Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

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A powerful debut historical novel to launch a new imprint, Kaylie Jones Books, curated by acclaimed author Kaylie Jones.

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Reading Group Guide for Unmentionables

1. Marian struggles with the tension between independence and isolation. What other characters risk loneliness in service of their independence? How does each accommodate or overcome it?

2. The title Unmentionables refers to Marian’s fight for practical undergarments for women. It also alludes to secrets and hidden agendas that are not mentioned or discussed in public. Which characters have private wounds or secret shames? How do these buried hurts affect their actions?

3. From the restriction of corsets to the discomfort of unisex, company-issued coats, clothing dictates expectations and reaffirms projected roles. How do you choose to present yourself? What are you wearing today that may reaffirm roles or expectations?

4. The author has stated she believes 1917-18 was a pivotal era in the United States. What events in the novel reflect these shifting currents in American life?

5. The argument for women’s suffrage changed around the time the novel takes place. Early activists had argued that women should be granted the vote because all humans were created equal and should therefore have equal rights. By 1918, during a period of blossoming social reform, suffragists began emphasizing the ways that women were different from men and underscored what franchised women could do to improve the government and their communities.  Which side(s) do you think the various women in the novel came down on?

6. In spite of wearing the same uniform as every other soldier, Emmett’s 370th Infantry Unit faced severe racial discrimination. Besides Emmett, who else wears uniforms in the novel, and what impact do the uniforms have? What role do uniforms play in our society today?

Enhance your reading

1. Marian Elliott Adams is a prominent lecturer on the Chautauqua Circuit. Learn more about the history of this traveling cultural program, which Theodore Roosevelt called “The Most American Thing in America,” by exploring the wealth of photos and pamphlets available from the Library of Congress: http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/tc/

2. Anne Morgan, daughter of J.P. Morgan, headed the best known of several relief groups organized by American women to assist French civilians during World War I. The fictitious unit Marian joins is modeled on Miss Morgan’s as well as that of Smith College. An online exhibit about Anne Morgan’s work includes photographs, films, and voice recordings at: http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/online/annemorgan/faces-of-war

3. Like Emmett in Unmentionables, many African-Americans hoped that America’s entry into World War I would offer them expanded opportunities both in the labor force on the home front and in the front lines of the battle field. This video explores the African-American experience during WWI: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BzO9_ghigo