It’s the summer of 1968, and Evelyn Lynden is a woman at war with herself. Minister’s daughter. Atheist. Independent woman. Frustrated wife. Bitch with a bleeding heart.
Following her conscientious-objector husband Lenny to the rural Eden of Evergreen Valley, California, Evelyn wants to be happy with their new life. Yet she finds herself disillusioned with Lenny’s passive waysand anxious for a savior. Enter the Reverend Jim Jones, the dynamic leader of a revolutionary church….
Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Beautiful Revolutionary explores the allure of the real-life charismatic leader who would destroy so many. It follows Evelyn as she is pulled into Jones’s orbitan orbit it would prove impossible for her to leave.
Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s short-story collection, The Love of a Bad Man (Scribe, 2017), was shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction and the 2017 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. She was chosen as one of the 2015 Melbourne Writers Festival’s “30 Under 30.”
Reading Group Guide
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Does this statement apply to the leaders of Peoples Temple?
Consider the relationship between sex and power within Peoples Temple. Are the characters bound by traditional gender expectations, or do they subvert them? Both?
There are several different perspectives within the novel (Evelyn, Lenny, Luce, Rosaline, the Children of the Revolution, Sally-Ann). How did these differing perspectives influence your feelings about the characters and their actions?
Beautiful Revolutionary takes place over a ten-year period (1968 – 1978). However, there are several time jumps within the book. What effect did these jumps in time have on you, as a reader?
Evelyn and Lenny are both children of the postwar baby boom. Does this make them more receptive to Peoples Temple (and similar movements) than previous or later generations might be?
Though Evelyn and Lenny join Peoples Temple at the same time, they occupy different places within the Temple’s hierarchy. Discuss the way their fates diverge and intersect throughout the novel.
What did you make of the contradictions between Peoples Temple’s egalitarian message, and the reality of life in the Temple (e.g., white leadership, shaming men for ‘latent homosexuality’)? Were the Temple members hypocrites, blind to their own prejudices, afraid of Jim Jones, or something else?
Evelyn and Luce are both drawn to Peoples Temple, in part, because of their sexual attraction to Jim Jones. What else do these characters have in common?
Toward the end of the novel, Rosaline reflects, ‘She doesn’t like or understand Eve any more than she did that day [ten years ago].’ Is this accurate? Does an understanding exist between Rosaline and Evelyn?
Evelyn has several romantic relationships throughout the novel. What does her relationship with Jim Jones offer her that others (Jean-Claude, Lenny, Phil) do not?Despite inhabiting a communal environment, Evelyn remains an isolated character. To what extent is her isolation self-imposed?
What do the words ‘beautiful’ and ‘revolutionary’ mean, in the context of the novel?
Did your interpretation of these words change, in light of the fate of Peoples Temple and its members?
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