A LADY OF GOOD FAMILY

Jeanne Mackin

From the author of The Beautiful American comes a richly imagined, beautifully written novel about historical figure Beatrix Farrand, one of the first female landscape architects.

Raised among wealth and privilege during America’s fabled Gilded Age, a niece of famous novelist Edith Wharton and a friend to literary great Henry James, Beatrix Farrand is expected to marry, and marry well. But as a young woman traveling through Europe with her mother and aunt, she already knows that gardens are her true passion.

How this highborn woman with unconventional views escapes the dictates of society to become the most celebrated female landscape designer in the country is the story of her unique determination to create beauty and serenity while remaining true to herself.

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From the author of The Beautiful American comes a richly imagined, beautifully written novel about historical figure Beatrix Farrand, one of the first female landscape architects.

Raised among wealth and privilege during America’s fabled Gilded Age, a niece of famous novelist Edith Wharton and a friend to literary great Henry James, Beatrix Farrand is expected to marry, and marry well. But as a young woman traveling through Europe with her mother and aunt, she already knows that gardens are her true passion.

How this highborn woman with unconventional views escapes the dictates of society to become the most celebrated female landscape designer in the country is the story of her unique determination to create beauty and serenity while remaining true to herself.

Beatrix’s journey begins at the age of twenty-three in the Borghese Gardens of Rome, where she meets beguiling Amerigo Massimo, an Italian gentleman of sensitivity and charm—a man unlike any she has known before…

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  • NAL
  • Paperback
  • June 2015
  • 368 Pages
  • 9780451465832

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$16.00

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About Jeanne Mackin

Jeanne Mackin is an award-winning author of historical novels, including The Beautiful American, The Frenchwoman, The Sweet By and By, Dreams of Empire, Queen’s War, and A Woman of Good Family. She lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York with her husband, artist Steve Poleskie.

Praise

Reading one of Jeanne Mackin’s historical novels is the next best thing to having a time machine at your disposal. A Lady of Good Family is so immersive, so captivating in its depiction of famed Gilded Age landscape architect Beatrix Farrand—niece of Edith Wharton and friend of Henry James — that I devoured it in one sitting.”—Jennifer Robson, author of After the War is Over and Somewhere in France

“Mackin has taken an unusual approach to a fictionalized biography by relating the story through another story: that of her friend Daisy Winters, an associate of Edith Wharton and Henry James. This novel depicts the various stages of love through the dissimilar characters’ lives. The simple yet beautiful prose charms.”—RT Book Reviews

Discussion Questions

Did you enjoy the novel? What was your overall response to it?

Although the novel is primarily about historical figure Beatrix Farrand, fictional Daisy Winters tells the story. Did you find Daisy an effective narrator? What are the advantages and disadvantages of hearing the story from her point of view?

Discuss what life was like for Beatrix as an upper-class woman coming of age before 1900. What restrictions did she face early on that began to fall away as the new century progressed?

Beatrix and Amerigo first meet by chance several times, which seems to suggest that fate is conspiring to draw them together. Have you ever had a similar experience of a romance that seems “meant to be”?

Discuss the references to novels by Henry James and Edith Wharton. Are you familiar with Daisy Miller, The Turn of the Screw, and The House of Mirth? Are you inspired to seek them out and read them?

The author suggests that falling in love was an important part of Beatrix’s growth both as a woman and as a professional landscape gardener. How does the experience enrich her? Do you agree that an experience of passionate, romantic love is essential for a woman’s fulfillment?

Why does Beatrix hesitate when Amerigo suggests they elope? Have you ever had to make a split-second decision with far-reaching consequences for your life? What did you choose?

There are happy and unhappy marriages in the novel. Discuss the ingredients that go into making each marriage successful or disastrous. How much freedom to choose do the couples really have, and how much is driven by social convention? What role does luck play? And how do the marriages in the novel compare to marriages you know now?

Discuss the various ghosts in the novel. Why do you think the author includes them? Does the epigraph, taken from Beatrix Farrand’s writing, provide a clue?

Discuss the many cruelties Mrs. Haskett inflicts and the possessions she accumulates in an effort to gain entrée into New York society’s highest echelons. Does she remind you of anyone from history, literature, or today’s pop culture?

Why do you think the author includes the three descriptions of gardens—for first meetings, second chances, and “where no one can weep”?

Does the novel make you want to create a garden, visit a garden, or read about gardens?

Before reading the novel, had you ever heard of Beatrix Farrand? Consider making a list of accomplished women of the last one hundred and fifty years that most people have never heard of.

Did you find the end of the novel satisfying? Why or why not?