Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
C. W. Gortner presents a sympathetic picture of Catherine de
Medici, a figure much maligned in history. His goal is to flesh her
out as a complex and multifaceted human beingone who faced
difficult choices and did the best she could under the circumstances.
Does he succeed? Is Catherine a reliable narrator of her own life?
Some historians believe that France would have fallen into revolution
two hundred years earlier than it did had Catherine not been in
power. In what ways was she instrumental in preserving the stability
of her country? Do you consider her methods ruthless or pragmatic?
Talk about Catherine's early life. What does it show about her personality?
How does she feel about being offered as a bride to a
prince she has never met? Discuss the role throughout history of
highborn women used as pawns in games of power. Can you think
Discuss Catherine's arrival in France. What kind of reception does
she receive? What are her expectations and what does she find?
What kind of prejudice does she face?
How would you describe Diane de Poitiers and her position with
Catherine? In what ways do their positions change? Do you think
Diane acted out of love for Henri? Did you like her? If so, why? If
not, why not?
Discuss the religious strife that affected most of Europe during this
time. What would it have been like to live through this turmoil? Are
there any parallels we can draw today? Discuss the ways in which
Catherine seeks to keep peace between the opposing factions.
How does the novel present the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre?
Did you understand the events leading up to it and Catherine's
role? Do you think she deserves the full blame for the massacre?
Do you think it could have been avoided? If so, how?
Discuss Catherine's complex relationship with Coligny. What
brought them together and what led to that final moment between
How does the novel address Catherine's dealings in the occult?
How do you feel about her visions, knowing there is documented
evidence to support her prophetic abilities? Do you think she put
too much trust in her own visions of the future?
Discuss Catherine's children and her relationships with them. Did
you understand the various influences that shaped them? Whom
did you like the most? Who was the least likeable? Do you think
Catherine was a good mother to her children?
Is there any regret in Catherine's account of the actions she's taken
or the sacrifices she's made? How does she evolve as a person,
from youth to old age?
How do you account for Catherine's reputation in history?
What part of this book most surprised you? Which part most engaged
you or did you find most interesting? What have you learned from reading The Confessions of Catherine de Medici about the sixteenth century, French history, and Catherine herself?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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