Discussion Questions


  1. What is the nature of Isabette’s journey to becoming a “woman of note”? Consider the choices she makes in the novel. How does she grow and change?
  2. What motivates Amelia—is she just self-centered, or does she have redeeming qualities? How does she grow and change?
  3. Is Josef a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
  4. Why is Frau Grüber so cold to Isabette? Consider the challenges she has faced in her life—coping with an insane husband and daughter, enduring five pregnancies with only two surviving children, and battling constant financial instability. Is her attitude a choice or an inevitable result of her difficulties?
  5. Why is Isabette prepared to give up everything for music? Or is she?
  6. What role do you think Daniel might play in Isabette’s life when she gets to America? Do you think they will marry? Why or why not?
  7. What role does Johanna play in Isabette’s growth as a woman and a musician?
  8. What motivates Frau Mason? Why does she not have Amelia sent to an asylum after she catches her with Yvette?
  9. What does the novel show about the position of women musicians during the first half of the nineteenth century?
  10. What does the novel suggest about the value and function of music in a society?
  11. Dozens of women composed music in the nineteenth century, but most people have heard of only two—Clara Schumann (born Clara Wieck), the wife of Robert Schumann; and Fanny Mendelssohn, the older sister of Felix Mendelssohn. Both women were accomplished musicians and composers. Research the stories of Clara and Fanny to determine the challenges they faced in bringing their music to the world.
  12. Many composers are mentioned in the novel, including Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, and Berlioz. Some, like Schubert, Clara Wieck (Schumann), and Berlioz, make cameo appearances. Find examples of their music, particularly the compositions mentioned in the novel, and imagine how Isabette might have felt when she heard them.