Browse Reading Guides

Reading Group Guide

  1. Book ImageThe Widow's Children: A Novel

    Paula Fox

    "Chekhovian. . . . Every line of Fox's story, every gesture of her characters, is alive and surprising."—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

Discussion Questions

  1. At one point, Clara claims that: “Families were not as they seemed. . . . Wasn’t everyone damaged? she asked herself . . . and concluded that the house of Atreus was, and always had been, full of boarders like herself.” Do you agree with Clara? To what extent is the story of the Maldonadas a universal story?
  2. The author uses names and naming as an additional literary device in the novel. Can you identify the names that are part of this word game? What does each add to your understanding of the novel?
  3. In what ways is parenting an important theme in the book? For the Maldonadas, what is the main attribute of the parent-child relation? How does each character respond to this relation?
  4. What role does money play in the story of the Maldonada family? How does each character respond to the notion of money?
  5. In her introduction to the book, Andrea Barrett likens the Maldonada family to a Greek tragedy. What “tragic flaw” (or flaws) seem to shape the actions of this family? How does each character respond to it? Is there hope of change or redemption for the Maldonadas?
  6. Both Clara and Peter appear to be different from the other characters, and to hold a different place in the novel’s structure. Are Clara and Peter witnesses? Participants? A little of both?
  7. What is Clara’s role in the novel? Is she part of the Maldonada family, or fundamentally different from them?
  8. What is Peter’s role in the novel? Why do you think Paula Fox gives him such a prominent role toward the end of the book?
  9. Who would you say is the hero or heroine in this novel? Does this novel have a hero or heroine?
  10. What role does each character have in the novel, and how does that role change as the story progresses and we find out more about them? How do the characters, in their different roles and places in the novel, interact with each other to create an important statement about the differences between family identity and individual identity?
  11. One of the main conflicts in the book is the conflict of emotion and restraint. Which characters represent which quality? How does Paula Fox illustrate the expression of emotion? According to your reading of The Widow’s Children, is restraint a positive quality or a negative one?
  12. In a highly favorable review of The Widow’s Children, Peter S. Prescott wrote in Newsweek that while he greatly admired Paula Fox’s work, he was not always certain he liked it. Can you think of examples from The Widow’s Children which might explain this seeming paradox?

About Paula Fox

Paula Fox (1923—2017) was the author of Desperate Characters, The Widow’s Children, A Servant’s Tale, The God of Nightmares, Poor George, The Western Coast, and Borrowed Finery: A Memoir, among other books.

Books by Paula Fox

  1. Book CoverDesperate Characters

    "A towering landmark of postwar Realism. . . . A sustained work of prose so lucid and fine it seems less written than carved." — David Foster WallaceMore

  2. Book CoverThe God of Nightmares

    "Vividly rendered...haunting....[Paula Fox] writes with silken ease and a sensitivity to nuance."—NewsdayMore

  3. Book CoverNews from the World: Stories and Essays

    “Not only can Fox see, she can hear, she can feel.”—Zadie Smith, Harper’sMore