The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow

The Forgotten Seamstress

Discussion Questions:

1. The Forgotten Seamstress was inspired by a single piece of beautiful historic fabric. Is there anything in your
life which could inspire you to write a story or poem, or paint a picture?
2. The two main characters in The Forgotten Seamstress were born more than a century apart. What does the
novel tell you about how the class system in Britain changed in that time? Can you identify any parallels in
the social history of the U.S.?
3. Maria was locked away because she threatened the rules of a rigid society. Have we become more tolerant
and humane today, or are there still certain social improprieties that attract similar punishment? How do
you think our views will have changed a hundred years from now?
4. What does Maria’s story tell us about progress in the treatment of mental illness over the past century? Is
the present-day use of “care in the community” really best for some patients?
5. Maria is a very “unreliable narrator.” To what extent did you believe her story, or were you, like Caroline and
Professor Morton, doubtful of her fantastical claims?
6. At the start of the novel, Caroline has been laid off and is newly single and desperate for a new direction.
How does the quilt help her fi nd a new path in life?
7. How does the novel hint at the contrasts between urban and suburban/rural life in present-day Britain?
How do these diff er between the UK and the U.S.?
8. Caroline feels agonizingly guilty about putting her mother into a residential home and compares her
actions with how the Kowalski family cares for “old Sam” at home. If you found yourself in Caroline’s
circumstances, what would you do?
9. Should Caroline have told her ex-boyfriend about her pregnancy and her decision to have an abortion?
What were his rights in this issue versus her rights? By not telling him, was she just being selfi sh or was she
guilty of a more serious moral deception?
10. Discuss how you might respond if your beloved husband returned, like Arthur, from war and you discover
that he is unable to participate in a full sex life?
11. Caroline’s grandmother is so desperate for motherhood that she accepts a baby even though she knows
that there may be something untoward about the baby’s arrival. What does the novel tell us about the
psychological corrosiveness of guilt?
12. Caroline loved her Granny Jean and feels a very special bond with her. What are the diff erences between a
mother-daughter relationship and a grandmother-granddaughter relationship?
13. Adopted children meeting blood relatives for the fi rst time often report that they immediately recognize
them as “family.” What does the novel tell us about blood-bond affinities?
14. Had Caroline, as an adult, been able to meet Maria, what do you think she might have said to her?
15. The novel touches on the issue of homelessness. Apart from providing single-night hostels (called
“shelters” in the UK), what else needs to be done to reduce the problem of homelessness? Should society
intervene? Or should homeless people be responsible for sorting out their own problems?
16. Two forms of fi rst-person narrative are used in the novel. Discuss the diff erences and what eff ect they have on the reader.
17. Why do think the author decided to use the device of telling Maria’s story through recorded cassette tapes?
18. If you met Maria as a young woman, what would you tell her about what life would eventually teach her?19. What would your reaction be if you discovered that you had “royal blood”? Who would you tell?