Study Guide

A Great and Terrible Beauty Plot Analysis

By Libba Bray

Plot Analysis

Exposition

Another Teenage Witch

It's the 19th century, and Gemma Doyle is a pretty average rich white sixteen-year-old girl, so when her mother refuses to let her visit London (where her family is from), she runs away by herself—but when she does, she has a vision of her mother dying (which is decidedly not so average). And things only get stranger when Gemma cools down and goes looking for her mother… only to find her dead, exactly the way Gemma just envisioned. Uh-oh.

A few months later, Gemma is shipped off to London to live in a finishing school—Spence—in hopes that she'll learn to be a lady. But while there, Gemma hooks up with an unlikely group of girls and they form a "pretend" Order in honor of a mysterious group of women who supposedly could control magic and move between worlds. Yup—we've officially left the land of the ordinary, and the stage is set for some fantastic adventures.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Together, Gemma and her friends read an old diary aloud to each other which gives them a detailed recounting of two girls from Spence—Mary and Sarah—and their adventures with magic in 1871. Eventually Gemma works up the guts to tell her new friends about her power of foresight, and takes them into another world called the realms, where her mom is. Sounds pretty great, right? Not so fast.

Trouble is, there is a ton of magic just waiting for the girls to take back into their world to use. Gemma's mother forbids Gemma from taking it until she is trained at handling magic because otherwise a corrupted, evil creature might regain magic and the world would be in major trouble then. Pretty much any time you combine teenagers and forbidden power, though, something bad is bound to happen… but maybe we're just worrywarts.

Rising Action

My Mother is a What?

Under a ton of pressure from her friends, coupled with her desire to help others in need, Gemma betrays her mother and takes magic out of the realms, bringing it back into the real world. No biggie, right? Wrong.

Once Gemma finds out that Mary Dowd is her mother—and that as such, her mother is a murderer and a witch—Gemma gets super worked up and starts keeping secrets from her friends, who don't trust her. So then her friends get naked and kill a deer as a sacrifice to the huntress (who is from the realm and has been corrupted), and Gemma agrees to take them back into the realms against her best judgment—she's got a hunch that something's not right in the land of magic.

Climax

Nightmare

The most terrible thing Gemma could imagine happening happens. Felicity wants power of her own so badly that she'll do anything to get it, which makes her an easy target for the corrupted huntress (who is actually the dark spirit that killed Gemma's mother). The dark spirit grows until it's super tall and super scary, and when it grabs Felicity, her eyes go totally black. Dun dun dun…

They girls run away, but Ann becomes disgusting, Pippa gets trapped in the water under a layer of ice, and the evil spirit is still after them—so Gemma decides to save the girls she can. and leaves Pippa behind rather than risk all their lives.

In the real world, Pippa is in a coma. Gemma runs to Kartik to help, and he carries Pippa's heavy body to Spence; Felicity blames Gemma for Pippa's state. After they are all safe though, Gemma goes back to save Pippa—and once inside, the realms look totally ugly and demolished. The wraith tricks Gemma by looking like her mother and luring her to take more magic out of the runes to give to the creature, and Gemma almost lets go and gives in to the power of the evil, but then she finds the strength to forgive her mother and smashes the runes, which kills the spirit.

Falling Action

To Eat, or Not To Eat

Gemma rescues Pippa from the water, but Pippa chooses not to go back to her life. She eats some berries, confident in her decision, and stays behind in the realms with her knight. When Gemma returns to her world, Pippa is dead.

Resolution

Until Next Time

Gemma sees Kartik, who is actually nice to her. Felicity has somewhat forgiven her for leaving Pippa in the realms, but she is freaked out about the change that has happened since being touched by the evil spirit—she can see supernatural things in their world now and she has nightmares that really scare her. Spence buries Pippa, and Gemma gives Kartik an offering: her father's cricket bat, which he adores. And at the very end, Gemma reflects on all she has learned about living thus far, especially forgiveness, then takes off after a deer, enjoying the feeling of freedom.