Discussion Question #5
Margaret tells a tale in the book of becoming so engrossed in reading a book that she falls off the wall where she is sitting. She suggests that this proves that “reading can be dangerous.”
The Thirteenth Tale shows that reading is powerful, and that the dangers of reading are far more pervasive and can be far darker than Margaret’s amusing childhood tale would allow. These dangers are not confined to the naive reader, nor can they be limited to childhood. Reading is a dangerous pastime; words have an inescapable physicality and can work for profound good or profound evil. Do you agree with Margaret about the danger of reading? Why, or why not?
Discussion Question #4
The assertion with which Vida Winter opens her first book also acts as the epigraph to The Thirteenth Tale. And indeed, every major character in the book — with the exception of Miss Winter herself, who characterizes her own birth as a “subplot” (p. 58) — mythologizes his her own birth to some extent. How do characters in the novel enact Vida Winter’s assertion that “all children mythologize their birth”?
“All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.” — Vida Winter, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation
Discussion Question #3
When Margaret challenges Miss Winter on the many versions of her life story she has already told, the author replies “It’s my profession. I’m a storyteller.” For Miss Winter, Margaret’s pursuit of biography, her insistence on working with facts, is “horribly dull…Don’t you think one can tell the truth much better with a story?” (p. 46). Who do you agree with more, and why? What makes someone’s life story fiction? A biography? A memoir?
Discussion Question #2
Much of the mythology of Vida Winter is taken up with the lost thirteenth tale, the story that was supposed to appear as the final installment in her first book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. Ironically, famous as she is, Vida Winter is at least as famous for the one story no one has read, as she is for her many novels. What is the significance of Vida Winter’s Thirteenth Tale in Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale?
What do you think?
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Discussion Question #1
Titles like The Woman in White, The Castle of Otranto, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, and of course, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre all figure prominently in Setterfield’s plot. And, of course, Margaret and Vita Winter are both authors as well as people who are passionate about books. What other ways do books and the love of books figure into the plot?