"I grew up on a farm,"--the year is l974, the place Sweetriver College, and Beatrice Wolfe is telling the story of her life to the glamorous young professor Philippa Sayres. So begins the achingly funny, often heartbreaking story of Beatrice's quest to escape the gothic eccentricity of her family and find an authentic identity of her own.
Married in a misbegotten passion, her parents are totally unsuited to farming or to any kind of business. When they finally lose their "farm," Bea's family spirals out of control. Still under Philippa's spell, Bea moves to the city of Hartford and joins a lesbian community, and becomes so committed to her new gay identity that she barely notices she's falling in love with a man--a man just risen from the ashes of addiction, whose re-creation of himself she threatens to undo.
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.96(d)|
About the Author
Heidi Jon Schmidt is the author of the acclaimed story collections The Rose Thieves and Darling? both available from Picador. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide Questions
1. Beatrice introduces herself by saying that she grew up on a farm and that she, "like all things stamped 'natural,' must be essentially good" (p 1). How does this conflict between what is "natural"
and what is inauthentic continue throughout the novel? Does Beatrice's' conception of "natural"
alter as she matures?
2. What role does Philippa play in both the story and structure of the novel? In what ways does her attitudes seem to anticipate and/or mirror Beatrice's? Do you view Philippa as a positive or negative influence on Beatrice? Both? Explain.
3. Throughout the novel, Beatrice refers to literary figures such as Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens,
George Elliot, among others. If you are familiar with any of the writers' work she mentions, do you sense their influence in Schmidt's own storytelling? In what ways might The Bride of Catastrophe
be considered an old fashioned novel? In what ways is it distinctly contemporary?
4. In some respects, The Bride of Catastrophe is about role models and their ability to inspire or disappoint. Who are Beatrice's role models? Do they succeed or fail? For which characters might
Beatrice be a role model?
5. In what ways does the novel challenge conventional notions of sexuality and gender identity?
Ultimately, what do you think is Beatrice's sexuality identity? How do you think Beatrice would define it?
6. Home is a major theme in the novel. How do Beatrice's memories of home often conflict with reality? Do you think idealized memories of childhood are common for most people? Do you think we ever remember our childhoods as they actually were?
7. At first, Beatrice equates being a lesbian with being transgressive. Do you think that her relationship with Lee is transgressive? Explain. In what ways might her relationship with Stetson be more transgressive or risky?
8. At one point, Sylvie says, "I think men want sex so much because they have to let their tenderness loose that way, before it, kinda, drowns them" (p 305). Why do you think she says this? Do you agree with her? Could this statement also apply to women? Explain.
9. On page 359, Beatrice thinks, "We lived in a world where growing up meant giving up -
abandoning your own aspirations, laughing a little at all those silly hopes and dreams,
mummifying yourself in layers of fat, or television, or golf. No wonder everyone was obsessed with youth!" What is Beatrice beginning to realize about herself and her relationship with Lee?
What does that statement reveal about how Beatrice views "growing up"?
10. By the novel's end, do you think Beatrice makes a definite decision about the direction of her life?
If you had to guess, where do you see her a year later?