1. Before you read By a Lady, had you read any of Jane Austen’s novels? If so, what are some themes common to Austen’s writing that appear in By a Lady? Do any of the characters in By a Lady resemble those in Austen’s works?
2. At the book’s opening, the author includes this quote from Jane Austen: “The novels which I approve are such as display human nature with grandeur—such as show her in the sublimities of intense feeling—such as exhibit the progress of strong passion from the first germ of incipient susceptibility to the utmost energies of reason half dethroned—where we see the strong spark of women’s captivations elicit such fire in the soul of man as leads him. . . to hazard all, dare all, achieve all, to obtain her.” Do you think By a Lady lives up to the standards set forth in these words? Why or why not?
3. Do you share an affinity for another era? If so, which one, and why?
4. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice opens with this line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.” How does this sentiment hold true in By a Lady?
5. The author describes the acute class differences in Georgian England, as well as C.J.’s intense feelings about this disparity. On page 134, Lady Dalrymple says to C.J., “I do not condone the behavior you just witnesses, nor do I agree with it, but my dear, that is the way of the upper crust.” On page 177, Darlington says to C.J., “The English class system has been ingrained for centuries, Miss Welles, and everyone knows and accepts his place with alacrity. That is the way of the world.” Do you agree with the sentiment that a tradition should be upheld for no other reason than its continued existence? Where in the modern world are there similar disparities in economic and/or social classes? Why do you think this kind of inequality has endured? Do you think circumstances in these societies could someday change?
6. By a Lady is full of rich period detail—clothing, sights and smells, societal customs. What were some of the more surprising aspects of Georgian life you became familiar with through this novel?
7. “Every time C.J. thought she had gotten a handle on their mores or manners, these Georgians threw her a curve. A proper lady did not address the servants as equals, and yet she drank her tea out of the saucer!” (page 111). Discuss other points in the book where such inconsistency in manners is displayed by members of Bath’s society.
8. In Chapter Three (page 32), when C.J. is brought in front of the magistrate, she learns the origin of the phrase “rule of thumb” as it applied in the case of a man accused of abusing his wife with a stick. In Chapter Ten (page 124), she is horrified to discover the quite literal meaning of “putting on the dog.” Are there other colloquialisms from the Georgian age enduring today that you know of? What are they and what are their origins?
9. “Nearly everyone here danced around his or her intentions, cloaking them in nuance, riddle, and understatement,” C.J. observes on page 137. What are the benefits of a polite society like that of Georgian Bath, where custom prevented expression of candid thoughts and ideas? Would you prefer this type of polite society, or a more liberated society where people were free to express their opinions? Why?
10. “Despite the fact that she had been arrested, imprisoned, tried, nearly committed to a lifetime of indentured servitude, publicly jilted by the man she loved, and, most recently, incarcerated in a madhouse, C.J. had come to feel, in a most inexplicable way, that she really belonged in 1801” (page 315). Were you surprised at C.J.’s decision to remain in nineteenth-century Bath? Did you see her decision as a foreshadowing of the novel’s subsequent plot twist?
11. Did the book’s ending surprise you? Why or why not?
12. Who are your literary heroes? Who would you like to befriend in another life?