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Elisabeth Payne Rosen featured in American Rose
The Magazine of the American Rose Society

September/October 2009

"On the day we moved into our charming fixer-upper in Marin County, I walked straight through the house and into the back yard, heading for the shade of a tree in the hot afternoon sun. It was a smallish lot, shaped like the state of Nevada and crowded with dozens of "orphan" plants and trees the previous owner had brought home from the nursery where he worked. That first afternoon, while the children ran up and down the stairs exploring, I sat barefoot on the patchy lawn, just happy to be connected to the earth."

Click here to read the article (PDF document will open in new window).

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  1. When John Varick arrives at Palmyra to begin the research for his story, he's confronted with a reality that's very different from the preconceptions he arrived with. "Looking back honestly at his reactions since the day he first arrived, he knew he'd have to make a decision soon: either pack up and move on while his ability to feel indignation was still fresh, or else spend much longer here than he'd planned, with the intention of getting past these easy first impressions to some deeper, more difficult truth on the other side." (p. 98). Discuss how Hugh Hallam's unusual methods served to initially throw John off.

  2. Do you think that John and Hugh's friendship would have been able to stand the test of the war? Discuss how they initially handle the differences in their beliefs.

  3. At the beginning of the book, Hugh and French appear to enjoy a very unusual relationship. Do you feel that, because Hugh allows French to read and pays him for his service, this somehow makes him a better man, or do you find it hypocritical? When Hugh requested that French remain at Palmyra to protect Serena and his children while he's at war, did you believe that French would remain? Why or why not?

  4. Do you believe that Mary Ann's situation at Cedar Ridge, and the tragedy that follows, somehow served as a catalyst for French's eventual decision to leave Palmyra despite his promise to Hugh?

  5. Serena is stunned by the tragic death of Able, and begs Markie "Help me understand" (p.243). Discuss Serena's reaction to the circumstances surrounding Mary Ann. Do you think that her naivety was genuine, or that she somehow forced herself not to see the reality of the slaves living on her neighbors' plantations?

  6. Hugh neither completely agrees with the separatist movement or with slavery. However, he still decides to go to war for the South. Discuss what you think are his reasons for going were. Do you find him noble or immoral?

  7. When Tom returns home briefly during the war, his reunion with Kitty is strained on both sides. How does Tom and Kitty's relationship when he briefly returns from the war serve as a microcosm for the development of the relationship between the Hallams and the McQuirters? Do you think that it also serves as a microcosm for the relationship between Northern and Southern Americans.?

  8. Before leaving for war, Lewis signs an agreement with Ross McQuirter for Palmyra cotton despite what he knows to be his father's wishes on the matter. Do you think he had a choice in this matter? Would you have acted differently? Did you agree with his decision to go off to war?

  9. Discuss Serena's development after she, Kitty, and Sam leave the plantation, and her relationship with Mrs. Chestnut. Is such a moment of mutual "recognition" familiar to you, or not? How do Serena's friendships differ from Hugh's?

  10. French leaves Hugh a letter that finally forces Hugh to answer the question of whether a black man is a human being like himself, or not. Do you think he managed to come to terms with himself and his hand in slavery by the end of the story?

  11. Why do you think Serena returns to Palmyra, despite the network of friends and support she developed in Virginia? Markie sits with her at the fire, next to her, as an equal. Does this scene make you think that the two women can progress from a mistress/slave relationship to a friendship?

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