Study Guide

A Great and Terrible Beauty Chapter 1

By Libba Bray

Chapter 1

  • The narrator, Gemma Doyle, exclaims that she hopes the snake she's looking at is not going to be a part of her sixteenth birthday dinner; her mother teases her, asking if she'd like to eat it. 
  • Falling backward into a table of little statues, Gemma knocks over Kali, the goddess called the destroyer, which she thinks her mother has dubbed her "patron saint" since Gemma hasn't been so nice lately. 
  • Gemma tells us that she and her mom haven't been getting along lately because her mother won't let her go to London, though Mom thinks it's because of Gemma's "impossible age."
  • It is wicked hot in Bombay, India right now and Gemma is drenched in sweat. She's dressed in heavy layers of cloth (which is proper for women in 1895) and feels miserable.
  • They walk through the bazaar (like a flea market) and Gemma begs to take a carriage to Mrs. Talbot's house, where they are headed.
  • To break the tension, their housekeeper, Sarita, offers to bring pomegranates to Gemma's dad.
  • Thinking that she should probably be the one bringing fruit to her father, Gemma makes an excuse for herself so that she doesn't have to. Sighing, her mother holds back her criticism.
  • Gemma longs to go to London, but her mom knows the real scoop about the big British city: It's filled with judgment, gossip, evaluation, and perfectionism, and generally not as cool as living in India.
  • Gemma still doesn't believe her mom, though.
  • While her mother watches the train they are about to board, Gemma sees Mom toy with her necklace—a charm that is a crescent moon with an eye.
  • Just then, a strange man in a black cloak bumps into Gemma's mother. He bows, and Gemma locks eyes with the young stud he's with.
  • While the clumsy man apologizes, he also says, "Circe is near," (1.40) which Gemma doesn't understand but her mother definitely does, and she suddenly looks terrified and searches the crowd.
  • The men disappear and Gemma's mom tries to get rid of her, too. Gemma wants to know what's up, but Mom won't dish the dirt and is peeved that her daughter refuses to go home.
  • So, trying one last time, Gemma's mother gives her the necklace and holds her hand, but Gemma is still mad about getting booted from her birthday tea at Mrs. Talbot's and says something sharp to hurt her mom, "I don't care if you come home at all" (1.59).