M wrote:


KxBurns wrote:
What did you think of the various characters in the novel? Were some particularly well-developed? Were there characters you would have enjoyed seeing developed more fully? Who did you like best or least and why?

Karen




I had mixed feelings about all the characters! I didn't really care for Hannah but didn't hate her; she just made some poor decisions. I didn't care at all for Deborah but felt a little sorry for Teddy. Grace was good and loyal, but sometimes that can be to a fault.

The characters I really liked were the head servants at Riverton.




3M: I agree with your comments on this aside from Teddy. I felt the same for Teddy as I did for Hannah.

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Re: THEMES: Characters

I am in the minority I actually felt very sorry for Frederick. I enjoyed discovering the many things that made Frederick tick. I think that Frederick was in a very tough position. His older brother was a hero and obviously the favorite in the family. If he did anything good it could not compare to his older brother. When he got sick as a child and it ruined his chance to join the service it was not only a great sadness for him but I am sure a terrible disappointment to his parents.
I think his intentions were good with his businesses. He wanted quality not quantity which is what his downfall ultimately was. When making the planes for the war he refused to replace people with machines and raise profits. He did not want the planes falling apart. It was a noble thought and one that he did not enough credit for. It was not the best business decision, causing him to fail.
With Grace I think he did want to be with her mother. That would have been devastating as well. He would have been disowned and cast out which would have been worse for both him and Grace. I think that Grace was taken care of in the manner of the time.
Frederick obviously loved Grace's mom, I personally think that is what ultimately made him choose to end his own life. She was gone, his son was gone, he no longer spoke to Hannah and Emme had nothing to do with him. He led a tragic life and it was ended in the way he felt it should. I hope he found the peace he was looking for.
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Re: THEMES: Characters

The only character I really didn't like was Deborah (Deb), Teddy's sister. For some reason she always seemed superfluous; every action she performed (like mentioning Robbie being over frequently, etc.) could have easily been done by the other characters. Considering that Deb also seemed to move into what was rightly Hannah's house and take everything over, from the decorating to the entertaining, the character takes up too much space.



KxBurns wrote:
THEMES threads are for open discussion of themes throughout the entirety of the book. If you're worried about stumbling across spoilers, read no further!

What did you think of the various characters in the novel? Were some particularly well-developed? Were there characters you would have enjoyed seeing developed more fully? Who did you like best or least and why?

Karen


Melissa W.
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Re: THEMES: Characters



pedsphleb wrote:
The only character I really didn't like was Deborah (Deb), Teddy's sister. For some reason she always seemed superfluous; every action she performed (like mentioning Robbie being over frequently, etc.) could have easily been done by the other characters. Considering that Deb also seemed to move into what was rightly Hannah's house and take everything over, from the decorating to the entertaining, the character takes up too much space.



KxBurns wrote:
THEMES threads are for open discussion of themes throughout the entirety of the book. If you're worried about stumbling across spoilers, read no further!

What did you think of the various characters in the novel? Were some particularly well-developed? Were there characters you would have enjoyed seeing developed more fully? Who did you like best or least and why?

Karen









I think Deborah helps set the atmosphere of how Hannah must feel to be trapped in this household-----she's a person with freedom who thwarts Hannah's freedom.
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Re: THEMES: Characters

[ Edited ]
In all honesty, I can't say that I "liked" any one character particularly. The word 'liked' when referring to a novel character seems inappropriate. I don't have to like a character in order to be intrigued by them and want to know their end.

I wonder what makes a good story? Do we have to like the characters? If not, as I believe, what is it that causes us to want to know their story? Is it merely good plot development? This seems too undemanding.

Maybe the writer must create a vivd enough sketch of the main lot so as to our feeling that we 'know' them. I notice many differing opinions on here, but none are as varied as the male character interpretations... (Is Teddy gay? Is Frederick a villain or victim? What was Alfred's full story?). And following previous posts noticing Ms. Morton's diminished development of the male foils, maybe this speculation upon the male characters, and our diminished enjoyment of them, substantiates my thought that we must, at least, know the characters in order to buy into the story.

Message Edited by Tasses on 01-20-2008 09:49 PM
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Re: THEMES: Characters



3M wrote:


KxBurns wrote:
What did you think of the various characters in the novel? Were some particularly well-developed? Were there characters you would have enjoyed seeing developed more fully? Who did you like best or least and why?

Karen




I had mixed feelings about all the characters! I didn't really care for Hannah but didn't hate her; she just made some poor decisions. I didn't care at all for Deborah but felt a little sorry for Teddy. Grace was good and loyal, but sometimes that can be to a fault.

The characters I really liked were the head servants at Riverton.




I agree with you. The head servants were fasinating and interesting characters. I really liked them too.
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Bonnie824
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Re: THEMES: Characters



RachelAnn wrote:
I am in the minority I actually felt very sorry for Frederick. I enjoyed discovering the many things that made Frederick tick. I think that Frederick was in a very tough position. His older brother was a hero and obviously the favorite in the family. If he did anything good it could not compare to his older brother. When he got sick as a child and it ruined his chance to join the service it was not only a great sadness for him but I am sure a terrible disappointment to his parents.
I think his intentions were good with his businesses. He wanted quality not quantity which is what his downfall ultimately was. When making the planes for the war he refused to replace people with machines and raise profits. He did not want the planes falling apart. It was a noble thought and one that he did not enough credit for. It was not the best business decision, causing him to fail.
With Grace I think he did want to be with her mother. That would have been devastating as well. He would have been disowned and cast out which would have been worse for both him and Grace. I think that Grace was taken care of in the manner of the time.
Frederick obviously loved Grace's mom, I personally think that is what ultimately made him choose to end his own life. She was gone, his son was gone, he no longer spoke to Hannah and Emme had nothing to do with him. He led a tragic life and it was ended in the way he felt it should. I hope he found the peace he was looking for.




I also felt sorry for him RachelAnn. I don't know if he loved Grace's mom- or even thought of her much though. I got the idea he loved his own wife who died, and that's why he had no interest in marrying again. And why he never went around Grace's mom.

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Re: THEMES: Characters



Tasses wrote:
In all honesty, I can't say that I "liked" any one character particularly. The word 'liked' when referring to a novel character seems inappropriate. I don't have to like a character in order to be intrigued by them and want to know their end.

I wonder what makes a good story? Do we have to like the characters? If not, as I believe, what is it that causes us to want to know their story? Is it merely good plot development? This seems too undemanding.

Maybe the writer must create a vivd enough sketch of the main lot so as to our feeling that we 'know' them. I notice many differing opinions on here, but none are as varied as the male character interpretations... (Is Teddy gay? Is Frederick a villain or victim? What was Alfred's full story?). And following previous posts noticing Ms. Morton's diminished development of the male foils, maybe this speculation upon the male characters, and our diminished enjoyment of them, substantiates my thought that we must, at least, know the characters in order to buy into the story.

Message Edited by Tasses on 01-20-2008 09:49 PM




I agree Tasses, we don't have to like the characters. I personally do need to like or relate to at least one of them to like a book though. In this one, it ended up being Hannah for me- and even Frederick somewhat, and Robbie. I expected it to be Grace at first, but I really didn't like her by the middle.

Bonnie

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KxBurns
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Re: THEMES: Characters



Bonnie824 wrote:
I agree Tasses, we don't have to like the characters. I personally do need to like or relate to at least one of them to like a book though. In this one, it ended up being Hannah for me- and even Frederick somewhat, and Robbie. I expected it to be Grace at first, but I really didn't like her by the middle.

Bonnie

Bonnie



Bonnie, I'm curious to know what made you change your opinion of Grace?
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Re: THEMES: Characters

Iulevich and RachelAnn, I 'm enjoying your contrasting views of Frederick.

Aside from liking or disliking the character, what do you think about seeing Frederick as bridge between the old guard aristocracy to whom tradition was everything and the newer generation with their "modern notions?" More than Hannah, I see Frederick as being caught in the middle...
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Re: THEMES: Characters




Bonnie, I'm curious to know what made you change your opinion of Grace?





The choice she made to leave her child for 4 years- without any regret even, probably relief; and her choice to stay a ladies personal maid rather than marry a man she supposedly loved.

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Re: THEMES: Characters

[ Edited ]

KxBurns wrote:
Iulevich and RachelAnn, I 'm enjoying your contrasting views of Frederick.

Aside from liking or disliking the character, what do you think about seeing Frederick as bridge between the old guard aristocracy to whom tradition was everything and the newer generation with their "modern notions?" More than Hannah, I see Frederick as being caught in the middle...


There are only two characters in the book that I see as actually representing the transition that you ask about.

I don't see Frederick, Emmeline, or Hannah this way, even though Emmeline would seem at first glance to be the outstanding example of a Roaing '20's celebrity "flapper." These are three people tragically ensnared by their own self-centered fantasies and their respective inabilities to fulfill them. Each of them in his or her own way is destroyed by the same contradiction. That their tragedies play out during a transitional time affects their outcomes but only in the sense that the transitional times offered some new backdrops for The Game and a couple of additional options for their tragic endings. The fundamental contradiction between who they knew themselves to be and who they dreamed of becoming would very likely have played out with equally unhappy results in any setting.

Teddy and Grace are the transitional characters.

Teddy is a pitiful example of an old motivation finding its outlet in new circumstances. Teddy is nouveau riche reaching for the respectability of the hereditary aristocracy and finding himself able to acquire both a country seat (Riverton) and a place in the Conservatve Party -- to say nothing of a wife who is the elder daughter of Lord Ashbury. His ambitions are couched in terms of the pre-war social structure; his ability to realize them grow out of the changed realities of economic power. He used his newfound economic power to shoulder his way into becoming part of the dying order. He would not have been the first or the last to do precisely that.

Grace is the tough little serving girl who overcomes hardship, keeps a keen eye to her own interests, and ultimately manages to realize the kind of ambitions that were distant dreams to her aristocratic half sister. The transition from old to new order is embodied in Grace far more than in any other character. The changing social order throughout her life is the river in which Grace swims to triumph.

Message Edited by Iulievich on 01-21-2008 08:27 PM
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Re: THEMES: Characters

pedsphleb wrote: "The only character I really didn't like was Deborah (Deb), Teddy's sister. For some reason she always seemed superfluous; every action she performed (like mentioning Robbie being over frequently, etc.) could have easily been done by the other characters. Considering that Deb also seemed to move into what was rightly Hannah's house and take everything over, from the decorating to the entertaining, the character takes up too much space."

Melissa, I felt that Deb's character was there a) to show Hannah what life could have been like if she had gotten the freedom to do what she wanted...one that was lonely and causes a person to be bitter about their own lives to the point that they feel the need to control other people's lives, b) just to be a polar opposite of Teddy...she had all the "male" characteristics that Teddy should have had, like being forceful, independent, having the drive for success, being a master (as seen in her taking over Hannah's rigthful place as the mistress of the house)...she pushes/convinces him to run for political office...she is rather conniving, but I think that being different from Hannah, in many ways, helps the reader to see how Hannah developed as a character more fully...it helped to show her decline...we got to see how she in a sense gave in and did what was expected of her, thereby losing her chance for freedom and independence, while Deb has everything she wanted...they were polar opposites...I think that mentioning Robbie's visits was just one way for her to manipulate her brother to do what she wants as well as let Hannah know that she is watching her every move...
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Re: THEMES: Characters

One of my favorite “scenes” in the book was the scene where Fanny extolled endlessly on the benefits of marriage. She deftly touched upon those things Lady Clem advised her would intrigue Hannah and ultimately convinced Hannah to marry Teddy. If you will recall, Hannah was going to tell her father she wanted to go to London and ultimately decided she couldn’t, but was left with no prospects for the future she desired. This was a pivotal scene because it set the stage for her marriage and ultimate disappointment. She married Teddy so that she could experience life, a choice I felt was completely in character for the Hannah that had been developed to that point; the strong willed, independent spirit she was as a child. I had trouble with the married Hannah. She became a shadow of herself, having been beaten by life, and I guess I expected her to fight harder. While I understand the necessity of this development, I would have like to see more conflict between her and Teddy, her and her in-laws, anything to let her spirit show and then slowly fail. I found it difficult to appreciate the disappointed, defeated person she became, so as to ultimately delight in the emergence of that spirit in her relationship with Robbie.
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Re: THEMES: Characters

THOUGHTS ON DAVID HARTFORD:

David is as featureless as a figure in the background of Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. It is impossible to say anything significant about his personality.

Since the author declines to fill in these characters for us, we are left with -- as I have said before -- something like a coloring book in which we have to fill in what details we can from the tidbits that we get. It is a process that, while entertaining, offers little satisfaction that we really understand the dynamics of the unfolding plot because we are guessing at the characters' motivations. We aren't even sure of what they do or do not know.

We know that he defied his father to go off to war, but we know little if anything of his motivation. Was he "playing The Game?" Was he swept up in the initial exhuberance of the European nations at the outbreak of war? Or, having fulfilled a small purpose early on, did he just get sent off by the author to be killed in order to heighten the sense of war damage and to clear the way for Teddy and Robbie as Hannah's later male crutches?

From his conversations with his sisters in the nursery and the library, I have formed an impression that he is perhaps somewhat contemptuous of his father's authority. He seems almost to be laughing at Frederick. Why would that be? There are several possible explanations, but there is one that would make sense in the light of Hannah's later behavior toward Grace.

Consider the following:
1. David was several years older than Hannah, who was about Grace's age.

2. David's father had an affair (or at least a tryst or two) with a servant-girl on the Riverton staff, resulting in a hushed-up scandal and the birth of a child. This was about the time of Hannah's birth.

3. David would have been a frequent visitor at Riverton, his grandparents' home.

4. His mere presence in that house, would likely have been enough to inspire one or another of the servants who knew of the scandal to gossip about it among themselves.

5. As a little boy, it would be more likely than not, that David would, at some point, overhear one of these whispered conversations.

6. He may also have overheard exchanges between Frederick and his wife (or even among his grandparents, his uncle, and his uncle's wife) that would have let him in on his parents' secret.
It seems to me very unlikely that David would have arrived at the age of 17 as a family-member in a mid-sized Edwardian country seat without having discovered the secret or without having shared it with his sister and close confidante, Hannah. (Emmeline was relegated to the status of "hanger-on" and would probably have been left in ignorance.) The children's self-sufficiency (as a group at least) and their fascination with The Game and with secrecy, spies, and intrigue can only enforce this conclusion.

David and Hannah seem to me to show a respectful facade toward their father but to hold a secret contempt for his authority, as if to say, "Who are you to be telling us how to behave?" Is it not at least possible that this attitude is fostered by the two older siblings' knowledge of something "not right" that their father and the rest of the family as well wants to be kept secret?

In the long run, David tells us more about Hannah than he does about himself. He provides the first male crutch on which she relies to develop her fantasies of romance and adventure, and he provides a plausible avenue by which she could have and apparently did learn that the new chamber maid was reallly a half-sister.
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Re: THEMES: Characters

Grace as the illegitimate child…

I was disappointed that this element of the plot was not more fully developed.

The author gave us glimpses of Frederick’s continued devotion to Grace’s mother at her funeral, he obviously cared for her. I would have expected Frederick to be marginally more interested in Grace, with little pleasantries or niceties. Or perhaps openly hostile, seeing her as the reason his affair had to end. He was completely detached, never acknowledging her as his. Of course it can be viewed that his complete detachment from her was the point, but than I would have expected Grace to react to it. Additionally, while Grace is overcome with devotion to Hannah, and even feels David’s death, she has no sisterly affection at all for Emmeline.

I admit this is not a character analysis per se, but I feel that characters develop as they interact with other characters and the lack of development of the above relationships creates a “void” for me in the development of Grace and Frederick’s characters specifically.
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Re: THEMES: Characters

Grace was an unusually well done character. I was glad the author showed her both as an old woman and as a girl. The girl wouldn't have had enough depth to carry the story. However, looking back from Grace's vantage point as an old woman made the story work.

I loved the secondary characters, Mr Hamilton, Katie, Nancy and Mrs. Townsend. They made the downstairs live. Each was unique.

I also like Lady Clementine and Fanny. The picture of Lady Clem on a horse going along to chaperon the young people was quite amusing.

I thought the characters were the best part of the book, and, of course, we can't forget the house itself. It was the house that, in my estimation, made the whole story stick together.

Nancy
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Re: THEMES: Characters

I am a little surprised that I have not seen any discussion of Robbie. To me, he was certainly a central character in that he had such a great effect on the other characters. He was like this mysterious, romantic that can polarize everyone, male and female and even sisters. I am still not sure if I liked him or not, which always is a signal to me that a character has been well written: If my emotions about the character change as the story unfolds then I feel that the character has been characterized extremely well. I like it when characters really arose emotion in me and Robbie did; some good and some not so good!
This is my first post and I truly gobbled this book up on a snowy cold weekend. I did not find it all that unpredictable but truly loved the story and the setting. I also loved the whole subplot of the movie being made. I thought is was a great way to present the story to us and to channel the memory and the current. Thanks Kate Morton for a great absorbing big book. I will be happy to recommend it!
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Re: THEMES: Characters

THOUGHTS ON ROBBIE:

Like the character of David Hartford, Robbie is not a character at all. He is, at most, a force, a catalyst, another opportunity for Hannah to escape from the world that shaped her.

He is peculiarly soulless, a gray thing that affects the story without our understanding why he does anything that he does. Does he have aspirations? What are they? Does he have a reason for being? What is it? Why does he do the things that he does?

Robbie writes poetry, but we don’t know why.

While serving Hannah as her lover, he is seen in public places squiring Emmeline. Why? What is their relationship, really? Why does she think that it is she that he loves; why does she think he intends to marry her? We are not told.

He is the offset to Grace. He is the recognized illegitimate son of aristocracy, but what are his own thoughts, conflicts, feelings about this, and what does it add to the story?

Robbie has demons, but they are never explained to us. We see him act, assuming – not knowing – that his experiences in the trenches of World War I are the cause, but we see nothing of what goes on in his own mind to start his “episodes.” Why are his violent when Alfred’s are not?

Does Robbie love Hannah, or is she something else to him? If so, what? We have the answer to neither question.

Do we know so little because Grace knew so little and could tell us nothing? There must be a better way around that problem for the sake of the book.

In the end, Robbie is nobody at all. He is some unknown thing that creates crises, including the final one that leads to his own termination. (I do not say “death,” because I do not see him ever having been alive.)

Frankly, he is the largest single disappointment in the book.
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an action but a habit." -Aristotle
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Re: THEMES: Characters

THOUGHTS ON EMMELINE HARTFORD:

To me Emmeline is the most touching figure in the book – more so than even Grace or Hannah. Both Grace and Hannah make their own destinies – the one successfully and the other tragically. Poor Emmeline is the victim from start to finish.

None of the Hartford children shows any sign of real closeness to their father – not unusual in the society of the time. But inasmuch as their mother died giving birth to Emmeline, she has never known a mother’s tenderness, either, whereas her brother and her sister must have had at least vague memories. The old nanny hardly seems to have been able or inclined to offer a compensating warmth. Indeed, Emmeline is likely to have felt a vague guilt over her mother’s death.

She never seems to have penetrated the inner circle represented by David and Hannah in The Game.

Her mother was never with her. Her father abandoned her emotionally. Her siblings never completely embraced her and treated her in many ways as “support staff” for their games.

If we assume (as I think we should) that David and Hannah knew of their father’s affair and that Grace was the child of it, Emmeline never appears to have a clue. She is not in on the secret.

David’s death represents another abandonment for her, as must her father’s distance and eventual suicide.

The turning point of her short life appears to coincide with her realization that Hannah, too, has betrayed her – not with Robbie, but by having lied to her about the fate of The Game that was the childhood secret that they had both shared with their dead brother. It is after the episode in the Burgundy room when Emmeline opens Hannah’s locket and finds a piece of the game that was supposedly buried, that Emmeline realizes that she is still not included in her sister’s inner life. From that point, she begins her descent, indulging in ever more reckless behavior, perhaps as a kind of self-destructive revenge on the family that gave her so little regard.

Her demise comes in a drunken car crash within weeks or months of the denouement at the boat house, when she learned that her sister had betrayed her once again – this time with Robbie.
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an action but a habit." -Aristotle
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