Thinking of Tea & Literature
Most of us Victoriana lovers do not realize that the passion for the 19th century partially began with the renewed interest in the almost unknown women writers of the Victorian age.
In the 1970s and 1980s, scholars were looking for a feminist approach to literature. Once writers such as Annie Besant, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Ann Bronte, Ella D’Arcy, and Harriet Martineau, to name only a few, were rediscovered, the door opened wide.
Now scholars wanted to investigate the rippling effect of women’s writing – women editors, women’s newspapers, murder trials of women, New Women literature, attitudes towards marriage and divorce.
This trend of studying the social history of the 19th century in order to understand its women writers ultimately opened a room with a view not only for scholars, but also for the modern magazine industry, the interior design world, and savvy entrepreneurs. And then, as you might say, “We were hooked.”
These facts combine with my love of books to lead me to my real point. An occasional book or story discussion is a perfect teatime activity!
While the possibilities are endless, I would like to suggest a particular story for a beginning book group or for a one-time event – The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Written in 1899, it is the story of a woman’s descent into madness. Now, I know that does not sound especially tea-ish, but wait! Let me tell you why I like this choice:
It’s short! It will take less than one hour to read and so does not require the commitment of Gone With the Wind or George Elliot’s Middlemarch. Even the busiest of women can fit this short story into her schedule.
It is easy to find. It can be read on-line at womenshistory.about.com/library/etext/bl_gilman_yw.htm. An audio version can be found at www.scribblingwomen.org/cgwallpaper.htm.
It was considered to be incredibly controversial in its time, possesses tremendous symbolism, and always elicits strong thoughts and emotions from readers. It’s perfect for discussion!
There are many sources that can provide you with the details of how to run a book discussion. I would suggest The Reading Group Handbook, by Rachel Jacobson. Charlotte Perkins Gilman authored a helpful, short piece on why she wrote the story that can be found at the same location as the readable text. An extensive list of discussion questions can be found at www.runet.edu/~rvannoy/rvn/203/Gilman.htm.
Basically you must remember that a successful book discussion needs a leader who has researched a bit of background information about the book and the author, who has chosen specific questions, and who is comfortable leading the group and keeping it on track. It is not important that you are an expert on the book. What is important is that you encourage an atmosphere where all ladies feel comfortable voicing their thoughts and opinions. Disagreements are fine and can foster stimulating conversation.
I would suggest a book discussion be tied into a dessert tea. Have tea available during the discussion and serve the desserts once the discussion has been completed.
And, if your ladies enjoyed the discussion and are pleased to keep on the path of controversy in vintage literature, you can suggest Kate Chopin’s The Awakening as further reading.
In the spirit of true tea adventurers, I urge you to give a book discussion a try!
This is the byline you must include if using this article: Laurie Nienhaus is the Director of The Ladies’ Tea Guild and Editor in Chief of the Tea Guild’s monthly publication, Sweet Willa’s Review. To learn more about this unique social club and tea society or to subscribe to Sweet Willa’s Review, visit www.glily.com.
Thinking of Tea & Literature