Discussion Guide:

1. Faraday describes Hundreds Hall early in the novel as “blurred and slightly uncertain—like an ice . . . just beginning to melt in the sun” [1]. How does this description set the tone for the story to come? How is the physical structure of Hundreds Hall reminiscent of an age past? 

2. Faraday’s friend Seeley presents the reader with two theories, the first being that Hundreds was “defeated by history, destroyed by its own failure to keep pace with a rapidly changing world,” with the Ayreses “opting for retreat;” the other that Hundreds was “consumed by some dark germ, some ravenous shadow-creature, some ‘little stranger,’ spawned from the troubled unconscious of someone connected with the house itself”[463]. Do you think the author leads us toward one of these more strongly than the other? To both? To neither? 

3. “Do you really think this family’s worth saving?” Roderick asks at one point [182]. What is the role of family in The Little Stranger? Does pride and shame with regard to family influence decisions made by the main characters—including Faraday? How does his relationship to the ideal as well as the reality of family differ from Caroline’s and Roddie’s?

4. Mrs. Ayres says of Gillian Baker-Hyde: “The child will be horribly disfigured. It’s a frightful thing to happen to any parent” [105]. Discuss the motif of disfigurement in the novel.

5. In reference to Roderick’s difficulties, Faraday says, “What a punishing business it is, simply being alive” [144]. Discuss this idea: Is Faraday speaking only from observation, do you think? Or is he expressing a deep conviction?

6. Faraday says, “We family doctors are like priests. People tell us their secrets, because they know we won’t judge them. . . . Some doctors don’t like it. I’ve known one or two who’ve seen so much weakness they’ve developed a sort of contempt for mankind” [144]. How much truth do you think there is to this statement—are doctors and other professionals who hold confidences likely to develop either particular contempt or particular compassion for mankind? How would you characterize Faraday’s own position on the human race in general? Does it change over the course of the novel?

7. “Love isn’t a thing that can be weighed or measured,” Faraday says [204]. Do you agree?

8. Is Faraday a reliable narrator? Why or why not? Discuss other narrators about whom this question could be asked. A few examples might be Humbert Humbert, in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Tarquin Winot, in The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester; and Antonio Salieri, in Peter Shaffer’s play (later a film) Amadeus—you will probably be able to think of others. 

9. How does the “Baker-Hyde polish” [82] compare to the impression the Ayreses make on others? Why do the Ayreses find the fact that the Baker-Hydes are ripping out the panelling at Standish so offensive? What does the author have to say about “new money” versus “old money?” 

10. Despite the strange happenings at Hundreds Hall that he relates throughout the novel, Dr. Faraday remains a voice of reason as narrator. Compare his attitude to that of each of the Ayreses with regard to these happenings. What do you think the author is suggesting about rationality, the supernatural, delusion, even madness? Are reason and the supernatural incompatible?

11. Memory and history are powerful forces attracting the characters to the house. How does Faraday’s history with Hundreds affect his feelings about it? About the Ayreses? How does Mrs. Ayres’s personal history affect her feelings about Hundreds? 

12. Do you find Caroline and Dr. Faraday’s romance a strange one? Do you think Caroline was ever invested in the relationship? Was Faraday? Do you think their marriage could have been a success, for one or both parties? 

13. England has just come out of a bloody world-wide war that has changed so much for everyone. How did WWII specifically affect Faraday? Caroline? Discuss how the post-war world might have looked for Caroline if she had never had to come home to care for Roddie.

14. How has the war changed society generally and how has it shaken up the British class system? Do you think Faraday  will “fit” more comfortably in the coming years than he seems to have thus far in his life? Why or why not? What do you think about Hilary Mantel’s description of The Little Stranger as “a perverse hymn to decay, to the corrosive power of class resentment as well as the damage wrought by the war.” 

15. The gothic literary tradition is often associated with horror, romance and melodrama. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents.” In what ways does The Little Stranger fit into this tradition? How does it compare to other gothic texts—from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries—that you may have read? In what ways is The Little Stranger not like them?

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