'The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield: Book Club Discussion Questions

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Thirteenth Tale.


"The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield is a rich story about secrets, ghosts, books, and family. It is a Gothic, Victorian-style novel that makes it an excellent topic for a rousing—and chilling—book club discussion.

Plot Summary

Margaret Lea, a biographer, is summoned to the home of Vida Winter to record and write the biography of the ailing novelist before she dies. Lea has never read any of Winter's books or met her, so she plans to accept the invitation but declines the offer to write about the novelist's life. Before going to visit, Lea reads one of Winter's novels, "Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation," realizing after finishing it that there are only 12 stories in the book. It seems that on publication, the book was shortened to 12 stories and the title was changed. Only a few of the books were printed with the title "Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation", one of which Lea read.

Winter convinces Lea to write her biography, promising to relate an enrapturing ghost story and to reveal the contents of the thirteenth tale. Winter says she will answer no questions but only relate the details of her life in one, long monologue, and Lea records Winter's retelling. Lea is indeed enraptured, and, in the end, Winter does disclose the details of the thirteenth tale.

Discussion Questions

These book club discussion questions on "The Thirteenth Tale" will help you explore Setterfield's masterfully created story. Spoiler alert: These questions reveal important details about "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. Finish the book before reading on.

  1. Books play an important role in "The Thirteenth Tale." Discuss Lea and Winter's relationships to books and stories. Could you relate to them? What is your relationship to books? Do you agree with Winter that stories can reveal truth better than simply stating it?
  2. The two houses in "The Thirteenth Tale"—Angelfield and Winter's estate—are prominent in the story. How do the houses reflect the characters who live in them? What do you think they represent?
  3. Why do you think Lea obeyed Winter's summons?
  4. Winter asks Lea if she would like to hear a ghost story. Who are the ghosts in the story? In what ways are different characters haunted (Margaret, Winter, Aurelius)?
  5. Why do you think Lea's sister's death affected her so profoundly? Why do you think she was able to move beyond it at the end of the novel?
  6. After Mrs. Dunne and John Digence die, Winter says "the girl in the mist" emerges. Did you believe that Adeline had matured? If not, did you suspect the true identity of the character?
  7. When did you first suspect Winter's true identity? Were you surprised? Looking back, what clues did she give you?
  8. Do you think Adeline or Emmeline was saved from the fire?
  9. What is the significance of "Jane Eyre" to the story?
  10. Do you think it is harder to keep a secret or confess the complete truth?
  11. Were you satisfied with the way the story ended for various characters (Aurelius, Hester, Margaret)?
  12. Rate "The Thirteenth Tale" on a scale of one to five.
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Your Citation
Miller, Erin Collazo. "'The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield: Book Club Discussion Questions." ThoughtCo, Sep. 18, 2021, thoughtco.com/the-thirteenth-tale-by-diane-setterfield-361866. Miller, Erin Collazo. (2021, September 18). 'The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield: Book Club Discussion Questions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-thirteenth-tale-by-diane-setterfield-361866 Miller, Erin Collazo. "'The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield: Book Club Discussion Questions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-thirteenth-tale-by-diane-setterfield-361866 (accessed March 25, 2023).