Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917

( 6 )


Rosemary Fell was born into privilege. She has wealth, well–connected friends, and a handsome fiance, Philip Alsop. Finally she has everything she wants.

It is then, in a moment of beneficence, that Rosemary invites Eleanor Smith, a penniless young woman she sees under a streetlamp in the rain, into her home for a cup of tea. While there, Rosemary sees Eleanor exchange an unmistakable look with Philip, and she sends Eleanor on her way. But she cannot undo this chance encounter, ...

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A Cup Of Tea

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Rosemary Fell was born into privilege. She has wealth, well–connected friends, and a handsome fiance, Philip Alsop. Finally she has everything she wants.

It is then, in a moment of beneficence, that Rosemary invites Eleanor Smith, a penniless young woman she sees under a streetlamp in the rain, into her home for a cup of tea. While there, Rosemary sees Eleanor exchange an unmistakable look with Philip, and she sends Eleanor on her way. But she cannot undo this chance encounter, and it leads to a tempestuous and all–consuming love triangle –– until the tides of war throw all their lives off balance.

Inspired by a classic Katherine Mansfield short story, A Cup of Tea engages with its vivid –– and often amusing –– cast of characters, wonderful period detail, brilliant evocation of the uncertain days of World War I, and delightfully spare and picturesque sense of story.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ephron turns the notion of the good Samaritan on its head in a bauble of a tale about altruism gone horribly wrong. In New York City in 1917, well-to-do Rosemary Fell offers indigent Eleanor Smith tea, sympathy and shelter from the rain. Little does she suspect what sort of Pandora's box her somewhat patronizing generosity will open. After a friend of Rosemary's helps Eleanor find work in a millinery shop, it's Eleanor's destiny to become romantically involved with Rosemary's fianc, self-made Philip Alsop, as the U.S. prepares to go to war and duty-driven Philip prepares to do his part. Ephron (Bruised Fruit, etc.) alludes to the cataclysmic events about to occur, pitting sense against instinct as Philip leaves not one but two home fires burning brightly behind him. All of the period detail is correct right down to the last street lamp, but the book reads more like a treatment than a fully imagined novel. Ephron gives us a rich situation and a carefully drawn setting filled with recognizable types. But she gives us no character. Even for a lightly satiric period romance, this cup of tea is too thin and watery. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Ephron (Biodegradable Soap, LJ 4/91) spins this tale of romance in New York City circa 1917. Wealthy society lady Rosemary Fell is engaged to marry Philip Alsop. On a rainy afternoon after shopping, Rosemary spots Eleanor, an apparently homeless woman, huddled in the cold. Thinking she is being charitable, Rosemary invites Eleanor home for a cup of tea. When Philip comes home and meets Eleanor, Rosemary notices a spark of interest in Philip's eye and promptly sends her on her way. It is too latePhilip's romantic feelings have been kindled. He begins to see Eleanor while continuing his marriage plans with Rosemary. The betrothed are married ahead of schedule as Philip is to be shipped to Europe to fight in the war. The story of their love triangle continues to unfold to a surprising end. Based on the Katherine Mansfield short story, this brief yet direct novel about duty and honor makes for engrossing reading. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/97.]Robin Nesbitt, Hilltop Branch Lib., Columbus, Ohio
School Library Journal
YA--Rosemary Fell, privileged and accustomed to having all that she wants, is set to marry Philip Alsop. Of the same social class, Philip struggled years to build his own shipping concern into a success after the death of his father. Now their future together seems to promise happiness. Then Rosemary invites Eleanor Smith home with her, offering the seemingly penniless young woman temporary shelter from the weather. Instead, Philip instantly falls in love with her and the star-crossed love pulls all three characters into a dramatic, sorrowful ending. Ephron writes short, intense chapters, yet allows room for emotions and imagination to expand fully. She maintains interest by ending the chapters exactly at the next eventful point in the story, making the novel a natural page-turner. Sustaining the tension between the characters, while subtly interweaving more complexities of the plot, the author builds towards the intense conclusion. Using precise historical details of 1917 New York society, from clothing to moral attitudes, Ephron captures the ambiance of the era as well as the differences in lifestyles between the wealthy and working classes.--Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Entertainment Weekly
An elegant love story...Storytelling as exquisitely sculpted as fine porcelain.
West Coast Review of Books
A jewel...This novel will plunge you into New York City in the turbulent year of 1917 and will keep you enthralled....A page-turner from start to finish, Ms. Ephron's spare novel has classic proportions.
Kirkus Reviews
Screenwriter/novelist Ephron (Biodegradable Soap, 1991, etc., and the film A Little Princess) claims that this tragic romance, set in WW-I New York, is inspired by a Katherine Mansfield story, but her sketchy characters, unconvincing historical detail, and hopelessly wooden prose hardly benefit by the comparison.

It's the winter of 1917, and the US is on the brink of war, but New York socialite Rosemary Fell refuses to let international events interfere with her wedding plans. Motherless from a young age, Rosemary depends on her fiancé, Philip Alsop, and best friend, closet lesbian Jane Howard, to provide her with diversion, advice, and news of the world. But she acts on her own whim when, out shopping one day, she spots a poor young woman on a street corner and decides to take her home and fix her up. It takes only a few hours for Rosemary to realize that Eleanor Smith, the unfortunate product of a broken family but younger and prettier than she, is far too attractive to Philip to keep around. She dispatches Eleanor back to the streets at once, a few dollars clutched in her hand. With Jane's help, Eleanor finds a job in a hat shop, and inevitably she's there the day Philip drops by to pick up an order for his fiancée. The two become lovers, irresistibly drawn to each other despite Philip's ensuing marriage, and continuing so even after his posting to Europe and after erroneous report of his death on the battlefield. When Philip returns to America to find that Eleanor has borne his illegitimate child, he swears he'll leave Rosemary—only to be foiled by his distraught young wife, who turns out to be not so oblivious after all. A failed experiment in historical fiction. Ephron should stick to what she knows.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060786205
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/28/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,526,826
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.12 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Amy Ephron

Amy Ephron is the bestselling author of the acclaimed novels One Sunday Morning and A Cup of Tea. Her magazine pieces and essays have appeared in Vogue; Saveur; House Beautiful; the National Lampoon; the Los Angeles Times; the Huffington Post; Defamer; her own online magazine, One for the Table; and various other print and online publications. She recently directed a short film, Chloe@3AM, which was featured at the American Cinematheque’s Focus on Female Directors Short Film Showcase in January 2011. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alan Rader, and any of their five children who happen to drop in.


Amy Ephron was born in Beverly Hills, CA to parents Henry and Phoebe Ephron, both East Coast born and raised screenwriters. She is the sister of Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron and Hallie Ephron. Amy Ephron is the author of several novels. Her national bestseller, A Cup of Tea, spent 37 weeks on the LA Times bestsellers list and has been bought by film producer Jerry Bruckheimer. A Cup of Tea won Ephron the 2005 Southern California Booksellers Association award for fiction, received the Booklist Best Fiction of the Year 2005 award and was a Barnes and Noble Book Club selection.

Ephron is a frequent contributor to Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, ELLE, LA Times, Saveur, National Lampoon, The Realist, LA Weekly, LA Style, and The Huffington Post.

As a film executive she worked on A Little Princess, Born on the Fourth of July and Out of Africa. She also runs her own food website called One for the Table, which publishes articles and recipes about food, love, and politics.

Amy has been married twice, first to film producer Sasha Harari, with whom she has three children, Anna, Maia and Ethan, and currently to lawyer Alan Rader.

Good To Know

Some fun and fascinating anecdotes from our interview with Ephron:

"My first job was in the P.R. Department at the New York City Parks Department. I was 16. I was the complaint lady. That summer there was a caterpillar infestation. I received 120 complaints a day from irate mothers about the caterpillars in the parks and playgrounds. They were fairly harmless and there wasn't anything to do about them (except spray, which someone sensibly decided wasn't a good idea). Once, they let me name an animal that had been born in the Central Park Zoo, a baby doe. I named it Sparkle."

"If I have a hobby at all, it's gardening, although I'm better at directing someone where to plant something than doing it myself. I do get out there and prune and cut. I love to go to nurseries and have a bad habit of buying plants online. Our garden's a funny mixture of English garden, roses and lavender, and cacti and California indigenous plants. And, always, recovering from one disaster or another as we have a lot of deer (and no fences) and gophers -- and I don't believe in insecticide."

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    1. Hometown:
      Los Angeles, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 21, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Beverly Hills, California

Read an Excerpt

A Cup of Tea

A Novel of 1917
By Amy Ephron

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Amy Ephron
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060786205

New York City
January, 1917

A young woman stood under a street lamp. It was difficult to make her out at first because she was standing almost in shadow and the mist from the ground, the rains and approaching night made the air and the street seem similarly gray and damp. It was dusk. A light rain was falling.

A man walked up and solicited her. It startled her. She shook her head and turned away. Without another thought of her, he hailed a cab which stopped for him at once. She pulled the thin sweater, hardly protection from the rain, tighter around her shoulders as she stepped back from the curb to avoid the spray of dirt and water as the taxi pulled away.

Down the streets a very different scene. In an antique store famous for accepting only quality estates and European shipments where not a speck of dust had ever been allowed to gather on the shelves, a woman, slightly older than the woman under the street lamp, stood in front of a display case. Her name was Rosemary Fell. Her clothing was exquisite. Her dark hair framed her face even though in the morning she had put it up severely but it was of such thickness that no amount of Coaxing, particularly in damp weather, could ever get it not to fall, a few moments later, softly around her face. She liked the effect and would sometimes play with one of the curls about her forehead when she wanted to appear as though she was thinking of something. Her stance was casual, almost disinterested, her gloves and coat still on as though she had not yet decided whether she had stopped in long enough to actually consider anything. Mr. Rhenquist, the owner of the antique store, was all over her.

"You see, I love my things," he said, in low respectful tones, waiting for her reaction. "I would rather not part with them than sell them to someone who has not that"-he gestured with his hand displaying a pale green jade ring on his ring finger that Rosemary could not help but notice -- "feeling of appreciation which is so rare."

He unrolled a tiny square of blue velvet and pressed it on the glass counter with his pale finger-tips. It was an enamel box he had been keeping for her with a glaze so fine it looked as though it had been baked in cream. "I saved this for you."

On its lid, a minute creature stood under a flowery tree. A hat, no bigger than a geranium petal, with green ribbons, hung from a branch. And a pink cloud like a watchful cherub floated above the creature's head. Rosemary took her hands out of her long gloves to examine the box ...


Excerpted from A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron Copyright © 2005 by Amy Ephron. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Jane Smiley's has lauded Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin for the artistry with which "the power of brilliant analysis" is "married to great wisdom of feeling." How does The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton measure up to this standard?

2. Why does Ms. Smiley choose to describe Lidie's adventures as "all-true" in the title of her novel? How would this work differ had the author chosen to turn her research into a narrative of nonfiction?

3. How does the novel authenticate as well as undermine myths about the North and the South in antebellum America? What traditional notions about frontier life, Westward expansion, and gender roles are confirmed or challenged?

4. After her husband's death, Lidie describes herself as a "new person, " one she "never desired or expected to be." What is the relationship of her former self to her present self? What are the roles of chance, will, and ambition in the shaping of Lidie's life and character?

5. How does landscape function as a major character in the novel?

6. Of the Kansas Territory, Lidie writes, "you could easily act one way one minute and another way the next minute." What is the relationship between Lidie's character in the place she inhabits? How does the K. T.'s lack of definition make possible her discovery of self?

7. Lidie leads a life of adventure as well as a life of the mind. How do her physical endeavors compare to her contemplative pursuits--particularly storytelling--in terms of defining her character?

8. Ms. Smiley said that the novel was born of her desire to explore "the intersection of ideology and violence in American life." What connection does the novelsuggest exists between these two extreme forms of expression?

9. In what ways do the sensibilities of the abolitionists mirror those of the slave-holders? How does each group use religion and history to justify its perspective on slavery?

10. How does the manner in which Lidie and Tom handle the vagaries and challenges of their relationship affect the progress of the social change they are attempting? What relationship exists between one's private life and public endeavours?

11. What purpose is served by introducing each chapter with an excerpt from Catherine Beecher's A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Young Ladies at Home?

12. Experience and reflection help Lidie to move from ignorance and innocence to some sort of understanding of herself and others, yet confusion and ambivalence persist. What is the value of leaving the reader in the company of a conflicted character?

13. Smiley has said that the purpose of great literature is "to help us face up to our responsibilities instead of enabling us to avoid them once again by lighting out for the territory." Does her novel fulfill this purpose? How?

14. What connection lies between gender and violence? What is the significance of Lidie pursuing revenge disguised as a man?

15. What can the reader of Lidie Newton discern about morality and violence? Are the K. T. Free Staters justified in pursuing freedom through violence? What are the antecedents and repercussions of this issue in America?

16. Lidie Newton provides a novel perspective on antebellum America. What other historical events need telling from a woman's point of view?

17. Conjecture about the course of Lidie's adventures had Thomas not died. What are the repercussions of his presence and absence in her days?

18. How do the characters Papa and Helen Day contribute to the moral complexity of the novel? What is the significance of such complexity? Does the character of Lorna deepen or diminish it?

19. In an essay on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jane Smiley reproached Mark Twain for presenting a facile standard of heroism in his novel. She wrote: "All you have to do to be a hero is acknowledge that your poor sidekick is human; you don't actually have to act in the interests of his humanity." Does Lidie successfully act in the interest of Lorna's humanity?

20. "A writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature, " wrote John Steinbeck. What can one say about Ms. Smiley's perspective on such perfectibility given this novel? Does her work leave one with a sense of optimism? What is the novel's defining tone?

21. When presented with the opportunity to share the story of her experiences with Lorna, Lidie hesitates. "I was disinclined to do this, and I pondered my disinclination at length, " she explains. "Did I owe it to Lorna to tell her story to the world?... Mr. Thayer's friend candidly admitted one thing--Lorna herself would never benefit from my telling her story." What is the value of Lidie telling Lorna's story? Of Ms. Smiley telling Lidie's? What can literature accomplish?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    A wondercul read

    This book is quick and engaging. After reading it I quickly went out to buy another book by her.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2008


    This book is the best book i ever read! I would recomand this to any anyone who enjoys reading love stories ! what i also love about this book is that u can't stop reading it u stay hoooked on it day and night =]

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2005

    great love story

    great love story even if novella its as if you have read a longer novel. I got much pleasure from it.Its a book Club pick and I am happy the young lady chose this.Appeals to any age.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2011

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