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 by Sally O'Reilly X
Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly
  • 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?
Free Book Club Report

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!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Treeborne
    Treeborne
    by Caleb Johnson
    The Treeborne family has lived on The Seven – the local sobriquet for a seven-acre stretch of ...
  • Book Jacket
    Grace
    by Paul Lynch
    Harrowing. Gorgeous. Epic. Grace, Paul Lynch's coming of age novel about a young woman, is set ...
  • Book Jacket: The Perfectionists
    The Perfectionists
    by Simon Winchester
    We seek precision in our lives every day. We want to drive from home to work and work to home safely...
  • Book Jacket: Beauty in the Broken Places
    Beauty in the Broken Places
    by Allison Pataki
    Ernest Hemingway wrote that we are "strong at the broken places," and Allison Pataki found that to ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

An audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Clock Dance
    by Anne Tyler

    A delightful novel of one woman's transformative journey, from the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Summer Wives
    by Beatriz Williams

    An electrifying postwar fable of love, class, power and redemption set on an island off the New England coast.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win A Place for Us

A Place For Us

A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

H, W H A Problem

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.