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Virgin Earth

Reading Group Guide

    Touchstone Reading Group Guide
    Virgin Earth
    By Philippa Gregory
    1. Authors often challenge themselves by writing from the point of view of characters of the opposite sex. Do you think Gregory does a convincing job of creating her main male character, John Tradescant? Do you think he is more or less realistic than the women in this novel, such as his wife, Hester, or his daughter, Frances?

    2. Virgin Earth is primarily concerned with English history and the story of an English man caught in the middle of tragic, but thrilling, times. Why, then, do you think Gregory chose to open the novel with John's first voyage to Virginia and his introduction to Suckahana?

    3. During John's first visit to Virginia, Mistress Whitely the Innkeeper tells him of the Indian rising of 1622 and the way the relationship between the Indians and settlers changed for the worse thereafter. How does the settlers' fear and hatred of the Indian "pagans" compare to the English persecution and abhorrence of Roman Catholics and "popists?"

    4. Two wars overshadow the events of this novel: King Charles I versus Parliament and the Powhatan versus the Virginian colonists. Compare and contrast these situations and John's role in each.

    5. Hester refuses to go with John to Virginia on his second voyage, which leads to a series of events that eventually lands him with Suckahana. Do you view Hester's decision as a betrayal? Is she at all responsible for John's infidelity? Do you sympathize more with John's reasons for leaving, or Hester's for staying?

    6. Throughout the novel, John and Hester are constantly in opposition. John fears and flees the upheaval caused by King Charles I, while Hester prefers to face the known dangers of the English war and shies from the unknown New World in Virginia. Who has the stronger character? Which way do you think you'd choose?

    7. Though John is a grown man, he is reduced to being a "babe in the woods" when he returns to Virginia the second time to found a plantation. Suckahana brings him into the fold of the Powhatan and offers him a choice: John must decide what kind of man he wants to be. Do you think he chooses well? Why or why not?

    8. Young Johnnie holds tightly to a grand way of life no longer in existence. How do you feel about his devotion to the King and Queen given the circumstances of the times? What do you think about his suicide? How might you deal with your own child if your fundamental beliefs and loyalties rested on opposite sides?

    9. When John returns to Virginia for the third time, he sees that the Jamestown settlers have built a permanent city that includes decorative gardens instead of random tobacco patches. He is overjoyed at this change. What do you think the presence and condition of the gardens throughout the novel symbolize for John and in general?

    10. John Tradescant has three wives and loves over the course of this novel: Jane, Suckahana, and Hester. What do you think each woman represents to John?

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About the Author

Philippa Gregory
Photo credit Santi U

Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory is the author of many bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Her work has been adapted for the screen in The Other Boleyn Girl movie and the critically acclaimed STARZ miniseries The White Queen and The White Princess. Her most recent novel is The Last Tudor. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds two honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and was awarded the 2016 Harrogate Festival Award for Contribution to Historical Fiction. She welcomes visitors to her website,