This reading group guide for The Wedding Veil includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction Four women. One family heirloom. A secret connection that will change their lives—and history as they know it.
Join our mailing list!
Get our latest staff recommendations, award news and digital catalog links right to your inbox.
Present Day: Julia Baxter’s wedding veil, bequeathed to her great-grandmother by a mysterious woman on a train in the 1930s, has passed through generations of her family as a symbol of a happy marriage. But on the morning of her wedding day, something tells her that even the veil’s good luck isn’t enough to make her marriage last forever. Overwhelmed and panicked, she escapes to the Virgin Islands to clear her head. Meanwhile, her grandmother Babs is also feeling shaken. Still grieving the death of her beloved husband, she decides to move out of the house they once shared and into a retirement community. Though she hopes it’s a new beginning, she does not expect to run into an old flame, dredging up the same complicated emotions she felt a lifetime ago.
1914: Socialite Edith Vanderbilt is struggling to manage the luxurious Biltmore Estate after the untimely death of her cherished husband. With 250 rooms to oversee and an entire village dependent on her family to stay afloat, Edith is determined to uphold the Vanderbilt legacy—and prepare her free-spirited daughter, Cornelia, to inherit it—in spite of her family’s deteriorating financial situation. But Cornelia has dreams of her own. Asheville, North Carolina, has always been her safe haven away from the prying eyes of the press, but as she explores more of the rapidly changing world around her, she’s torn between upholding tradition and pursuing the exciting future that lies beyond Biltmore’s gilded gates.
In the vein of Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman
and Jennifer Robson’s The Gown
, The Wedding Veil
brings to vivid life a group of remarkable women forging their own paths—and explores the mystery of a national heirloom lost to time.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. When we first meet Julia at her bridesmaids’ luncheon the day before her wedding, she experiences a moment of panic about getting married. She soothes her nerves by thinking “Follow the rules. Follow the rules”
(pg. 9). How do each of the narrators “follow the rules”? Do they ever decide not to follow the rules? Discuss how Julia’s mother, Meredith, did
follow the rules, and how it affected her life and marriage.
2. The wedding veil is what weaves the characters and their stories together in the book. Discuss how it impacts each person who wears it. What does it represent for each of them?
3. Throughout the book we see characters creating second chances for themselves: Julia by making the decision to leave Hayes, forge her own path, and go back to school; Babs and Edith by allowing themselves to find love again; and Cornelia by leaving the life she knows and searching for her own happiness. Have you ever had a second chance at something? Do you wish you had?
4. Edith and Cornelia recognize their privilege and feel a strong sense of social responsibility, often lending a helping hand within their community. Was this common of that time? How do they compare to today’s very wealthy class in this regard?
5. When Julia returns from St. Thomas, she and Babs visit Biltmore Estate. While admiring the beauty and extravagance of it, Julia also acknowledges the “impracticality and inefficiency” of it (pg. 268). She thinks to herself, “that was part of being an architect—creating structures that fit the times” (pg. 268). How do Julia’s reflections on architecture also apply to her feelings about her own life and the choices she has to make?
6. Discuss how the family traditions of the characters bring them closer to the people in their lives. Does tradition ever create unfair expectations?
7. In the penultimate chapter of the book, Babs confesses to Julia that she was the one who anonymously texted the video of Hayes with another woman to the bridesmaids’ group the day before Julia’s wedding. How do you think Babs handled this situation?
8. Cornelia Vanderbilt grew up in the limelight. How do you think this affected her mental health and the decision she ultimately makes to leave her home, her marriage, and her life to move to England to find her calling? Were there other contributing factors?
9. When Babs’s mother is reflecting on the moment she received the wedding veil on the train, she remembers experiencing uncertainty about marrying Babs’s father. When Cornelia hands her the veil, she tells her, “What you need is a sign” (pg. 252). What other “signs” do the characters use throughout the book to help them make decisions?
10. Although Julia loves Hayes, she never feels completely confident that being with him is the right decision; still, she sometimes finds it easier to make decisions based on safety and comfort vs. being true to her own feelings. Discuss how some characters find comfort in playing it safe, while others find it restricting.
11. Moving on is an inevitable part of everyone’s lives. How does Edith handle George’s death and moving on with her life? How does Babs handle moving on from Reid? And how does Julia handle moving forward from her relationship with Hayes?
12. After Babs moves to Summer Acres she immediately reconnects with Miles. She feels conflicted, as if she is betraying her late husband. She understands that she will always mourn Reid and that there is a possibility she will mourn the loss of Miles one day too, but realizes it would perhaps be worst of all to mourn a relationship that was never given a chance. Do any other characters in the book come to this realization too? How so?
13. The four narrators are from different times and upbringings. Discuss what they have in common. How are they different?
14. Throughout the story, we see different women moving through different phases of their lives. How does what they want in life change as they move through these different phases?
15. In the chapter “Mistress of Biltmore”(pg. 235), George tells a young Cornelia, “Writing and art are what we use to make sense of our lives. But it is science and math that truly govern them. The words might lead you astray, but the numbers are fixed, unchanging” (pg. 236). What role do you think this plays in Cornelia’s fascination with and dependence on numerology?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Imagine Cornelia as a young woman today. How might her life path be shaped by the presence of social media?
2. Does your family have any heirlooms? Share with the group and discuss their significance to your family.
3. Research a local place of historical significance. How did this place, and the people surrounding it, help shape your community as it is today? Perhaps you can plan a group trip to explore it.
4. Think about something that you have always wanted to do (learn to paint, take a language class, etc.) but never felt was attainable. Discuss this with the group and strategize about how you can take the next step toward this goal.
5. Cornelia married John Cecil in 1924. What dishes and beverages were popular among the upper class during this time? Create a menu for their wedding.