Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman Discussion Guide
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
About this book
Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?
by Eleanor Updale
About the Book
Who is Montmorency? The answer to this fundamental question keeps changing as we follow his transformation from prisoner 493 to London's most elusive burglar to the British gentleman he had aspired to become. Eleanor Updale's gripping adventure novel, set in Victorian England, follows Scarper as he climbs down into the sewers of London, and Montmorency as he climbs up English society's ladder. We note not only the outward differences but also the psychological changes that eventually allow Montmorency to leave Scarper behind. At the same time we get a glimpse of the rigid structure of the British class system that is the backdrop for the action.
- The more he thought about the plan, the more difficulties he foresaw
Montmorency knew that, locked up in prison, he had time, and he resolved to dedicate the years until his release to solving those problems, and to devising the perfect method for getting as rich as the men who had giggled at him at the Scientific Society. But it needed to be worked out to the tiniest detail.
Follow Montmorency's thought processes as he constructs his plan to use London's new sewer system as his means to move about the city undetected. Some things to keep in mind: What gives him the idea? How does he determine the need for an accomplice? How does he decide whom the accomplice must be?
- When he is released from prison, Scarper has much to accomplish. Create a to-do list for him covering his immediate needs and his plans to meet them. Do the same for Montmorency. Where do the lists intersect?
- Montmorency goes through many stages as he refines himself into a proper
He started mingling with the upper-class men he had been imitating, pretending to himself at first that it was in the cause of research. He wanted to know what happened when they got out of their cabs and strode into the parties and theaters that played such an important part in their lives.
Who are his teachers and models?
[A] bald man dressed just like one of the audience made his way out from under the stagepicking up a stick, he faced the musicians and lifted his arms. There was a hush, and then the most exquisite sound Montmorency had ever heard. When the curtain fell as she collapsed onto her pillow and her lover sank to his knees, the scene swam through his tears, and he joined the rest of the audience in rapturous applause.
How is his night at the opera a defining moment in his transformation?
- Throughout the spring and summer, Montmorency and Fox-Selwyn toured London
society together. They visited parties, gaming tables and horse races he
was enjoying the pleasures he had set his heart on and the company of his
Talk about Montmorency's friendship with Lord Fox-Selwyn. How does it help complete his transformation? Why do you think Fox-Selwyn tells Montmorency about the Mauramanian ambassador's plan to overthrow the Mauramanian government? Is he trying to manipulate Montmorency?
Why does Montmorency step up to Fox-Selwyn's Challenge?
- With no more need for his services, Montmorency sweeps Scarper out of his life. Is he truly gone? Can you imagine Montmorency in his new life resurrecting Scarper?
- Imagine Montmorency's life before he was captured. Where did he live? What kind of student was he? Why do you think he turned to a life of crime at such an early age? Can you describe him physically? Find evidence in the book to support your suppositions.
- He [Scarper] felt a touch of contempt for a man who spat on the pavement
in front of him, and disdain for a girl picking the pockets of mourners leaving
What does this tell us about Montmorency/Scarper? If he once fit into Scarper's world, does he still belong there? When does this change occur? Point to incidents from the novel that illustrate your conclusions.
- [At Freakshow's trial]: Montmorency felt an unfamiliar emotion. It was
shame. But mixed with it was relief that the authorities had closed the files
on his many thefts.
How does this reflect on Montmorency's developing sense of morals?
- Montmorency and Fox-Selwyn watched all this from the comfort of the Marimion
bar. When the horse was taken away, Montmorency excused himself for a moment
and crossed the road under cover of darkness to give the cabbie some money
towards a new one. He surprised himself with the gesture.
What does this tell you about Montmorency's character at this point in the novel?
- One of the most interesting parts of the novel is the dual identity of Montmorency.
How does he use the way he carries his body to move in and out of the character
of Scarper? Do you ever lose track of the fact that Montmorency is
Scarper? Does Scarper ever lose track?
- Dr. Farcett saved Montmorency's life and continued to care for him at his
own expense. What was the doctor's motivation in caring for Montmorency?
Was it out of a sense of civic responsibility? Was it self-serving? Was it
in the name of science? Site references from the book to support your point
- When Lord Fox-Selwyn deduces that Montmorency is not who he claims to be, why doesn't he expose the fraud?
- From what you've read in the novel, discuss the treatment of prisoners in the jails of Victorian England. How were inmates regarded by the system? How were they treated by other inmates? Is it any different today in our jails? Explain.
- Eleanor Updale tells us that Barney Watts, one of Montmorency's cellmates graduated from the streets of Clapham to prison with the same inevitability that had taken Robert Farcett from prep school through university. She is saying that in a society as strictly structured as Victorian England, people from the lower class resort to crime because they have no options. How is this the same and/or different from the society we live in?
- The issue of medical experimentation is one that continues to concern us. Talk about Dr. Farcett's experimental surgeries on Montmorency in the light of the controversies that show up in the newspapers today.
- In the end Montmorency becomes a contributing member of British society. His role in the Mauramania affair helps prevent war from breaking out across the continent, and his future exploits will serve the interests of the British people. But let's not forget how he got there. Does the end justify his means?
- What do these snippets tell us of the class system in Victorian England?
- When Montmorency overhears Cissie's father berating her for having ideas above her station.
- He began to look forward to his encounters with Mr. Lyons, a craftsman of distinction, but nevertheless a tradesman who knew his place.
- Montmorency hardly needed to ask. All the servants were known as Sam. It made things easier for the member of Bargles (the cream of the British Empire). Otherwise they might have to trouble themselves with thinking.
- [Fox-Selwyn to Montmorency]: "I'm going to tell you something shockingI've
got a job"
How does this influence Montmorency and his quest for a better life? What options did Montmorency have to enter the higher reaches of society?
- All of the characters in Montmorency are fictional, except for one. Sir Joseph Bazalgette actually was the chief engineer for London's Metropolitan Board of Works and was responsible for building the London sewer system. Do some research to find out more about him and why his contribution was so important.
- In fiction the main character most often is someone laudable, someone to emulate. What is your reaction to Eleanor Updale's novel featuring a thief?
- At the same time the members of the Scientific Society are examining his wounds, Montmorency is examining them as his future victims. The author uses irony many times throughout the novel. Find other examples.
About the Author
Eleanor Updale studied history at St. Anne's College in Oxford, England, before becoming a producer of TV and radio current affairs programs for the BBC. She is studying for a Ph.D. at the new Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at Queen Mary College, University of London. She is also a trustee of the charity Listening Books. She lives in England. Montmorency is her first book.
To purchase Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? (0-439-58035-8, $16.95) by Eleanor Updale, published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, contact your local bookstore or usual supplier.
This guide was prepared by Clifford Wohl, Educational Consultant.