Reading guide for Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Dark Aemilia

A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady

by Sally O'Reilly

Dark Aemilia
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2014, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2015, 448 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About this Book

Dark Aemilia
is the story of a real woman who overcame adversity to become the first female poet to be published professionally in England. The action takes place in the uncertain period at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I and the beginning of Stuart rule. London is violent and fraught with danger, but also a magnet for anyone who wants to succeed and pursue their dreams.

Aemilia falls in love with William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright of all time, but she also has ambitions for her own work. And when her son Henry is born, her love for him makes her all the more determined to impose her will on a world that sees women as the servants and sexual playthings of men. But who are the three sinister women that she meets at Bartholomew Fair, the greatest fair in England, and why do they want to harm her?

Dark Aemilia dramatizes the conflicts between love and ambition and the ways in which women have had to fight for the right to express their feelings in art, and in life.



Discussion Questions:

  1. Aemilia fights for her right to be taken seriously as a writer, and she challenges authority at the very highest level. She is also contemptuous of some of the men she meets. Would you call her a feminist?
  2. Aemilia has four lovers in this story. How much say does she have in this? And do you think there are choices that she makes that are unwise, or immoral?
  3. Aemilia is clearly an ambitious woman, and this drives some of her actions. Do you think she goes too far? How do her actions relate to the story of Macbeth? Which of the characters in the story "overreach," as Faust and Macbeth do? What other references to the play Macbeth are there in the novel?
  4. Female friendship is important in the novel. But it is not treated in a simplistic way. What do we learn about the relationships between women at the time? And what does the conflict between Aemilia and Anne Flood tell us about the society they are living in?
  5. Is the witchcraft and magic in the book "real," or is Aemilia imagining things? Is it necessary to make an absolute judgement about this? Is it likely that someone living in Early Modern England would believe in the occult?
  6. There is some mature content in this story. Why has this been included, and does it relate to the experience of sexual obsession conveyed Shakespeare's sonnets? How is the contrast between sexual love and maternal love explored?
  7. Do women artists in the modern world face any of the problems that confront Aemilia? What kind of issues might these be, and have you come across any specific examples? (This might apply to the arts, but also to society in general.)
  8. Is it plausible that a woman in the seventeenth century would have been so determined to save the life of her son? Did people feel differently about parenthood, given that they had more children and that infant mortality was so widespread?
  9. How important is setting to the novel — the contrast between light and darkness, for example? How is the contrast between Whitehall Palace and the world of ordinary Londoners conveyed? Does this differ from other books about the period?
  10. Anne Flood is very proud of her appearance and often dresses inappropriately. Elizabeth I seems to be imprisoned by her own clothes. What is the symbolic function of clothes and appearance in this novel? How does this relate to the world of the stage?
  11. Joan is a "penitent witch" seeking to make amends for past wrongdoing. By the time her life ends, has she done enough to redeem her soul? Does her penitence relate to Aemilia's story, and if so, in what way?
  12. All the characters in the novel are Christians. So why do some of them meddle with demon-summoning and other black arts? How does Joan's magic relate to the "higher magic" of Simon Forman?
  13. Aemilia is in a unique position, having being educated by in the household of Lady Susan Bertie and at Court. How does this affect her point of view? How does this set her apart from other women?
  14. Aemilia either dreams or remembers seeing Lilith's eye through the keyhole of the door to Bedlam. What do you think this means?
  15. Could Will and Aemilia have lived together as man and wife if circumstances had been different? Would their marriage have worked?
  16. How does this story relate to the debate about whether or not William Shakespeare is the author of the plays that were published in his name?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Who Was Shakespeare's Dark Lady?

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Stalin's Daughter
    by Rosemary Sullivan
    "There is something fatal about my life. You can't regret your fate, though I do regret my ...
  • Book Jacket: A Certain Age
    A Certain Age
    by Beatriz Williams
    Lovers of high-society gossip, there's a new set of players in town. A good 20 out of 23 of our...
  • Book Jacket: The Romanovs
    The Romanovs
    by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    The Romanovs chronicles the reigns of the 20 individuals who were considered members of that dynasty...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Imperial Wife
    by Irina Reyn

    A smart, engaging novel that parallels two fascinating worlds and two singular women.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Falling
    by Jane Green

    "Readers who enjoy a love story with heart will adore this tale of homecoming and transformation." - LJ

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Sweet Caress
by William Boyd

William Boyd's Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!