Reading Group Guide
1. In City of Light, the upper echelons of Buffalo society all get what they want by cultivating an “acceptable” image under which they can do what they want, regardless of its moral implications. How does this rationalize their behavior, as well as hide it?
2. Faced with a social order that demanded this “acceptable” behavior, was there any other way Louisa could react when faced with a crisis— such as Millicent’s abduction or the vandalization of her school?
3. Are there any main characters in this story who don’t follow society’s code? Who and why?
4. Louisa likes to think of her students as “a generation of subversives who took up their expected positions in society and then, day by day, bit by bit, fostered a revolution.” Do you think that this is what she achieved with her students? Was it the best way she had to help the social progress of women?
5. Why do none of the members of Buffalo society become involved with the faction that is worried about the affects of the power plant on the environment?
6. In protecting Grace, was Louisa doing the right thing? Did her focus on the little girl blind her, impairing her judgment, as with her decision to not turn Susannah Riley in?
7. Would Louisa have been better off moving away from Buffalo and merely keeping in touch with the Sinclair family? Would Grace have been better off?
8. If Abigail’s mother wanted to keep her daughter’s child far away from Abigail and from scandal, why didn’t she have him adopted in a family far away, instead of sending it to the asylum?
9. Why does Mr. Rumsey let Louisa know that he planned her meeting with Cleveland? Would she have been better off never knowing?
10. Why does Mr. Rumsey seem surprised that Louisa might have suffered from her experience of conceiving Grace— or that she feels badly about her “loss of innocence?”
11. In 1901, Buffalo is one of the richest, most sophisticated cities in the nation. How does this influence Louisa’s life, and the lives of the wealthy citizens of the city? What do they hope to achieve on the brink of a new century?
12. What motivates Tom Sinclair’s dreams of electrical power? Is it the vision of industrial progress, the hope of personal fame and wealth, or something else?
13. Why was Francesca Coatsworth able to maintain her “alternative” lifestyle and still be such an influential member of society?
14. Why do you think Francesca allowed Susannah to disappear into Singapore after she confessed her crimes?