Sir Edward Feathers, known by some as Old "FILTH" (short for Failed in London, Try Hong Kong), is a desiccated, cantankerous old gentleman. He has progressed from struggling young barrister to wealthy lawyer to distinguished retired judge. In a mixture of Catcher In the Rye with a Charles Dickens tale, this is the story of Filth's life, from birth in colonial Malaya, to Wales where he is sent as a "Raj orphan," to Oxford, his career and his marriage. The story parallels much of the 20th century's history.
Book Club Questions: Old Filth by Jane Gardam
1. Edward Feathers is known by different names throughout the book – including Eddie, Teddy, and Old Filth. How do Edward’s nicknames reflect who he is at different points in the story? Is he the same person?
2. The title and moniker “Old Filth” refers to Edward Feather’s “failing in London.” Did he really fail? What would have been his connections and opportunities if he had stayed in London? How did his opportunities change him in Asia?
3. Through his life, Edward Feathers always seems to have a single best friend, from Ada as an infant, to Ingoldby in school, to Betty as a wife, to his enemy Veneering. Yet, rather than striving to be the life of the party, Edward appears miserably content. How did his abandonment as a child impact his ability to form relationships?
4. Edward’s feels abandoned by his father, Alistair Feathers. Later in the book, Edward learns his father saved all the letters that Edward sent. Edward also learns that his aunts lived off the funds that his father sent to support him. Do you believe Alistair Feathers truly abandoned his son? Which of the stories about Alistair do you believe? Opium addict? Injured in war? Gone “native” in Malay.
5. Auntie May insisted upon Edward being shipped to the United Kingdom to avoid diseases and “going native.” How did her interference impact Edward’s life? Would he have been better off with his father? If Edward had not been loved as a small child by Ada, would he have been a broken adult?
6. It has been said that “the hero has to leave home” in all good classics. How does Edward Feather’s life compare with the lives of heroes in other classics such as Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Oliver Twist? Must the hero be orphaned, experience hardship or cruelty?
7. How would you characterize Edward and Betty’s marriage? What did their relationship bring each of them? Did Edward gain more than stability? Did Betty gain more than wealth and social standing? Would they have made good parents together?
8. Was Edward a murderer or was the death an accident? Did his abuse justify his actions as a child?
9. Jane Gardam continues the story of Edward Feathers in a trilogy through the perspectives of other characters. Betty’s life is described in The Man in the Yellow Hat and Veneering is chronicled in Last Friends. Not having read those books, what assumptions might you make about these dysfunctional characters? Why does Filth say he mourned Veneering more than he mourned Betty?
10. If BBC were to make a TV mini-series of the trilogy, who would you want to play the key characters?