1. Huguette Clark and Paris Hilton: compare and contrast. Using
the theme of the burdens of inherited wealth, in which era would it
be easier or harder to be a young heiress, the 1920s or
today? Can you imagine being that wealthy and not sharing your
opinions and daily ad ventures on social media?
2. The authors reject easy explanations for Huguette''s
eccentricity and reclusive nature, emphasizing that she was always
shy, living a life of imagination and art. As they say in the
We will never know why Huguette was, as she might say,
"peculiar." The people in her inner circle say they have no idea.
Outsiders speculate. It was being the daughter of an older father!
It was her sister''s death! Or her mother''s! The wealth! It was
autism or Asperger''s or a childhood trauma! Easy answers fail
because the question assumes that personalities have a single
determinant. Whatever caused her shyness, her limitations of
sociability or coping, her fears--of strangers, of kidnapping, of
needles, of another French Revolution-Huguette found a situation
that worked for her, a modern-day "Boo" Radley, shut up inside by
choice, safe from a world that can hurt.
Do you accept the authors'' embrace of complexity and uncertainty?
Or do you think of Huguette''s reclusivity as springing from a
single cause--e.g., failed romances, her sister''s death, a mental
3. What is your reaction to nurse Hadassah Peri and the $31
million in gifts Huguette gave to her family? Do you agree with
readers who say her behavior was despicable, that it''s unethical
for a caregiver to receive such gifts, that she should have
refused the gifts? Or do you agree with readers who say Huguette
certainly knew what she was doing, that Hadassah was her patient''s
closest caregiver for twenty years, that the gifts were only a
small share of Huguette''s net worth?
4. Was Huguette''s life a happy one? What are the ingredients of
a happy life? If you find her life to be sad, how do you reconcile
that with her apparent lack of sadness?
5. If you had been on the jury deciding the battle over
Huguette''s will and her $300 million estate, would you have found
that she was in competent and defrauded? Would you have given all
her money to her Clark relatives? Or would you have followed the
will, giving it all to the nurse, the Bellosguardo Foundation for
the arts, the attorney Bock, the accountant Kamsler, Dr. Singman,
Beth Israel Medical Center, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, her
goddaughter Wanda, and the personal assistant Chris? Which of
those people, on either side, do you trust?
6. Was W. A. Clark an admirable man? Or was he admirable only
early on, when he was like a Horatio Alger character working
arduously in dangerous circumstances to build a copper fortune?
In light of the times in which he lived, was W.A. Clark
justifiably vilified for his methods in seeking a Senate seat? Was
he actually a robber baron? Is he accountable for environmental
waste today from the copper mines he developed in the 1870s? Or was
this simply business as usual in the sordid world of politics and
development on the Western frontier? If Clark had been as generous
to public charities as Carnegie or Rockefeller, would he have been
absolved by history, as they largely were, of the sins of his
7. Empty Mansions is based on facts, documents, and
testimony. That leaves mysteries in the lives of its
characters. Did the uncertainties add or detract from your
enjoyment of the story? Would you have preferred that the authors
psychoanalyze Huguette, creating dialogue and filling in missing
scenes as a screenplay would? Considering the limits of what the
authors could learn, what do you most want to know about W.A.,
about Anna, about Huguette? If you could have had conversations
with Huguette, as author Paul Newell did, what would you have asked
8. Is there more to the American Dream than financial security?
Does it require making a contribution to society? Did W.A.''s
American Dream get out of control? Is Huguette an American Dreamer
of another type?
9. On Huguette''s death certificate, her occupation was listed
as "artist." Beginning with W.A., consider what part creativity and
imagination play in this story. Was W.A.''s imagination the
source of his power? What did Huguette inherit from her father in
the way of tastes or interests or capabilities? From her mother?
Consider the words of the founder of Huguette''s prep school, Clara
Spence, who urged her students:
I beg you to cultivate imagination, which means to develop your
power of sympathy, and I entreat you to decide thoughtfully what
makes a human being great in his time and in his station. The
faculty of imagination is often lightly spoken of as of no real
importance, often decried as mischievous, as in some ways the
antithesis of practical sense, and yet it ranks with reason and
conscience as one of the supreme characteristics by which man is
distinguished from all other animals...Sympathy, the great bond
between human beings, is largely dependent on imagination that is,
upon the power of realizing the feelings and the circumstances of
others so as to enable us to feel with and for them.
Did Huguette follow those words? What role did imagination and
sympathy play in her life? What role do they play in yours?
10. Did you like Huguette? Were there points in the book where
you were frustrated by her and/or felt sympathy for her? By the end
of the book, did you feel as if you knew her well? Did your view of
her change throughout the book?
11. Many characters in Empty Mansions have moral
dimensions of both good and bad. Do you believe W.A. was more good
than bad? What about attorney Wally Bock? Accountant Irv Kamsler?
Nurse Hadassah Peri? Personal assistant Chris Sattler? Dr. Henry
Singman? Were there any characters who seemed to be simply good or
rotten in their relationships with Huguette? Were you engaged or
frustrated by the authors'' insistence on showing the good and bad
12. If Empty Mansions were made into a movie, what
actors would you like to see in the major roles? What movie that
you''ve seen should it be most similar to? Would you make it a
psychological drama? An epic family saga of Western bonanza
wealth? A Gilded Age study of manners and family relationships?
What scenes would be the most delicious to write?