Study Guide

A Great and Terrible Beauty Chapter 26

By Libba Bray

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Chapter 26

  • It is Assembly Day and Gemma is not looking forward to it; she is nervous and excited about seeing her father again.
  • Ann wants to join Gemma, and while Gemma doesn't want to encourage Ann's crush on Tom, she also sees how lonely and sad Ann is since she has no family who love her, so she invites Ann to come along.
  • Ann looks less than lovely though, so Gemma gets to work on her hair, though Anne isn't particularly grateful for the assistance; and then Felicity walks in looking rather, uh, voluptuous.
  • She wants to look like a lady for her dad, but looks somewhat more like a grown-up lady than is acceptable.
  • Downstairs, Gemma and Ann run into Pippa with her parents and her new fiancé, Mr. Bumble. Pippa is completely miserable, and Mr. Bumble shows her off like a prize; when he offers his arm she excuses herself to be with her friends.
  • Tearing up, she cannot even talk about the news—she accepts what has happened with utter despair, and doesn't feel like she can do anything about it.
  • Pippa goes off with her warden and right away Felicity appears, anxious as can be. They break Pippa's news to Felicity, who is mildly sympathetic since she has bigger issues on her mind: her dad still hasn't arrived even though most everyone else has.
  • A little later Tom walks up to Gemma with their grandmother, but the girl only wants to see her dad—but then when she does, she is shocked by what she sees: an older man withering away. 
  • What a hard realization for Gemma. She is ashamed of his addiction and withdrawal and ashamed of feeling ashamed (26.75)—in other words, she's a mess right now.
  • After greetings, and Gemma's lie about Ann's parents traveling abroad, they sit for tea and a chat, but their interaction clunks along like an old car.
  • Ann is in love with Tom and shows it by doting on him. 
  • Gemma's father is in his own world and it breaks her heart; no one asks how she is or what she's been up to.
  • We learn that Gemma thinks that in society girls are just "hollow vessels of girls to be rinsed clean of our own ambitions, wants, and opinions, just waiting to be filled with […] gracious compliance" (26.101). That sounds pretty awful, right?
  • So Gemma does her best to break the vessel and inquires about her mother's investigation, though it is considered rude to talk about something personal in front of people.
  • When Tom tries to smooth things over by reminding her that their mother died of cholera, Gemma snaps back at him with wit and venom. Grandmother pipes in telling her not to bore Ann and then Gemma asks her dad what he thinks, just to see if he will respond to something. Nada.
  • The next best thing for Gemma to do is excuse them all from the conversation to end the torture now, but they call her rude and uncivilized, so she gets up to leave. She tries to bring her father with her, but fails because he's too weak to walk, so instead she is alone. 
  • Just then Cecily sees her and trots over with her folks. She introduces them to Ann and calls her the scholarship student, which confuses Gemma's grandmother.
  • About to cry, Ann runs away from them all—Cecily excuses her comment if it wasn't correct (the little witch) and Gemma uses her sharp wit to cut Cecily down to size.
  • Wanting some peace, Gemma heads outside to the lawn. She notices some of the weird things the mothers and wives do to look like ladies—like making mistakes and deliberately appearing weak and dependent on their husbands.
  • Finding Felicity sitting alone, she sits near her and tries not to cry; then she reads a note Felicity passes to her from her father saying he's not coming after all. 
  • Gemma ends up leaving Felicity sitting in a rain shower alone.

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