- How would you characterize the relationship between Mathilde and Mary? They showed no sign of considering it surprising that two women should form such an intense bond, but can you find signs that the relationship challenged societal norms?
- The book’s title uses the term “radical” to describe Mathilde’s relationships, in part because they were unusual and in part because of her political goals. Do you think “radical” is a useful descriptor?
- The lives of Mathilde, Mary, and Fritz show that the U.S. Civil War was connected to developments in Europe and other continents. What connections can you identify? Does focusing on those connections persuade you that Americans should change the way they view the Civil War?
- The letters both discuss and embody the ways language connects to identity. What insights do they provide into how German Americans thought about the German language when they moved to the United States and interacted with Anglo-Americans? Do you think other groups of Americans who did not (or do not) speak English well would have had similar feelings to Mathilde?
- In the letter Mathilde refers to various places as “home.” Can someone have more than one home? What would you conclude about her idea of home?
- When Mathilde and Mary lived in Zürich they were very poor, but they mixed with wealthier people and expected to be able to provide their children with certain opportunities. How would you describe their class position? How did gender, race, and ethnicity affect the household’s class status?
- Mathilde and Mary focus a lot on their children, but how do you think the children themselves would have described the years between 1859 and 1865? You might consider Hertha, Percy, and Lillian, as well as Fanny or Mary Ella.