The Personal Librarian
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1.   Gertrude is Belle’s friend from college who “…doesn’t need to assess every single moment of every single day against societal standards to ensure her behavior passes muster. She has no need to analyze her words, her walk, her manner, but I do”
Consider and discuss the toll extracted when your public face has to be constantly vigilant, constantly striving to stay within the bounds of “normal or “average”.

2.   But then, later in the book Belle throws a lot of that conformity to the wind, by developing a bold style of dress, going on the party circuit and beating her male colleagues at their own game. Why was she more comfortable doing it then? Did the muscle behind the library give her cover?

3.   After a shared and knowing glance with a serving woman at a society party…” why does she serve, while I am served? Why is it that the relative whiteness of my skin has given me this chance at privilege? It seems incomprehensible, but it is thus.”
Belle has several such moments with the serving staff at different parties. What are they seeing in Belle that her white friends and colleagues didn’t see?

4.   Belle isn’t the only one keeping secrets. Who else was holding back? And what would have been the consequences if their own secrets had become public?

5.   “Marriage is not something that I’ve really considered. I’ve always known that, because of my heritage, a traditional relationship would not be possible for me. Not only because of my family’s financial dependence but because a marriage means children, and that is something I cannot hazard. Without the fairer skin of my siblings, I could never risk bearing a child whose skin color might reveal my deception.”
Choosing to neither marry, nor have kids was a very unconventional choice in Belle’s day. How much of this choice do you believe was concern about whether a potential child could pass…and how much would you put down to her unconventional ways?

6.   What about that relationship between Belle and Bernard Berenson? What drew them together? What forced them apart? Was he a cad? Was she naive?

7.   Some of the more negative reviews of the book found it either slow going after the mid-point, or they found the dialogue stilted (or both). Did anyone in your group have this negative reaction? How did you find the pacing?

8.   Before reading the book, how familiar were you with passing? Have you read other books with passing characters? Have you had any friends, family members or ancestors who have passed?

9.   From the book…“I still believe. I still believe that someday there will be equality in this country. That someday there will be a new civil rights act, and a new president and Congress to enforce it. That everyone will be able to follow their dream, regardless of race. That those words about the equality of men in the Declaration of Independence will be true.”
Has this sentiment come true since the ’20’s? If so, how? If not, why?

10.     Working for the Pierpont Morgan library was Belle’s absolute dream job. Imagine how she felt walking into the library that first day. Do you love libraries? What’s your literary dream job?


* Some questions from Libro Maniacs

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