The Second Mrs. Hockaday
A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how this generation—and the next—began to see their world anew.
Algonquin Books, 9781616207366, 288pp.
Publication Date: November 14, 2017
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. The story is told in documents—letters, inquest reports, and diary entries—rather than a continuous narrative from one point of view. What do you think the writer intended to achieve by using this approach to the story? What was the effect on you as a reader?
2. Placidia agrees to marry Major Gryffth Hockaday after knowing him for less than a day. What do you think motivates her to accept his proposal?
3. Discuss the role played in the novel by the ghost of the first Hockaday. Why do you think she haunts Holland Creek? What does her relationship with Placidia tell you about the second Mrs. Hockaday?
4. Placidia seems to have a close relationship with her father, Quincey Valois Fincher, but her perception of him changes when she discovers that he fathered a child with a slave girl while Placidia’s mother was alive and allowed that child to be sold away. Recent genetic evidence shows that many of our country’s founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, maintained “shadow” families of mixed-race descendants on their plantations. How do you think high-society Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries rationalized the sexual exploitation of enslaved African American women?
5. Many people in Holland Crossroads believe that Placidia murdered her infant son before burying him on the farm. Placidia denies harming the baby. What version of events do you believe?
6. Discuss Gryffth Hockaday’s state of mind as you interpret it from his letters to Placidia. How do his views on the war appear to change? How does he view his responsibility to Placidia?
7. Placidia’s grown son, Achilles Hockaday, is repeatedly instructed by his father to burn the copy of David Copperfield that contains Placidia’s wartime diary. Discuss Achilles’s decision to read his mother’s diary. Would you have done the same?
8. Placidia’s final entry in her diary is also the conclusion of the novel. Do her final words and images leave you hopeful? Sad? Enlightened? Conflicted? What do you think she means by the statement “Paradise . . . costs too much” (page 254)?