Study Guide

A Great and Terrible Beauty Tone

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Since this book is written in the first person, we get to read a whole lot of Gemma's thoughts about stuff. There's a lot going on for her when this book begins: arguing with her mother, running away alone, having a vision of her mother's death and then seeing it happen, being shipped off to a boarding school in London where she doesn't know anyone… To say the least, Gemma's got a few things on her mind.

Constantly trying to figure out if she is going crazy or is somehow bewitched, Gemma tries to think through all of the clues she's collected. Watch her contemplation in action:

Mary. It's only the most common name in all of England. What if this is all a trick, a way of testing me? He said I was in danger. What if this otherworldly little girl is a malevolent spirit who means to do me harm? What if the bedtime stories used to keep children at heel […] are true? (8.11)

Yup—Gemma's got a lot of puzzling to do in this book (we hope her puzzler doesn't get sore), and since she's largely left to her own devices to make sense of things, she spends a good deal of time being contemplative


Choleric is such a cool word, don't you think? It means to be "bad-tempered or irritable," and Gemma definitely brings the heat from time to time. She can flare up at any moment, and although she usually keeps it inside, since she's our narrator we get to see it anyway—which is awesome, because she's pretty funny when she's mad. So when Cecily is being mean to Ann and then turns her attitude toward Gemma, we are privy to the following:

"Careful, Felicity, she might use her evil eye against us." […]

I wish I could use my evil eye. Or at least my evil boot right smack against Cecily's backside. (12.85)

Even though Gemma's fangs pop out quickly sometimes, she sure is funny, and since she mostly checks herself before she wrecks herself, we get to benefit from her irritability without it transpiring at the expense of other characters. It's a pretty sweet deal for us as readers, we think.


Caustic is pretty much a fancy way of saying Gemma's sarcastic, and while it's not her main tone, it's one she often uses as a defense when she feels scared or vulnerable. (Fast fact: this is true about most sarcastic people.) And just like when she gets choleric, when Gemma shifts into caustic mode, it's generally pretty amusing for us as readers. Check this passage out, when Gemma finds herself in a cave with a ghostly little girl:

"I've told you—I don't know any Mary." I'm arguing with a vision, a spirit. Next I know, I'll be calling myself the queen of Romania and wandering down the lane wearing my bed linens for a cape. (8.9)

In what might just be an unsettling moment, Gemma still manages to have a laugh—and at her own expense too. But while we rather like Gemma's wit, some of the characters in this book could do without it (we're looking at you, Tom).

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