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In Twilight, “Mosby has painted an achingly beautiful portrait of a woman hovering desperately on the edge of self-realization. Raised by an indifferent mother and an unyielding father, New York debutante Lavinia Gibbs is not quite beautiful enough and far too clever to dazzle the rarified social circle in which she travels — nor does she want to settle into a mind-numbing marital routine in order to escape the stigma of spinsterhood.

When a thirty-something Lavinia has the temerity to break off her better-late-than-never engagement to a suitably stuffy member of the upper crust, she willingly shoulders the ill will of her parents and siblings, fleeing to pre–World War II Paris with a small monthly allowance and a large dollop of hope. Diminished by both her family and society, she takes her first shaky steps toward freedom and fulfillment by embarking upon a steamy affair with a married Frenchman.

However, when the Germans march into Paris, she discovers that passion and love exact a heavy price that must be paid in full.

© Copyright 1997-2009 American Library Association

 

Questions for discussion:

  1. Where does the book’s title come from? Do you think there is more than one meaning?
  1. Discuss the character of. How important was it for Lavinia to have a role model? Would she have mustered up the courage to leave Shelby and go abroad if she had not met Mavis?
  1. Discuss the contrast here between the highlife Lavinia left behind and the bleak situation in 1937. How does Paris, with high unemployment, shortages of products and fear of encroaching fascism, compare to her former life in America? How does the difficulty of her life in Paris contribute to her growth as a person and as a woman? How does it stultify her?
  1. How is Gaston Lesseur’s character revealed during the war? How is Lavinia’s character revealed?
  1. Discuss the role that Jean-Marc plays for the lovers.  How does it change over the course of the war? What does his death mean for Lavinia?
  1. How is the story in Twilight, Lavinia’s search for a passionate life regardless of the social sacrifices, modern? How is it timeless?
  1. What does Gaston’s confession, so late in terms of the occupation of Paris and Hitler’s domination of Europe, say to Lavinia about his character? How does the secret alter her feelings about their intimacy?
  1. The final paragraph of the book very poetically sums up Lavinia’s feeling about her life and the choices she has made. It made Lavinia feel both beautiful and bereft. It made her realize the fullness of her humanity, and the price of love; that even if she had been raised by wolves, she was not one of them. In the end that was enough to be true to, alone on the darkling plain. What has Lavina learned about love in her life? What has she learned about herself by going back to Gaston’s country house to take care of his wife?
  1. How is Lavinia a woman ahead of her time? What would the modern-day equivalent be of Lavinia’s actions (leaving a safe marriage, her family, and her country) taken to experience the fullness of her humanity?
  1. Much of the emotional development of the lovers is revealed through their letters. In what ways does this enhance the intimacy with which get to know them? Are either of them people you would like to know? Why or why not?

 

Additional Questions

  1. Marriage was a defining factor in a person’s life in the early years of the last century. In what ways has that changed? In what ways is it the same?
  1. Throughout the book, the nature of heroism is explored. What are some of the various examples of it and in what ways do they differ? How much of heroism is character and how much is circumstance?
  1. What do you think is the appropriate balance between duty and desire? How much importance do you place on passion? How would you have advised Lavinia?
  1. The theme of loneliness, or being an outsider, is laced throughout the book. In what ways is your sense of inclusion based on the familiar? What role does language play in securing your sense of connection?
  1. Lavinia and Gaston’s affair plays out during the dark days leading up to World War II. How does this tumultuous backdrop influence the personal relationships depicted in the story? How important is the setting of this novel in the telling of its story?
  1. Lavinia’s mother refers to women who are swept into affairs with married men as being “condemned to live in perpetual twilight.” Discuss this phrase as it relates particularly to Lavinia’s situation. In what other ways does the theme of “twilight” thread the novel?
  1. Lavinia describes herself as being “raised by wolves.”  What do you think she means? Discuss her role in the Gibbs family and how it influences her emotional journey. By the end of the novel does she truly break free from her family and upbringing? Does anyone?