Reading Discusson Questions

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Peoria Fast Fact

The first African American person to vote in the United States did so in Peoria on
April 4, 1870.



Peoria Fast Fact

The area's fresh, clear water, abundance of corn, and ease of transportation contributed to make Peoria the "Whiskey Capital of the World" by 1900.

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by Fedora AMIS


What to wear: The one item in your wardrobe that says “Victorian winter” better than any other.
What to drink: Orange Punch
What to serve: Fudge Cake

1.  In 1899, the automobile in the midwest was just gaining traction. Uncle Erwin wanted a horseless carriage because he didn’t care for horses. The vehicles were crank started, had no windshield, and rode on wheels adapted from bicycles with smaller ones in front. If you had the money, would you have ordered a hand-made car from G.P. Dorris?

2. Did you ever want to live in 1899?  Do you still want to after reading Vanderbilt in Peoria?

3.  How does Jemmy see herself?  Is having a career desirable for a girl in her position?  In the 19th century, women who wanted careers instead of families were considered unnatural. Does that attitude still hold true today?

4.  How do you view Jemmy’s relationship with her newspaper colleagues--her photographer Hal Dwight, head of the ladies’ department Miss Turnipseed, sports reporter Autley Flinchpaugh and crime reporter Amadee Boudinier?

5. Being different is important theme in Vanderbilt in Peoria.  How did the 19th Century treat Jews or little people? Do we value the unusual in our own times? “Midget” was not a pejorative word until recently. In fact, the first organization to promote the dignity of little people was founded as “Midgets of America” in 1957. Does a single word matter? Do classes of people benefit by redefining terms? Can political correctness attempts create fuzzy language or even backfire?

6. Railroads are supreme in Vanderbilt in Peoria. Then and now, trains were a superior means of travel--and a threat to life and the planet. They also were the source of great conflict. Various government levels used eminent domain to take private land. Companies colluded to raise fares. Using private knowledge to make money on the stock market was commonplace. All was perfectly legal. Little changed until the Securities and Exchange Commission of 1934. Does progress always bring both benefits and evils? What is the role of government in helping us maximize the benefits and minimize the evils?

7.  Which of the ladies do you believe to be more representative of the 19th century--Amelia Neeley, Mrs. Dorothea Koock or Aunt Delilah McBustle?

8.  What about Drucilla Bias?  Do you have sympathy for her despite her odd ways? Bossy Norval Hardwick and actor Tom Rafferty stand in for the Vanderbilts. Is the ghostly presence of this powerful family enhanced or diminished by the fact that neither father nor son appear in the flesh?

9. After Jemmy’s father died and her mother opened their home to boarders, Jemmy had to learn to do physical work. Has that strengthened her character as well as her muscles? Would she have been the same daring Jemmy if her father had lived?

10. Trappings of 19th century life--especially wearing apparel--take on added meaning in Vanderbilt in Peoria.  What do old unused clothes from another era suggest?  Is the color black more than just a clue? What value should be placed on wearing the "approved" clothing for specific occasions?

11. Progress forms a central theme.  Peoria is celebrating its beautiful new city hall. The city fathers gambled that such a bold move would pay big dividends. They needed to demonstrate the ability of Peoria to become a great rail hub. Do cities still take extraordinary measures to put themselves on the map? Do such measures work?

12. When Jemmy is thwarted in achieving her dreams, she either runs away or takes a “wait and watch” approach.  Why?  Would another approach work better?

13. Jemmy rebels against the men in her life who want to control her. At the same time, she finds herself attracted to them.  All her old boyfriends--including  some she had mistreated--come to Peoria to bedevil her. Is it possible to ignore one’s past?

14.  Questions of money and social expectations run through this novel. Jemmy’s uncle Erwin McBustle is rich as are the Bias family of Peoria.  What were the means of shaping society then--and now?

15. BeforeTeddy Roosevelt stood up against the commercial empires that created great riches for some and starvation wages for others, capitalists didn’t need to consider employee wellbeing. Not until recently did government mandates change the workplace with the Williams-Steiger Occupational and Health Safety Act of 1970 (OSHA). What should be the government’s role in creating decent working conditions for the common worker?


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