Mis­tress of the Ritz

January 1, 2013

Praised for her sig­na­ture abil­i­ty to breathe life into the nar­ra­tives of history’s most com­pelling women, Melanie Ben­jamin presents here an enthralling nov­el based on the sto­ry of the extra­or­di­nary real-life Blanche Auzel­lo, a Jew­ish-Amer­i­can woman who forged papers to cre­ate a new life for her­self abroad, and who secret­ly worked for the Resis­tance, all while play­ing host­ess to the invad­ing Ger­mans at the leg­endary Ritz.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Melanie Benjamin

  1. What is your over­all opin­ion of Blanche Auzel­lo? Do you find her a sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter? In what ways does she change dur­ing the course of the nov­el? And how is she affect­ed by her impris­on­ment, in particular?

  2. What is your over­all opin­ion of Claude Auzel­lo? Do you think on bal­ance that he’s a good and lov­ing hus­band to Blanche?

  3. Did the Hotel Ritz come alive for you? Did it seem as if the hotel itself was a major char­ac­ter in the book? If so, why?

  4. How does read­ing a book set in one spe­cif­ic loca­tion com­pare to read­ing a book that uses mul­ti­ple set­tings? How does this enhance or dis­tract from the char­ac­ters and their stories?

  5. How do you feel about the way Claude served the Ger­man offi­cers at the Ritz dur­ing the war, doing his best to please them? Do you think he could or should have treat­ed them differently?

  6. What do you think of Blanche’s friend Lily? Is she a lik­able char­ac­ter? Why or why not? What is it that she has to offer that Blanche is attract­ed to? Do you think her effect on Blanche is pos­i­tive or negative?

  7. Why do you think the author wrote the nov­el in alter­nat­ing chap­ters, from Claude’s and Blanche’s per­spec­tives? What did she achieve with this struc­ture that a stan­dard third-per­son nar­ra­tion would have lacked?

  8. What did you come away from the nov­el think­ing about Coco Chanel? About Ernest Hem­ing­way? With recent alle­ga­tions of Chanel’s activ­i­ties dur­ing the war (her alleged col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nazis, her anti­semitism), how does this change your opin­ion of her? How do we sep­a­rate the art from the per­son in light of this and oth­er more recent examples?

  9. Why do you think Claude and Blanche keep it a secret from each oth­er that they are involved in the Resistance?

  10. Read­ers learn a great deal about Paris dur­ing the Ger­man occu­pa­tion from read­ing this nov­el. What are the over­all impres­sions that you came away with after being immersed in that set­ting? Did the author enable you to feel the threat and fear that Parisians, espe­cial­ly Jews and oth­er vul­ner­a­ble groups, lived under dur­ing that time?

  11. Why do you think Blanche would rou­tine­ly get so drunk at the Ritz Bar with Lily, upset­ting Claude and mak­ing a scene? What is it that makes her do this, and did you sym­pa­thize with her at all?

  12. What do you think of Blanche and Claude’s fate, as revealed in the book’s Epi­logue? Do you find it sur­pris­ing, giv­en that they both sur­vived and had each oth­er after the war, when so many cou­ples were not so blessed? Or do you think there is a kind of trag­ic log­ic to it?