The Second Mrs. Hockaday
by Susan Rivers
Discussion Questions:
1. Placidia was seventeen years old when she married Major Hockaday. She also barely knew him – less than a day. Do you think her motivations were purely love? Do you think learning of her father’s illness and the fact that he hadn’t long to live influenced her decision?

2. What about the Major’s motivations for marrying so quickly? His wife had just died, he had a young son and was due to return to war when his bereavement leave was over. He needed someone to care for his property and it was war time. Was it fair to his new bride that he married hastily rather than waiting until the war was over?

3. This story is written in the form of letters, court documents and diary entries. Do you think a different format would have been better? Did this format provide a greater level of intimacy? Did it allow for complex character development of main and secondary characters? How else might the author have given voice to several generations?

4. This story has its roots in truth. It takes place during and after the Civil War and is a telling tale of the hardship suffered by those fighting and those who are left behind. Women needed strength to endure all that was placed upon them during their husband’s absence. Discuss Placidia’s strengths and weaknesses and how she was molded by her circumstances. Discuss the role of women in general during the Civil War.

5. Men fighting in the Civil War were often unable to communicate regularly with their families. They felt responsible for those at home even though they had no control. Discuss the impact this had on the Major. Contrast this with today’s young soldiers and today’s equally horrifying but different methods of war.

6. Major Hockaday’s view of the war and of the responsibilities he left behind changed as the fighting continued. Discuss his frame of mind. Why do you think he took the action he did against his wife when he discovered she had a child during his absence? Do you think he in any way felt responsible?

7. Discuss the importance of Placidia’s wartime diary. Why do you think she wrote it? Why did she want it destroyed? And why, after many warnings to not read it, did her son Achilles read it anyway? Was he glad he did? If you were in his place- would you have read it?

8. What do you think prevented Placidia from asking for more help? Why do you think she felt the presence of the first Mrs. Hockaday?

9. Discuss Placidia’s reactions when she discovered her beloved father, had a child with a slave, then sent the child away. This was common practice among the elite men of this period? Discuss the possible reason that such a practice existed.

10 Why does Placidia keep the circumstances of her pregnancy secret from her husband upon his return from war? Trust issues? Fear of what he would do? How do you think she felt about this child? How do you think the child died?

11. How did you find the tone of the book – the formal language? Did this add to the ambience of the story or hinder it?

12. The novel jumps back and forth in time – and Achilles, her son appears suddenly. Was this problematic? Hard to follow?

13. Discuss the mystery aspect of this book? Was the author successful in creating suspense? Were you able to guess the ending?

*Discussion Questions By PrincetonBookReview.com - Feel free to use with attribution.

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