1. Sally Armstrong writes of Charlotte in the book’s introduction, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to imagine the real life she lived and how she ever survived it.” (p. xi) How was your experience of reading this book affected by knowing that it was based on the story of a real person?
2. As Pad lays dying in Jamaica, the degenerate Lutz comments to Charlotte, “Many widows, alone and grieving, are grateful for the support of a proper man.” (p. 34) Does this opinion about the desperate condition of women in Jamaica also apply to the situation in which Charlotte finds herself in New Brunswick? Is her situation better or worse there?
3. Charlotte briefly rues her love affair with Pad, thinking that he may have survived if they had never left England–and that she would not be in her current predicament. Had it not been for her romance with Pad, do you think her life would have taken a more conventional path?
4. During her first Christmas in Nipisiguit, Charlotte is treated to a fireside ceremony with her new Acadian and Mi’kmaq friends. “There in the wilderness, by the light of the fire and surrounded by the spirituality of two peoples she has come to know, Charlotte covers the final distance between England and the New World.” (p. 143) What does this mean?
5. As they watch the burning ghost ship on the night of Charlotte’s wedding with Blake, Commodore Walker comments to the men jeering at Mi’kmaq legend, “Aye. But their Great Spirit is but God . . . it might become us on occasion to be humbled by his works, whatever they be and whatever He may be called. We’re a proud lot, we men. A day may come when we shall be glad of mysteries.” (p. 174) What does Walker mean by this? Do you agree?
6. Some of Charlotte’s marriages appear to have been made for quite pragmatic reasons, and with virtual strangers, yet she turns down the proposal made by Commodore Walker, with whom she has an affectionate relationship and who promises her a life of comfort. How would her life have been different had she accepted his proposal? Why do you think she made the choices in marriage that she did? Were they the right ones?
7. Charlotte and Wioche maintain a love affair that lasts many decades until her death. How do they manage this bond despite the damage done to his people by hers? Why do they never marry?
8. It is the men who “settled” New Brunswick who have dominated historical accounts of this period, stories involving war with the Acadians and the First Nations. Charlotte’s story reflects a different perspective. What is it about Charlotte’s character that allows her to move so skillfully between worlds and cultures? Why is this quality significant?
9. For those dwelling along the Miramichi, including Charlotte, nature is a fierce opponent in the struggle for survival. But Charlotte also carries with her the instinct to love the beauty of this untamed wilderness. Discuss this contradiction in Charlotte’s relationship to nature.
10. Charlotte has many opportunities to return home to England, why doesn’t she go?
11. Why do you think Charlotte leaves all her land to William Wishart?
12. Near the end of her life, Charlotte comes to believe herself complicit in the expulsion of the Acadians and Mi’kmaq from the Miramichi. “Her whole life here, it seems, has been lived in the knowledge that everything she wished to secure for her family helped to undo the security of her friends.” (p. 382) Discuss this perspective. Was she complicit?
13. BONUS: FUN WITH FOOD AND FICTION
Charlotte gives her children a glimpse into her once affluent past when she teaches Elizabeth to make Welsh Rabbit in the manner of her family’s cook. (p. 286) Look up a recipe for Welsh Rabbit (sometimes known as “Rarebit”) and consider making it for your book club meeting.