They had built their lives in this grand old house, its walls encompassing their family and their secrets. Nestled in the sweeping hills they have always known, the house is part of their history, their heritage. But these four walls also hold a secret.
When Lord Frampton dies in a skiing accident, a beautiful young woman named Phaedra appears at his funeral—claiming to be the lord’s illegitimate daughter. In his will, Lord Frampton has left the priceless Frampton suite of sapphires to this interloper, confirming her claim and outraging his three adult sons and widow. Eventually, however, Phaedra’s sweet nature thaws the frosty relationships. She becomes the daughter that Antoinette Frampton never had and a wise and compassionate granddaughter to the formidable Dowager Lady Frampton. But an attraction grows between Phaedra and the eldest son, David. It seems an impossible love—blocked by their blood connection and by the fury of one family member who is determined to expose Phaedra as a fraud.
Filled with the luscious scenery and enchanting characters her fans adore, Santa Montefiore’s The Woman from Paris confirms the remarkable power of love to heal broken families and tender hearts.
This novel was published under the title The Summer House in the UK.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||6.36(w) x 9.12(h) x 1.16(d)|
About the Author
Santa Montefiore’s books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages and have sold more than six million copies in England and Europe. She is married to writer Simon Sebag Montefiore. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha, in London. Visit her at SantaMontefioreauthor.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Summer House
The beginning of March had been glorious. The earth had shaken off the early-morning frosts, and little buds had emerged through the hardened bark to reveal lime-green shoots and pale-pink blossoms. Daffodils had pushed their way up through the thawing ground to open into bright-yellow trumpets, and the sun had shone with renewed radiance. Birdsong filled the air, and the branches were once again aquiver with the busy bustle of nest building. It had been a triumphant start to spring.
Fairfield Park had never looked more beautiful. Built on swathes of fertile farmland, the Jacobean mansion was surrounded by sweeping lawns, ancient bluebell woods, and fields of thriving crops and buttercups. There was a large ornamental lake where frogs made their homes among the bulrushes and goldfish swam about the lily pads. Towering beech trees protected the house from hostile winds in winter and gave shelter to hundreds of narcissi in spring. A nest of barn owls had set up residence in the hollow of an apple tree and fed off the mice and rats that dwelt on the farm and in the log barn, and high on the hill, surveying it all with the patience of a wise old man, a neglected stone folly was hidden away like a forgotten treasure.
Abandoned to the corrosion of time and weather, the pretty little folly remained benignly observant, confident that one day a great need would surely draw people to it as light to lost souls. Yet today, no one below could even see those honey-colored walls and fine, sturdy pillars, for the estate was submerged beneath a heavy mist that had settled upon it in a shroud of mourning. Today, even the birds were subdued. It was as if spring had suddenly lost her will.
The cause of this melancholy was the shiny black hearse that waited on the gravel in front of the house. Inside, the corpse of Lord Frampton, the house’s patriarch, lay cold and vacant in a simple oak coffin. The fog swirled around the car like the greedy tentacles of death, impatient to pull his redundant body into the earth, and on the steps that led down from the entrance his two Great Danes lay as solemn and still as a pair of stone statues, their heads resting dolefully on their paws, their sad eyes fixed on the coffin; they knew intuitively that their master would not be coming home.
Inside the house, Lady Frampton stood before the hall mirror and placed a large black hat on her head. She sighed at her reflection, and her heart, already heavy with bereavement, grew heavier still at the sight of the eyes that stared back with the weary acquiescence of an old woman. Her face was blotchy where tears had fallen without respite ever since she had learned of her husband’s sudden death in the Swiss Alps ten days before. The shock had blanched her skin and stolen her appetite so that her cheeks looked gaunt, even if her voluptuous body did not. She had been used to his absences while he had indulged his passion for climbing the great mountains of the world, but now the house reverberated with a different kind of silence: a loud, uncomfortable silence that echoed through the large rooms with a foreboding sense of permanence.
She straightened her coat as her eldest son, now the new Lord Frampton, stepped into the hall from the drawing room. “What are they doing in there, David?” she asked, trying to contain her grief, at least until she got to the church. “We’re going to be late.”
David gazed down at her sadly. “We can’t be late, Mum,” he said, his dark eyes full of the same pain. “Dad’s . . . you know . . .” He looked to the window.
“No, you’re right, of course.” She thought of George in the hearse outside and felt her throat constrict. She turned back to the mirror and began to fiddle with her hat again. “Still, everyone will be waiting, and it’s frightfully cold.”
A moment later her middle son, Joshua, emerged from the drawing room with his chilly wife, Roberta. “You okay, Mum?” he asked, finding the emotion of such an occasion embarrassing.
“Just keen to get on with it,” David interjected impatiently. Joshua thrust his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders. The house felt cold. He went to stand by the hall fire, where large logs entwined with ivy crackled in the grate.
“What are they doing in there?” his mother asked again, glancing towards the drawing room. She could hear the low voice of her youngest son, Tom, and her mother-in-law’s formidable consonants as she held forth, as usual unchallenged.
“Grandma’s demanding that Tom show her how to use the mobile telephone he gave her,” Joshua replied.
“Now? Can’t it wait till later?” Her chin trembled with anguish.
“They’re finishing their drinks, Antoinette,” said Roberta with a disapproving sniff. “Though I’m not sure Tom should be drinking with his history, should he?”
Antoinette bristled and walked over to the window. “I think today, of all days, Tom is entitled to consume anything he wants,” she retorted tightly. Roberta pursed her lips and rolled her eyes at her husband, a gesture she wrongly assumed her mother-in-law couldn’t see. Antoinette watched her arrange her pretentious feather fascinator in front of the mirror and wondered why her son had chosen to marry a woman whose cheekbones were sharp enough to slice through slate.
At last Tom sauntered into the hall with his grandmother, who was tucking the telephone into her handbag and clipping it shut. He smiled tenderly at his mother, and Antoinette immediately felt a little better. Her youngest had always had the power to lift her high or pull her low, depending on his mood or state of health. A small glass of wine had left him none the worse, and she ignored the niggling of her better judgment that knew he shouldn’t consume any alcohol at all. Her thoughts sprang back to her husband, and she recalled the time he had managed to telephone her from the Annapurna base camp just to find out how Tom was after a particularly bad week following a breakup. She felt her eyes welling with tears again and pulled her handkerchief out of her pocket. George had been a very good man.
“You haven’t turned the heating off, have you?” exclaimed the Dowager Lady Frampton accusingly. “I never let it get so frightfully cold!” In her long black dress, wide black hat, and mink stole Margaret Frampton looked as if she were off to crash a Halloween party rather than attend her only son’s funeral. Around her neck and wrist and dripping from her ears like elaborate icicles was the exquisite Frampton sapphire suite, acquired in India in 1868 by the first Lord Frampton for his wife, Theodora, and passed down through the generations to George, who had loaned it to his mother because his wife refused to wear such an extravagant display of wealth. The Dowager Lady Frampton had no such reservations and wore the jewels whenever a suitable occasion arose. Antoinette wasn’t sure Margaret’s son’s funeral was quite such an occasion.
“The heating is on, Margaret, and the fires are all lit. I think the house is in mourning, too,” she replied.
“What a ridiculous idea,” Margaret muttered.
“I think Mum’s right,” interjected Tom, casting his gaze out of the window. “Look at the fog. I think the whole estate is in mourning.”
“I’ve lost more people than I can count,” said Margaret, striding past Antoinette. “But there’s nothing worse than losing a son. An only son. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. At the very least, one would expect the house to be warm!”
Harris, the old butler who had worked for the family for more than thirty years, opened the front door, and the Dowager Lady Frampton stepped out into the mist, pulling her stole tighter across her chest. “Goodness me, are we going to be able to get to church?” She stood at the top of the stone stair and surveyed the scene. “It’s as thick as porridge.”
“Of course we will, Grandma,” Tom reassured her, taking her arm to guide her down. The Great Danes remained frozen beneath the weight of their sadness. Margaret settled her gaze on the coffin and thought how terribly lonely it looked through the glass of the hearse. For a moment the taut muscles in her jaw weakened, and her chin trembled. She lifted her shoulders and stiffened, tearing her eyes away. Pain wasn’t something one shared with other people.
The chauffeur stood to attention as Tom helped his grandmother into one of the Bentleys. Roberta followed dutifully after, but Antoinette hung back. “You go, Josh,” she said. “Tom and David will come with me.”
Joshua climbed into the front seat. One might have thought that his father’s death would unite the two women, but it seemed they were still as hostile as ever. He listened to his wife and grandmother chatting in the back and wondered why his mother couldn’t get along with Margaret as well as Roberta did.
“That woman is so trying,” Antoinette complained, dabbing her eyes carefully as the cars followed the hearse down the drive and through the iron gates adorned with the family crest of lion and rose. “Do I look awfully blotchy?” she asked Tom.
“You look fine, Mum. It wouldn’t be appropriate to look polished today.”
“I suppose not. Still, everyone’s going to be there.”
“And everyone is going to be coming back,” grumbled David from the front seat. He didn’t relish the idea of having to socialize.
“I think we’ll all need a stiff drink.” She patted Tom’s hand, wishing she hadn’t referred to alcohol. “Even you. Today of all days.”
Tom laughed. “Mum, you’ve got to stop worrying about me. A few drinks aren’t going to kill me.”
“I know. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned it. I wonder who’s come,” she said, changing the subject.
“Perish the thought of having to chat to Dad’s dreadful aunts and all the boring relatives we’ve spent years avoiding,” David interjected. “I’m not in the mood for a party.”
“It’s not a party, darling,” his mother corrected. “People just want to show their respect.”
David stared miserably out of the window. He could barely see the hedgerows as they drove down the lane towards the town of Fairfield. “Can’t everyone just bugger off and go home afterwards?”
“Absolutely not. It’s polite to ask your father’s friends and relatives home after the funeral. It’ll cheer us all up.”
“Great,” David muttered glumly. “I can’t think of a better way of getting over Dad’s death than having a knees-up with a bunch of old codgers.”
His mother began to cry again. “Don’t make this any harder for me, David.”
David peered around the seat and softened. “I’m sorry, Mum. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just don’t feel like playing the glad game, that’s all.”
“None of us do, darling.”
“Right now, I just want to be alone to wallow in my sorrow.”
“I could kill for a cigarette,” said Tom. “Do you think I have time for a quick one round the back?”
The car drew up outside St. Peter’s medieval church. The chauffeur opened the passenger door, and Antoinette waited for Tom to come round to help her out. Her legs felt weak and unsure. She could see her mother-in-law walking up the stony path towards the entrance of the church where two of George’s cousins greeted her solemnly. She would never cry in public, Antoinette thought bitterly. Antoinette doubted whether she had ever cried in private. Margaret considered it very middle-class to show one’s feelings and turned up her aristocratic nose at the generation of young people for whom it was normal to whine, shed tears, and moan about their lot. She condemned them for their sense of entitlement and took great pleasure in telling her grandchildren that in her day people had had more dignity. Antoinette knew Margaret despised her for continuously sobbing, but she was unable to stop, even to satisfy her mother-in-law. But she dried her eyes before stepping out of the car and took a deep breath; the Dowager Lady Frampton had no patience with public displays of emotion.
Antoinette walked up the path between her two sons and thought how proud George would be of his boys. Tom, who was so handsome and wild, with his father’s thick blond hair and clear denim eyes, and David, who didn’t look like his father at all, but was tall and magnetic and more than capable of bearing his title and running the estate. Up ahead, Joshua disappeared into the church with Roberta. Their middle son was clever and ambitious, making a name for himself in the City, as well as a great deal of money. George had respected his drive, even if he hadn’t understood his unadventurous choice of career. George had been a man who loved natural, untamable landscapes; the concrete terrain of the Square Mile had turned his spirit to salt.
She swept her eyes over the flint walls of the church and remembered the many happy occasions they had enjoyed here. The boys’ christenings, Joshua’s marriage, his daughter Amber’s christening only a year before—she hadn’t expected to come for this. Not for at least another thirty years, anyway. George had been only fifty-eight.
She greeted George’s cousins and, as she was the last to arrive, followed them into the church. Inside, the air was thick with body heat and perfume. Candles flickered on the wide window ledges, and lavish arrangements of spring flowers infused the church with the scent of lilies, freesias, and narcissi. Reverend Morley greeted her with a sympathetic smile. He sandwiched her hand between his soft, doughy ones, and muttered words of consolation, although Antoinette didn’t hear for the nerves buzzing in her ears like badly played violins. She blinked away tears and cast her mind back to his visit to the house just after she had heard the terrible news. If only she could rewind to before . . .
It seemed that every moment of the last ten days had been leading up to this point. There had been so much to do. David and Tom had flown out to Switzerland to bring back their father’s body. Joshua and Roberta had taken care of the funeral arrangements. Antoinette had organized the flowers herself, not trusting her daughter-in-law to know the difference between a lilac and a lily, being a Londoner, and her sister, Rosamunde, had helped choose the hymns. Now the day was upon them Antoinette felt as if she were stepping into a different life, a life without George. She gripped Tom’s arm and walked unsteadily up the aisle. She heard the congregation hush as she moved past and dared not catch anyone’s eye for fear that their compassion would set her off again.
While Tom greeted their father’s aunts, David settled his mother into the front pew. He glanced around the congregation. He recognized most of the faces—relations and friends dressed in black and looking uniformly sad. Then amidst all the gray, pallid faces, one bright, dewy one stood out like a ripe peach on a winter tree. She was staring straight at him, her astonishing gray eyes full of empathy. Transfixed, he gazed back. He took in the unruly cascade of blond curls that tumbled over her shoulders, and the soft, creamy texture of her skin, and his heart stalled. It was as if a light had been switched on in the darkness of his soul. It didn’t seem appropriate to smile, but David wanted to, very much. So he pulled a resigned smile, and she did the same, silently imparting sympathy for his loss.
As David left the church again with his brothers and cousins to bear the coffin, he glanced back at the mystery blonde and wondered how she fitted into his father’s life. Why had they never met before? He couldn’t help the buoyant feeling that lifted him out of the quagmire of grief into a radiant and happy place. Was this what people called “love at first sight”? Of all the days it should happen, his father’s funeral was the most inappropriate.
Phaedra Chancellor knew who David Frampton was, for she had done her research. The eldest of three sons, he was twenty-nine, unmarried, and lived in a house on the Fairfield estate where he managed the farm. He had studied at Cirencester Agricultural College, for while his father had found the life of a country squire unexciting, David was as comfortable in the land as a potato.
Phaedra had only seen photographs of George’s sons. Tom was without doubt the most handsome. He had inherited his father’s blue eyes and the mischievous curl of his lips. But David was better looking in the flesh than she had imagined. He was less polished than Tom, with scruffy brown hair, dark eyes and a large aquiline nose that did not photograph well. In fact, his features were irregular and quirky, and yet, somehow, together they were attractive—and he had inherited his father’s charisma, that intangible magnetism that drew the eye. Joshua, on the other hand, was more conventional looking, with a face that was generically handsome and consequently easy to forget.
She looked down at the service sheet, and her vision blurred at the sight of George’s face imprinted on the cover. He had been more beautiful than all his sons put together. She blinked away painful memories and stared at the man she had grown to love. She could see Tom and Joshua reflected in his features, but she couldn’t see David; he looked like his mother.
She sniffed and wiped her nose with a Kleenex. Julius Beecher, George’s lawyer, who sat beside her, patted her knee. “You okay?” he whispered. She nodded. “Nervous?”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
“I’m not sure this is the right day to drop the bombshell, Julius,” she hissed, as music began to fill the church.
“I’m afraid there’s no avoiding it. They’re going to find out sooner or later, and besides, you wanted to be here.”
“I know. You’re right. I wanted to be here very much. But I wish I didn’t have to meet his family.”
The choir walked slowly down the aisle singing Mozart’s “Lacrimosa.” Their angelic voices echoed off the stone walls and reverberated into the vaulted ceiling as they rose in a rousing crescendo. The candle flames wavered at the sudden motion that stirred the air, and an unexpected beam of sunlight shone in through the stained-glass windows and fell upon the coffin as it followed slowly behind.
Antoinette could barely contain her emotions; it was as if her heart would burst with grief. She glanced down the pew to where George’s aunts Molly and Hester, one as thin as the other was fat, stood with the same icy poise as the Dowager Lady Frampton. Even Mozart was unable to penetrate their steely armor of self-control. Antoinette was grateful for her sister, Rosamunde, who howled with middle-class vigor in the pew behind.
Antoinette felt a sob catch in her chest. It was impossible to imagine that her vital, active husband was contained within those narrow oaken walls. That soon he’d be buried in the cold earth, all alone without anyone to comfort him, and that she’d never again feel the warmth of his skin and the tenderness of his touch. At that unbearable thought, the tears broke free. She glanced into the pew to see the flint-hard profile of her mother-in-law. But she no longer cared what the old woman thought of her. She had toed the line for George, but now that he was gone, she’d cry her heart out if she wanted to.
When the service was over, the congregation stood while the family filed out. Antoinette walked with Tom, leaning heavily on his arm, while David escorted his grandmother. He passed the pew where the mysterious blonde was dabbing her eyes, but he didn’t allow his gaze to linger. He desperately hoped she’d be coming back for tea.
Outside, the fog had lifted, and patches of blue sky shone with renewed optimism. The grass glistened in fleeting pools of sunlight, and birds chirped once again in the treetops.
“Who’s the blonde?” asked Tom, sidling up to David.
“What blonde?” David replied nonchalantly.
Tom chuckled. “The really hot blonde you couldn’t have failed to noticed about six pews behind. Very foxy. The day is suddenly looking up.”
“Come on, darling. Let’s not linger outside the church,” said Antoinette, longing for the privacy of the car. The two brothers glanced behind them, but the congregation was slow to come out.
Margaret sniffed her impatience. “Take me to the car, David,” she commanded. “I will greet people back at the house.” She strode forward, and David was left no alternative but to escort her down the path. As she carefully lowered her large bottom onto the rear seat, David’s eyes strayed back to the church where the congregation was now spilling out onto the grass. He searched in vain for the white curls in the sea of black. “Come, come, don’t dawdle. Good, here are Joshua and Roberta. Tell them to hurry up. I need a drink.”
“Beautiful service,” said Roberta, climbing in beside Margaret.
“Lovely,” Margaret agreed. “Though Reverend Morley does go on, doesn’t he?”
“They all love the sound of their own voices,” said Joshua.
“That’s why they’re vicars,” Roberta added.
“I thought what he said about Dad being every man’s friend was spot-on,” Joshua continued, getting into the front seat. “He loved people.”
Roberta nodded. “Oh, he was terrifically genial.”
“We certainly gave him a good send-off, didn’t we, Grandma?”
“Yes, he would have enjoyed that,” said Margaret quietly, turning her face to the window.
David returned to Fairfield Park with his mother and Tom. The house was restored to its former splendor now that the sun had burnt away the fog. Bertie and Wooster, the Great Danes, were waiting for them on the steps. It seemed that the sun had lifted their spirits, too, for they leapt down to the car, wagging their tails.
Harris opened the door, and Mary, who cleaned for Lady Frampton, stood in the hall with her daughter, Jane, bearing trays of wine. The fire had warmed the place at last, and sunlight tumbled in through the large latticed windows. The house felt very different from the one they had left a couple of hours before, as if it had accepted its master’s passing and was ready to embrace the new order.
David and Tom stood by the drawing room fire. David had helped himself to a whiskey while Tom sipped a glass of Burgundy and smoked a sneaky cigarette—his mother and grandmother abhorred smoking inside, probably one of the only opinions they had in common. Little by little the room filled with guests, and the air grew hot and stuffy. At first the atmosphere was heavy, but after a glass or two of wine the conversations moved on from George and his untimely death, and they began to laugh again.
Both brothers looked out for the mysterious blonde. David had the advantage of being tall, so he could see over the herd, but, more dutiful than his brother, he found himself trapped in conversation first with Great Aunt Hester and then with Reverend Morley. Tom had thrown his cigarette butt into the fire and leaned against the mantelpiece, rudely looking over Great Aunt Molly’s shoulder as she tried to ask him about the nightclub he ran in London.
At last the mystery guest drifted into view, like a swan among moorhens. Tom left Molly in mid conversation; David did his best to concentrate on Reverend Morley’s long-winded story, while anxiously trying to extricate himself.
Phaedra suddenly felt very nervous. She took a big gulp of wine and stepped into the crowd. Julius cupped her elbow, determined not to lose her, and gently pushed her deeper into the throng. She swept her eyes about the room. What she could see of it was very beautiful. The ceilings were high, with grand moldings and an impressive crystal chandelier that dominated the room and glittered like thousands of teardrops. Paintings hung on silk-lined walls in gilded frames, and expensive-looking objects clustered on tables. Tasseled shades glowed softly above Chinese porcelain lamps, and a magnificent display of purple orchids sat on the grand piano among family photographs in silver frames. It looked as if generations of Framptons had collected beautiful things from all over the world and laid them down regardless of color or theme. The floor was a patchwork of rugs, cushions were heaped on sofas, pictures hung in tight collages, a library of books reached as high as the ceiling, and glass-topped cabinets containing collections of enamel pots and ivory combs gave the room a Victorian feel. Nothing matched, and yet everything blended in harmony. George’s life had been here, with his family, and she hadn’t been a part of it. Just as she was about to cry again, Tom’s grinning face appeared before her like the Cheshire cat.
“Hello, I’m Tom,” he said, extending his hand. His eyes twinkled at her flirtatiously. “I’ve been wondering who you are.”
She smiled, grateful for his friendliness. “I’m Phaedra Chancellor,” she replied.
“American,” he said, raising an eyebrow in surprise.
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No, I like Canadians, actually.”
She laughed at the languid way he dragged his vowels. “That’s lucky.”
“Hello, Tom,” interrupted Julius. The two men shook hands. “Lovely service,” he said.
“Yes, it really was, very lovely,” Phaedra agreed. Tom didn’t think he had ever seen such startlingly beautiful eyes. They were a clear gray-blue, almost turquoise, framed by thick lashes and set wide apart, giving her face a charming innocence.
“So how did you know my father?” he asked.
Phaedra glanced anxiously at Julius. “Well . . .” she began.
Just as she was about to answer, David appeared, and her words caught in her throat. “Ah, there you are, Tom,” said David, but his eyes fell on Phaedra, and he smiled casually, as if he had chanced upon bumping into her. “I’m David,” he said. His gaze lingered at last, drinking in her beauty as if it were ambrosia.
“Phaedra Chancellor,” she replied, putting out her hand. He took it, enjoying for an extended moment the warmth of her skin.
“Hello, David,” interrupted Julius, and reluctantly David let go of her hand. “Where’s Lady Frampton?”
“Oh, hello, Julius. I didn’t see you there.”
“Well, I am here,” said Julius testily; he was very sensitive about being five feet seven and three-quarter inches short. “I need to speak to her. You’re tall, David. See if you can spot her from your lofty height.”
David looked down at Julius’s shiny bald head and red, sweating brow, and thought how Dickensian he looked in his black suit and tie. “She’s not in here. Perhaps she’s in the hall.”
“Then let’s go and find her. I want her to meet Phaedra.”
Tom and David both wished Julius would go and find their mother on his own, but the portly lawyer put his arm around Phaedra’s waist and escorted her out into the hall. Curious and furious, the two brothers followed after.
They finally found Antoinette in the library with her elder sister, Rosamunde. Wineglasses in hand, they were standing by George’s desk, talking in low voices. “Ah, you’ve found me hiding,” said Antoinette, composing herself. It was clear that she had been crying again.
“We came in here for a little peace. It’s very busy out there,” Rosamunde explained in her deep, strident voice, hoping they’d take the hint and go away.
Antoinette saw the stranger in their midst and stiffened. “Hello,” she said, dabbing her eyes. “Have we met before?”
“No, we haven’t,” Phaedra replied.
“Phaedra Chancellor,” David cut in, dazed by the force of her allure.
“Oh.” Antoinette smiled politely. “And how . . .” She frowned, not wanting to be rude.
Julius seized the moment. “My dear Lady Frampton, I wasn’t sure that this was the right time to introduce you. But I know that Lord Frampton was very keen that you should meet. In fact, he was planning it when . . . well . . .” He cleared his throat. “I know this is what he’d want.”
“I don’t understand.” Antoinette looked bewildered. “How is Miss Chancellor connected to my husband?”
Phaedra looked to Julius for guidance. He nodded discreetly. She took a breath, knowing instinctively that her answer would be neither expected, nor welcomed. But she thought of her beloved George and plunged in.
“I’m his daughter,” she said, fighting the impulse to flee. “George was my father.”
What People are Saying About This
“Santa Montefiore really knows these people inside and out. I couldn’t put this book down.”—Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Woman from Paris includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Santa Montefiore. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The presence of a striking and mysterious blond woman among the mourners at Lord George Frampton’s funeral surprises his family. When the young woman, Phaedra Chancellor, reveals that she is in fact Lord Frampton’s daughter and that she has inherited the valuable Frampton suite of sapphires, surprise gives way to shock. But Phaedra’s effervescent nature soon wins over the Frampton family. Lady Antoinette Frampton finds in Phaedra the daughter she never had, while David, the new Lord Frampton, is utterly charmed as Phaedra manages to thaw the heart of Margaret, the Dowager Lady Frampton. But Roberta, the wife of Lord Frampton’s second son, is the only one not convinced and sets out to discover the truth about who Phaedra really is.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. When the Framptons finally recover from the shock of learning that Phaedra is George’s daughter, most of the family members come to accept her. How does Phaedra win them over? Were you surprised that she was so readily accepted? How would you have reacted to such news?
2. After George’s death, Antoinette realizes “you were everything to me, George, but I was not everything to you.” How does this realization act as a catalyst for change in Antoinette’s life?
3. The Framptons are sure that Margaret will frighten Phaedra, yet the two women find common ground in their grief. Why does Phaedra see through Margaret’s façade in a way that her family cannot? What contributes to Margaret’s irritable nature? How does her nature change over the course of the novel?
4. Discuss David and Phaedra’s relationship. Why are they drawn to each other? Why doesn’t Antoinette say anything when she realizes that David has fallen for Phaedra?
5. Why is Roberta the only Frampton who doesn’t take Phaedra at face value? What would have happened if Phaedra hadn’t inherited the Frampton sapphires? Did you sympathize with Roberta’s suspicions? Or did you think she was merely being spiteful?
6. What motivates Julius? What does he expect from Phaedra? If he truly admired and respected George, how could he act as he did toward George’s family?
7. Antoinette says of the folly: “Someone quite clearly built it with love. It’s only right that we should look after it.” How does this statement apply more broadly to the narrative? In what ways do the characters “look after” each other out of love and duty?
8. Antoinette and Margaret both learn that their husbands had secret relationships. How does each woman handle this knowledge? What enables each of them to move past this betrayal?
9. Discuss the reasons that Phaedra lies to the Framptons about being George’s daughter. Did you think lying to protect the family was justified? Did Phaedra’s longing to belong to a family excuse her continued deception? What do you think would have happened if the Framptons knew the truth in the first place? In your opinion, is lying ever justified?
10. What is your impression of George? How did learning about him through the lens of other characters influence your overall impression? What were his priorities and how did they affect Antoinette, his children, and Phaedra? Do you think he would have changed his will if he had not died so suddenly?
11. In the epilogue, the characters are brought together by work on the estate. At what other points in the novel do outdoor settings act as a source of catharsis or peace? In your own life, when have you found solace in nature?
12. Discuss the theme of forgiveness. What enables the characters to forgive and find peace? Were you surprised at their capacity for forgiveness? What actions would you personally have found most difficult to forgive?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Antoinette finds great comfort in her garden. If your group is meeting during a warmer month, consider holding your meeting outside in a garden. For a local listing of public gardens near you, visit www.garden.org/public_gardens/.
2. Reread the section when Phaedra first comes across the neglected folly on the Frampton estate. If you could build a folly, what would it look like? What would you keep in your own personal folly? Discuss what your dream folly would look like and what it would be used for with your book club members. To learn more about this Eighteenth century architectural tradition, visit www.britainexpress.com/History/follies.htm. To browse pictures of famous follies, like the gigantic pineapple building at Dunmore Park built by John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, visit robgilhooly.photoshelter.com/gallery/G0000z0EFg3AroP0.
3. Have you or your book club members read other novels by Santa Montefiore? If so, extend your discussion to the common themes in her work. To learn more about her other novels and to submit your own question to Santa Montefiore, visit www.santamontefiore.co.uk.
A Conversation with Santa Montefiore
1. What was your inspiration for The Woman from Paris? Did you begin with a specific character or plot idea?
I started with the house! I fell in love with a beautiful Jacobean house near where I live in the country and worked the plot around it.
2. In the “Biography” section on your website, www.santamontefiore.co.uk, you write: “We have all had moments that we would give anything to live again.” What is one moment you wish you could relive?
Without doubt I would return to 1989 and relive the year I spent in Argentina as a nineteen-year-old. Inspired by the beauty of the pampa and the colourful people I met there, I wrote Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree, my first novel. I still have loads of friends there and return when I can. In my heart I feel it is my second home!
3. Phaedra deceives the Frampton family in the hopes of protecting them from the truth. Do you think good intentions ever justify a lie?
I think lying is acceptable in certain circumstances, one of those being when the truth would cause terrible pain. The trouble is you always risk getting found out and being exposed! Perhaps if Phaedra had lied and disappeared afterwards, she might have got away with it. Her troubles began when she allowed herself to become part of the Frampton family and of course when she fell in love with David. There was no way it was all going to end well!
4. The novel stresses the necessity of forgiveness. Why did you want to emphasize this theme in The Woman from Paris? Do you find it easy to practice forgiveness in your own life?
I think forgiveness is the hardest thing to find in our hearts, and yet it is the only way to diffuse our suffering. By holding onto resentment we hold onto pain. When we truly forgive we allow love to burn away all negativity. Love frees us from suffering, but goodness, I’ve had times in my life where I knew the theory and yet my heart remained as hard as stone. Sometimes, time is the only thing that softens the heart, which is why I think old people often make peace as they near the end of their lives. They grow wise and see the bigger picture.
5. Where is your favorite place to ski?
My favourite place to ski will always be Klosters in Switzerland, where I base the ski scenes in my novel. My great-grandmother, who was Swiss, used to go there with her family, way back, and her descendents have called it home ever since!
6. Did you model the beautiful setting of Fairfield Park after a particular place?
Yes, I went to visit friends in Hampshire who have the most beautiful Jacobean house, set in spectacular grounds. I have always loved houses, especially old ones, and I adore those summer houses built on hills or beside lakes, they’re very romantic. I used the house but made it my own, as the real one is not positioned by a lake nor does it have a hill with an ornamental summer house (folly) on the top. The houses in my novels are characters, too!
7. Your husband, Simon Sebag Montefiore, is also a successful, internationally bestselling author. Do you ever edit or read each other’s early drafts? How do you influence each other as writers?
Absolutely, we help each other all the time. We consider ourselves a business and share everything. He helps me with plots. Usually, I come up with the idea and then we sit over a bottle of wine discussing it and working out all the possible scenarios. It’s fun! I read the first draft of his novels, but not his history books. I can’t help with those. The novels I do feel qualified to critique. His new one, which comes out next year, is gripping and I really didn’t have to do much!
8. The Woman from Paris is your eleventh novel. Was there any element of writing this novel that differed from your previous novels? How you do you think you have grown as a writer from your first novel, Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree?
I think the key to success is loving what you do, whatever field you are in. I adore writing. I can’t look out of a window without feeling the urge to describe what I’m seeing. I think that enthusiasm is infectious. I have learnt a lot in the twenty years since I started writing my first novel, not only technically but from experience. The older I get, the wiser I become and the better I understand human nature. Writing about characters is much more interesting if those characters are complex. I think plot is important and it’s fun to keep the reader guessing, but I think it’s well drawn characters that keep the reader coming back for more. Is this novel different from the others? I think every one is different, like children, but I love them all equally!
9. What was the last book you read?
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I found it moving, touching and funny. A very heavy subject told lightly.
10. What are you working on now?
I’m editing the one for next year. It’s based in Ireland and is a mystery, love story with lots of twists and turns. I have loved writing about Connemara, it’s very wild and romantic! I shall start my fourteenth novel straight after.
If you would like Santa Montefiore to talk to your reading group, you can contact her on Facebook or at Santa.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Gosh, I love a good book. As soon as I opened The Woman from Paris, I was treated to interesting and witty characters, a multi layered plot and a wonderful setting. There are secrets, romance and family drama all woven into this novel and I happily devoured it all. I lived inside these pages for a little while. Lord George Frampton is head of a well to do family in London, he dies in a mountain climbing accident in the Alps. Phaedra Chancellor arrives at Frampton's funeral claiming to be his illegitimate daughter. She's a Canadian photographer who lives in Paris. Frampton left behind a widow Antoinette, and three grown sons. He recently found out about Phaedra but hadn't yet told his family about her. At the reading of his will, the family finds that Frampton left his daughter just as much as he left his sons, and he also left her precious family jewels. This doesn't go over well with some of the family members, in particular Frampton's spoiled daughter in law who is determined to expose Phaedra as a fraud. Phaedra comes to stay with the family for a little while, the widow Antoinette actually wants to embrace her. Phaedra starts to win over over most of the family with her charm. The eldest son David, finds himself smitten with her, and Phaedra feels the same about him. As the story flowed, I wanted to know more about these characters. I couldn't help but like Phaedra. I thought the attraction between she and David was weird, being that they were supposedly siblings, and I wanted to see where the story would go. Was Phaedra actually Frampton's daughter? I didn't want her to be so she and David could get their happily ever after. I liked Antoinette and I found her mixed feelings towards Phaedra to be believable. On the one hand, she was angry at her late husband for keeping this secret, on the other hand she wanted to be close to Phaedra since she was family. As she listens to Phaedra's stories about time spent with Frampton, she wonders if he was ever going to reveal this huge secret to her. I liked the relationship between Antoinette and her sister Rosamunde. I also liked where Antoinette's story went. David. *sigh* He's a nice hero, your good guy. He tries to think of Phaedra as a half sister, but he is drawn to her. There's a decent set of characters in this novel, but none of it is confusing, the story just flows. The dynamics in this family seemed believable. Some of these people aren't the best of friends, but at the end of the day they are all family. I liked that the story has a bit of humor thrown in as well. I recommend The Woman from Paris if you enjoy books about family, love and loss. ...Bulrushes were silhouetted against it, their heavy heads gently swaying in the wind, and a fat moorhen sat sleeping on her nest in the middle, out of reach of foxes. As they walked around it they began to hear the dulcet tones of the piano, carried on the breeze from the big house. p.264... I received a copy of his book in exchange for an honest opinion. I did not receive any type of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. While I receive free books from publishers and authors, I am under no obligation to write a positive review.
lovely setting..grand atmosphere...familial love...death as a beginning..and an ending...old thoughts, habits, ways....and then the new....bright, loving, kind, exciting......what precipitates change, and how we change, and what changes around us in the process...as in nature, we experience the effects of the process....sometimes producing painful results to reach a more excellent conclusion..we lose to gain......nice book...good read..enjoy