Start your review of An Instance of the Fingerpost Write a review Shelves: historical-fiction When in a Search of any Nature the Understanding stands suspended, then Instances of the Fingerpost shew the true and inviolable Way in which the Question is to be decided. These Instances afford great Light, so that the Course of the Investigation will sometimes be terminated by them. Sometimes, indeed, these Instances are found amongst that Evidence already set down. It is the s and England is still in turmoil after the death of Oliver Cromwell.
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Reading Guide Questions Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers! The four narrators of An Instance of the Fingerpost illustrate that there is never just one side to a story, that an event can be interpreted in a multitude of ways.
Did you find one narrator inherently more trustworthy than another? What qualities suggest a credible narrator, and how does Iain Pears play off of our assumptions in his characterizations of Marco da Cola, Jack Prestcott, John Wallis, and Anthony Wood? Can you think of other books in which this multi-perspective technique was used to similar ends, or other books that feature unreliable narrators? An Instance of the Fingerpost is set in the early years of the Restoration, a time in English history marked by political intrigue and social unrest.
The Civil War has just ended. Oliver Cromwell, rebel and "lord protector" of England, is dead, and the monarchy of Charles II has been restored to power. Is it safe to assume it was any easier for those citizens like Sarah Blundy who, during the Restoration, have been forced to the fringes of society? How does Pears use Oxford as a microcosmic reflection of the larger, more tumultuous society? The period in which the novel takes place is one wherein religion permeated every facet of society, from academia to the sciences, from art to philosophy.
Even Oxford University, during a veritable golden age of scientific discovery and academic advancement, is depicted in the novel as a dangerous place for free-thinkers and outsiders. What social or political conditions made such rigid definitions of "the outsider" necessary?
Similarly, what constituted "radical beliefs"? Consider the family histories of some of the characters in this novel, and how the actions of their fathers has determined their station in Restoration society. How do the characters in this novel decide if their peers are trustworthy or not? By what criteria do people judge one another? The events of An Instance of the Fingerpost are set in motion by the death of an Oxford don and the subsequent trial of Sarah Blundy, the woman accused of his murder.
Anthony Wood, a witness to these events, is reconciled to the verdict calling for her execution in the belief that the divine plan will be fulfilled. Considering the fate of Sarah Blundy, what do you think Pears is saying about the construct of social justice versus divine justice?
Compare our contemporary assumptions about guilt and innocence against those of the 17th century. Consider other criminal trials of that era, either historical or fictional accounts. For example, during that same period, the Salem witch trials were underway in America.
What do these events suggest about how a society defines and administers justice? A historical novel starts from fact, but its creator must mesh fiction with facts to create a compelling narrative. Were you able to determine which characters were fictional creations? What kind of responsibility, if any, do historical novelists have in their portrayal of actual historical events?
Umberto Eco, E. Doctorow, Caleb Carr. King Lear tells the story of a once-powerful monarch humiliated and unraveled by his own weakness and the treachery of his children. Why, then, might Pears have chosen to include Lear in his novel in particular?
Do you see any parallels between the world invoked in King Lear which was written in and the world of An Instance of the Fingerpost? How might this play have particular significance in Restoration England, particularly in Oxford, which was a Royalist stronghold?
The testimony related in the final section shares its title with that of the novel. Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Berkley Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
An Instance of the Fingerpost
Synopsis[ edit ] A murder in 17th-century Oxford is related from the contradictory points of view of four of the characters, all of them unreliable narrators. The setting of the novel is , just after the restoration of the monarchy following the English Civil War , when the authority of King Charles II is not yet settled, and conspiracies abound. Most of the characters are historical figures. Two of the narrators are the mathematician John Wallis and the historian Anthony Wood.