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Cover for The Servants' Quarters

The Servants' Quarters

Lynn Freed


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Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (4/27/2009)


The Servants’ Quarters, a complex and sophisticated love story, evokes a vanishing world of privilege with a Pygmalion twist.

Haunted by phantoms of the Second World War and the Holocaust, young Cressida lives in terror of George Harding, who, severely disfigured, has returned from the front to recover in his family’s stately African home. When he plucks young Cressida’s beautiful mother and her family from financial ruin, establishing them in the old servants’ quarters of his estate, Cressida is swept into a future inexorably bound to his.

In the new setting, she finds that she is, after all, indentured. She is conscripted to enliven George Harding’s nephew, the hopelessly timid Edgar, to make him "wild and daring." And she takes on this task with resentful fury, leading the boy astray and, in the process, learning to manipulate differences in power, class, background, and ambition.

Only slowly does she come to understand that George Harding himself is watching her. And waiting.

Praise For The Servants' Quarters

"The Servant's Quarters is Lynn Freed's best novel yet. Cressida, a young girl who watches those around her patch up their wounds from the war and carry on with the weight of pretense, is as observant and as wickedly truthful as any Jane Austen character." --Amy Tan

"Freed is a beautiful writer, dead-on brilliant, rich in humor, possessing a dark and comforting wisdom." -- Anne Lamott

Mariner Books, 9780547336039, 224pp.

Publication Date: April 16, 2010

About the Author

LYNN FREED was awarded the inaugural Katherine Anne Porter Award for fiction by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is the author of six novels, a short story collection, and a collection of essays.

Conversation Starters from

  1. Cressida begins by telling us that she was singled out as the scapegoat in her family. Is she right? How do the other characters cope with being “punished” by fate?
  2. What does Cressida’s mother, Muriel, teach Cressida about women and power?
  3. What aspects of Cressida’s world are captured in the novel’s title? What determines whether the characters rise or fall in terms of status? Is money the only force that drives class roles in the South African society presented on these pages? To what degree is anti-Semitism a factor?
  4. How might the novel have unfolded if it had been told from Phineas’s point of view? What strategies has he developed for surviving a life that will always place him in the servants’quarters?
  5. Did your opinion of Mr. Harding change as Cressida grew from a child into a woman? Why is he drawn to being a caregiver? What does he receive in exchange for shepherding the children of others?
  6. How did you react when you discovered the real reasons behind Cressida’s father’s injuries? How was she affected by her lifelong idealization of him, regarding him as essentially perfect?
  7. The specter of war haunts most of the novel’s characters. What happens when Cressida confronts her nightmares? Are the effects of the photographs of concentration camps, and of Mr. Harding’s disfigurement, permanent?
  8. Muriel feels superior to Mr. Ledson — particularly in terms of intelligence and class. Is she indeed superior to him, or is he in some ways superior to her? Would you have been willing to pursue marriage with him if you had been in Muriel’s shoes?
  9. What does Mr. Harding’s definition of an ideal man appear to be — someone who avoids “showing off” (which, he says, led to his severe injuries) or someone who is brave yet cautious? How does he resolve these contradictions in his adoption of Edgar? Does Edgar benefit from this adoption?
  10. What new approach to womanhood does Mrs. Bourne-Thomas give Cressida? What reasons does Muriel have to be jealous?
  11. What accounts for the differences between Cressida and her sister, Miranda?
  12. What caused Cressida’s resentment of Mr. Harding to fade? What was his greatest legacy to her?
  13. What do the closing images of Guy Bourne-Thomas reveal about the kind of adult Cressida has become?
  14. In what ways does The Servants’ Quarters enhance the depictions of love and loss that Freed presented in her previous novels, stories, and essays? What new facets of her native South Africa does she share in Cressida’s story?