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Perdita

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Perdita includes topics and discussion questions. 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.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion:

    1. When deciding if she can trust Garth, Marged asks him, “What would your trees say about you?” Why does she ask this? What does it mean?

    2. What role does water play in the novel? Hilary Scharper served as an assistant lighthouse keeper on the Bruce Peninsula. In the novel, Marged’s father is the lighthouse keeper at Cape Prius. How does Marged express her feelings about “the Light” and what role do lighthouses play in the book?

    3. Birds are often present in Perdita. Dr. McTavish not only studies birds, but also mimics their songs and behaviors. Allan names Marged a “dark-eyed junco” and George a “great horned owl,” while Caroline Ferguson is depicted as a “shrike” (page 64). The author also often evokes images of women as birds:

    “I felt a little like a bird perched on his shoulder, and at times it seemed as if his visitors came close by to peer at the curious creature he had tamed to stay by his side” (page 247).

    What different functions do birds play in the novel? Why might the author choose to include them in these ways?

    4. When Clare’s brother, Doug, suggests that she could have pursued conquest of Garth using her own “charms,” she responds:

    “You know I’m not like that! Women who get men that way—it’s hard to explain—but they never get the full man. There must be parts of Garth that Evienne never knew, maybe even didn’t want to know” (page 116).

    What does she mean by this?

    5. Various characters in Perdita discuss and critique the creation of art. Does Marged offer a unique perspective on art during her conversation with the critic Michael Sparke? What are the differences between George Stewart’s portrait of Caroline Ferguson and his painting of Marged Brice (titled Eidos)? 

    6. As Marged comes of age in the late 1890s, she is frequently at odds with many gender norms of the time. In what ways does and doesn’t Marged Brice fit within her society’s idea of what is “proper”? Do you think these conflicts continued for Marged in her later years?

    7. How did you find the transition between past and present within Perdita? Did you find differences in the pacing of Garth’s narrative and Marged’s journal? Were you interested in both the modern and historical periods or were you more drawn to one?

    8. Hilary Scharper is deeply influenced by literary classics and Perdita has similarities to novels such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca and Possession. When reading the book, did you notice the impact of literary classics on her writing?

    9. a. In Greek mythology, Perdita is the child of Hephaestus and Pandora. She is hidden among the Fates and she keeps a “bundle” of four different kinds of love. One of these loves is biophilia (the love of life or living systems). Why is biophilia important to the story? Which characters have a strong sense of biophilia and why? 

    b. Of the four different types of love, which kind of love do you think Marged holds for George Stewart and Dr. Reid respectively?

    10. The notion of threads and “loose ends” runs throughout the novel. What would you consider a “loose end” in a love relationship? Is Marged trying to convey something about the nature of love and the “risks” of being in love?

    11. Marged’s last entry in her diary has her drifting out into the Bay’s open waters—“way out beyond the buoys and their markings of safe harbour” (page 381). She writes that even the lighthouse has disappeared from her sight. Since she has strong feelings for both George and Dr. Reid, what moral, cultural or other landmarks will help her?

    Does she have to make a choice between her two suitors? Is there anything that occurs in the novel to suggest that she does make a choice?

    12. Whose voice dedicates the novel to “the men and the women who live here”? After reading the novel, does this dedication strike you in a different way? 

    13. a. What was your reaction to the ending? Which “threads” or aspects of the story came full circle for you and which were left open? How do you respond to the parts of the story that are left open-ended?

    b. Why won’t Marged just go ahead and tell Garth how her love relationships with George and Dr. Reid were resolved? Do you think Marged intentionally wants to leave Garth with some loose ends or is she hiding something? 

    14. a. If Perdita were to show you “your bundle”—i.e., all the different kinds of love relationships you have experienced in your life—would all four types of love be present? 

    b. Clare tells Garth that she is drawn most to the idea of lost threads (fila perdita) and that she likes the fact that threads of love are never discarded, but always preserved by Perdita. Why does this make Clare a “romantic?” What does it mean to be a romantic person in our contemporary society? Do you consider yourself a “romantic”?

About the Author

Hilary Scharper
Photograph by Stephen Scharper

Hilary Scharper

Hilary Scharper spent her summers as a young girl on the shores of Georgian Bay where she developed a deep love of its natural beauty. Later on she studied anthropology at Yale University and eventually became interested in peoples’ stories about their relationships with the natural world. A professor at the University of Toronto, she now teaches on wilderness and cultural approaches to nature.

Throughout her life, she has been drawn to the literary classics and especially the gothic tradition. In recent years she has served as an assistant lighthouse keeper on the Bruce Peninsula in northern Ontario where she has explored an emerging literary form—something she terms the eco-gothic.

Hilary Scharper currently lives in Toronto with her son and her husband, Stephen Scharper, also a professor at the University of Toronto.

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