The House at Tyneford

By – October 31, 2011

Set main­ly in Tyne­ford, Eng­land, The House at Tyne­ford fol­lows the path of Elise Lan­dau as she leaves a life of lux­u­ry in Vien­na in 1938, amidst sti­fling restric­tions on Jew­ish res­i­dents, to become a maid in an Eng­lish coun­try home. On one lev­el, Solomons’s exam­i­na­tion of Elise’s Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, her new social sta­tus, her expe­ri­ences adapt­ing to Eng­lish cus­toms, and her blos­som­ing romance with Kit Rivers, the son of the own­er of Tyne­ford House, pro­vides the foun­da­tion for a rich­ly imag­ined com­men­tary on the effects of the war on the Rivers fam­i­ly and those liv­ing on the Dorset coast. Yet, on anoth­er lev­el, through a series of let­ters that Elise exchanges with her sis­ter Mar­got, Solomons also draws atten­tion to the Lan­daus’ expe­ri­ences of war in oth­er con­texts, be it Elise’s par­ents, a nov­el­ist and an opera singer who strug­gle to get visas to leave Aus­tria, and her sis­ter and her sister’s hus­band who build a new life in the Unit­ed States. As Solomons reveals in the Author’s Note, Tyne­ford was based on the actu­al Eng­lish vil­lage of Tyne­ham, which was req­ui­si­tioned by the mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II, and Elise’s sto­ry was inspired by the expe­ri­ences of Solomons’s great aunt. There­fore, although her prose is beau­ti­ful­ly descrip­tive and her depic­tions of Eng­lish coun­try life are infused with a cer­tain nos­tal­gic charm, Solomons does not shy away from address­ing the deeply trou­bling effects of war on the frac­tured fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties of which Elise is a part.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Natasha Solomons

  • Elise points out how dif­fer­ent Kit is from oth­er boys she knows. What is your first impres­sion of Kit? Are you drawn to him? How would you describe his rela­tion­ship with his father, Mr. Rivers?

  • A con­fronta­tion with Diana inspires Elise to shock the par­ty­go­ers dur­ing Kit’s birth­day. What was your reac­tion to this moment? How did it affect Kit and Elise’s rela­tion­ship? How did it change the way Mr. Rivers and the staff at Tyne­ford saw Elise?

  • What sac­ri­fices does Mr. Rivers make to help Elise and her fam­i­ly? What did this tell you about Mr. Rivers? How would you describe his feel­ings toward Elise as the nov­el progresses?

  • Kit and Elise’s romance stirs up a great deal of emo­tion in and around Tyne­ford. What is your opin­ion of how Mr. Rivers receives the news of Kit’s love for Elise? What social and class chal­lenges do you feel Kit and Elise faced?

  • What was your opin­ion of Kit’s deci­sion regard­ing his involve­ment in the war? What do you feel moti­vat­ed him in this deci­sion? How did his rela­tion­ships with Elise and his father affect his decision?

  • What hap­pens to Kit? How does this affect Elise and Mr. Rivers? How does it affect the rela­tion­ship between them?

  • The dan­ger of war comes home when Elise spots a Ger­man fight­er fly­ing near Tyne­ford. What is sig­nif­i­cant about this event? What do you gath­er about Elise’s char­ac­ter from her reac­tion to this moment?

  • What does Elise dis­cov­er about the nov­el Julian hid in the vio­la? What did you make of this turn of events? What impact does it have on Elise? What piece of work does the nov­el inspire and what sig­nif­i­cance does it have for Elise in the end?

  • What is your opin­ion of where Mr. Rivers and Elise’s rela­tion­ship ends up? As you see it, what events led to Tyneford’s fate? What sig­nif­i­cance did Tyne­ford have to Elise, Kit, and Mr. Rivers? Can a place like Tyne­ford exist in today’s world?

  • Why do you think the nov­el in the vio­la blank?

  • The nov­el con­tains a con­cer­to, and the vio­la con­tains a nov­el. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of music in the novel?