Category Archives: Reading Group Notes

Ten Reading group questions for Les Parisiennes

  1. The big wartime histories of France have, until now, been about military battles and defeat focusing on men such as de Gaulle, Hitler and Petain. Yet these names feature only incidentally in my book and the battles are mentioned just in the context of what resulted. To what extent do you think this makes Les Parisiennes ‘Women’s History’ and therefore less important or is it (as I believe) just as important to understand these lives on the home front #warwithoutthebattles.
  1. Why has it taken so long for the women’s version of events to become known? (self-effacement, need to erase memories, desire to get married and have a family, lack of recognition for women because they didn’t carry weapons or may not have been part of a registered group of resisters)
  1. How different was it for mothers? Did mothers have a responsibility to stay with their children (eg Odette Fabius abandoned her ten year old daughter in the cinema, other mothers gave away their children to a passeur without knowing where they were being taken, should a mother compromise her child by using her to carry documents if this was for the greater good?
  1. Pick one character who you think behaved especially badly and one who you feel you identified with or was especially courageous.
  1. Do you feel women were exploited by SOE F section, who desperately wanted agents in the field to shore up the French resistance but knew that men would be too easily arrested but that average life expectancy for an agent was 6 weeks.
  1. What do you understand by the word collaboration? Is it collaborating to perform on stage, is it collaborating to sell fruit and vegetables to a German, is it collaborating to buy food on the black market or to sell jewellery and high fashion to Germans when French women at home had nothing?
  1. Why do you think fashion continued to matter to Parisian women even at a time of war? And to what extent is that concern vanity or can it be justified as an important aspect of self-respect and pride by not giving in to an occupying force?
  1. To what extent did all women have a choice both during the Occupation and Post war? Do you think Parisienne women behaved in a particularly sisterly way after 1945 or do you think the political resisters (largely non-Jewish) should have been more supportive of the Jewish resisters, many of whom were sent to Auschwitz and, seen as victims, did not therefore receive the same recognition?
  1. After the Liberation, why did so many men punish women accusing them of ‘collaboration horizontale’ – often without trial – whereas several of the male, economic collaborators were never punished. Is head shaving ever justified since after all hair grows back or women can wear a turban (as Andrée Doucet commented).
  1. Having read the book, how would you define a Parisienne? And is that different from how you would have defined a Parisienne before reading the book?
  1. What aspect of the book did you find the most surprising…eg that prostitutes were helpful to resisters and have barely had their role recognised, that women did not have the vote in France until 1946, that a woman was guillotined in France in the 1940s for organising an abortion?  Or that Paris was a largely feminised city throughout the war as millions of men were absent, as prisoners, in hiding or dead?

Reading group notes THAT WOMAN

  1. Why has Wallis been demonised for so long?
  2. What factors have contributed to a reassessment? Do you think revisionism is justified?
  3. Why might Wallis have been seen as pro- Nazi?
  4. To what extent was her Americanism part of the problem? Can you understand why for some in America Wallis has always been a heroine?
  5. What characteristics of Wallis’s personality are admirable?
  6. How do you explain the attitude of the Queen Mother towards Wallis and towards Wallis and Edward?
  7. Was the denial of royal honours for Wallis justified in the circumstances or vindictive?
  8. Why has Edward V111 been so little criticised?
  9. Why are duty and pluck no longer revered compared with today’s goals such as ambition and personal fulfilment?
  10. Has our attitude towards divorce changed for the better?
  11. What about some of the other characters in my story: Why do you think Winston Churchill behaved as he did? Was Mary an admirable character?
  12. What role do you think was played by the wives of politicians such as Lucy Baldwin, Nancy Dugdale Helen Hardinge and Hilda Runciman and why do you think their views have not been taken into account before?
  13. Which of the characters do you feel most sympathy for: Mary, Ernest, Henry/Aharon, Aunt Bessie, Alan ‘Tommy’ Lascelles?
  14. Which of the characters do you feel should have done more to understand or guide Edward earlier in his life e.g. his parents, his private secretaries, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other church leaders or his girlfriends?
  15. Do you agree that Wallis performed a useful service by delivering a new monarch for such critical times?
  16. How should she be remembered? As a style icon and if so why? Describe her style. Or as a victim and if so why?
  17. Do you believe every generation has a different attitude to key personalities according to historical context?

Jennie Churchill – Some Areas for a Book Club Discussion

  1. Was Jennie a bad mother? if so did she become a better mother?
    Did she only become interested in WSC when he grew more interesting? Can any parent be truly disinterested in their children’s future?
  2. Can you justify her anti-suffrage stance?
  3. What did Winston inherit from his Mother and Jerome genes or from his father and Marlborough genes? Did he at any stage exploit his American inheritance merely for political gain?
  4. Was Winston manipulative as a child?
  5. Why do you think he wrote about his mother in the way that he did as a distant mother in MY Early LIFE?
  6. Do you think Winston’s brother Jack got a raw deal because he was not demanding enough?
  7. Was Jennie extravagant, selfish and privileged or did she do the best she could with the fist History dealt her?
  8. Ethics of biography… what right does the biographer have to pry into medical records? Does patient confidentiality extend beyond the grave?
  9. Do you like Jennie more or less than you thought you would before reading this? Is the book fair to Randolph or does the biographer take a position?
  10. What would you like to know more about? And do you think Jennie developed as a character?
  11. How important was the historical background for Jennie’s story? eg The American Civil War, the Siege of Paris, the Boer War and World War 1?
  12. What if…. Jennie had lived fifty years later?