1. Frances Mayes begins Under Magnolia by recalling a
chance weekend in Oxford, Mississippi, where she stood "on the X,
not knowing it's time to leap, when, really, I'd only meant to
pause." When have you experienced a similar crossroad? What did it
take to make you leap?
2. As Mayes describes surreptitiously touring William
Faulkner''s house, what truths emerge about the humanity of great
writers? Why has the South produced so much enduring
3. How did Willie Bell help Mayes master the art of endurance?
What prevented Mayes's mother, Frankye, from being more
self-sufficient? What did both women teach Mayes about her role in
4. As Mayes describes attending college both at Randolph-Macon
and the University of Florida, before the easy availability of the
Pill, what can we discover about the impact of the 1960s on young
women in America? How does Mayes''s college experience compare to
5. Mayes describes her young self as a free spirit with an
independent mind, transfixed by literature and disinterested in
other subjects in school. How did these attributes feed her highly
successful career, first as a professor and then as a bestselling
author? What does her story tell us about the keys to success and
6. From reading this background story, what future would you
have predicted for this child?
7. What does Under Magnolia tell us about Mayes'' early
perceptions of home? What spurred her to move to California? What
called her home to the South so many years later?
8. Discuss the freedoms and restrictions Mayes experienced
throughout her youth. How did her family manage resources,
particularly Daddy Jack's assistance? How did Mayes define
9. How did the presence and absence of Mayes''s father influence
her life? How did she heal the scars of his anger, and the trauma
of his early death?
10. Discuss the similarities Mayes observes between Tuscany and
the South, both her native Georgia and her current homeland of
North Carolina. What draws her to these locales? Is the sense of
community so strong in these places because of history and
landscape, or are there other factors?
11. How has Mayes's experience of love and relationships evolved
since she was a young woman? How did her experiences with Paul and
Frank shape her sense of self? How did her parents'' marriage
affect her expectations for happiness in a relationship?
12. What did you discover about Mayes''s literary approach as
you read her descriptions of her earliest memories? If you've read
other works by Frances Mayes, how does Under Magnolia
enrich your experience of them, including her fiction and
13. What are the defining traits of the town where you were
raised, especially the food and the customs as well as
architecture, history, or even special words or phrases? Would you
like to return to your birthplace?
14. Southern writers are especially strong on conveying a sense
of place. In Under Magnolia, how is Mayes shaped by the