Book Club Guide for Mary Green

The read-along for Mary Green starts today, so here is a little book club guide, for those who are interested in a little extra background reading.

1. Why did you write this book?
Mary Green is the kind of book I would want to read. I wrote it because I love the novels of Jane Austen, drawing room dramas with a light-hearted tone and sentences I can sink my teeth into—a romantic story that is not a romance novel, that is thoroughly researched in terms of the historical setting and yet fun to read.

2. What would you like people to take from your work? I just want them to enjoy it. I believe that whenever we invest in a story, whenever we are moved by someone else's experience, true or fictional, it cultivates our empathy and makes us a more compassionate person. Mary Green is a story that readers can just relax and sink into, an engaging and enjoyable diversion. It doesn't try to teach anyone anything directly, but the characters are very real, at least to me, and that is what I want to give people, just the experience of reading it.

3. Give us a little insight into the background of the story? This story is set in the early 1800s, in a time known as the Regency Period. It is before the Industrial Revolution, so almost everything is done by hand. The Napoleonic Wars are off and on again during this time, so the proportion of men to women is quite small. The American Revolution and the French Revolution are a few decades past and colonialism, especially in India, is in full swing. There is a fascination with all things eastern and classical. Ladies' fashions involve muslins and silks from India worn in a style reminiscent of ancient Greek togas, for example. Feudalism is mostly gone, thanks to the Agricultural Revolution, and there are a lot of migrant workers leaving the countryside for the cities. There is very little in the way of a middle class at this time. People tend either to be gentry or paupers, and women had very few options to support themselves. They were about a century away from getting the right to vote, for example, and relied mostly on marriage as the primary means of security.

4. What kind of experience could I provide my book club that would give them some insight into the characters and their experiences?
To set the mood for Mary Green, anything that brings to mind Jane Austen and her contemporaries would be appropriate. The only music people had ready access to was what people could make themselves, particularly on the piano, which was a fairly new invention at the time. Scotch and Irish airs were easily as popular, if not more so, than the classical music we now associate with the period. So those would be appropriate, as would anything by Haydn, or The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by Handel.
I recommend serving tea in china cups, or even hot chocolate, which was the only way chocolate was consumed at the time and was quite an expensive and indulgent drink. It should be prepared with actual chocolate, melted and mixed with hot milk. To make it more authentic, you can add spices and other flavours like nutmeg, cinnamon, chilli, lavender, orange water, etc.
This would be quite fitting, as drinking chocolate features repeatedly in the second half of the book. Although we think of scones with cream and jam as typical of anything old and English (and so delicious, they would really not be amiss anywhere), they actually only became popular in the Victorian era, well after the Regency era when this book is set. Little sweet-meats would have been served, like tiny biscuits that could fit on one's saucer. Any squares cut small would be perfect, or Persian or Indian sweets, which are quite similar to what was eaten in England 200 years ago.
For more involved dishes, the Jane Austen Centre website has some great recipes, which can be found here:
One simple yet classic refreshment is syllabub. Simply whip two cups of whipping cream and as it starts to thicken, add 1/2 cup of white sugar and a couple of tablespoons of either white wine or lemon juice and a couple more of lemon zest. Chill and serve with grated nutmeg, sprigs of mint, slices of lemon, or anything your heart desires.

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