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Marguerite Poland


The Prologue:
Questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 4 March 2014
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Study this worksheet AFTER the book has been completed!

The Prologue begins the story at its end. Crispin's body has been brought back to the mission. The family is in mourning.

Walter Brownley is sent to fetch Benedict to join the family at prayer. Later, he goes to his own room for the night but is reminded of Frances.


A good prologue always needs to be re-read after the novel has been finished because it contains hints to themes which only reveal themselves later in the story.

When read on its own, however, the prologue is confusing. Too many characters are introduced all at once. Indeed, by itself, the prologue is often hardly understandable at all.

In the prologue to Shades, all of the leading characters are mentioned. We have Walter Brownley, clearly the main character. Then there is Charles Farborough and his wife, Emily.

Their son Crispin is dead but it is not certain why or how -- and we suspect that that is what the novel is all about.

Clearly there is enmity between Benedict and Victor, with Benedict believing that Victor is somehow responsible for Crispin's death.

There is reference to a "catastrophic game" which has claimed all: Crispin dead; Tom, Reuben and Sonwabo gone; Benedict and Walter about to leave.

It is also clear that there is some divide between Benedict and the Farboroughs. Emily refers to him as "family" and yet he does not enter into the house for the prayers.

The author also introduces the reader to the idea of predestination. Fate somehow dogs all of them -- but especially Walter who is determined to break free from its hold.

He intends to leave the mission forever and "no inducements", "no remembrances" will hold him back.

There is also pain: the memory of Frances Farborough which causes a "primal cry" to rise "like a flame in his throat".

And then there is Helmina Smythe, "dependent", merely a "paid employee of the mission", almost a faceless person.

All of these themes make sense only through a thorough reading of the novel itself. It is worthwhile therefore to return to the prologue once the novel has been finished.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"Benedict was silent. He glanced at the papers on the desk and he said, his voice flat, "With the family . . . I am always told that I am a member of the family . . . One is given a hat and a pair of breeches, a name and a present at Christmas and a sponsor to pay the fees and one is suddenly a member of the family."
  • There is a bitterness to Benedict's words. Explain why. (10)

[Need help?]

"You must look for the reasons [for Crispin's death] with Victor Drake," said Benedict. "You will see it in his face."
  • Explain what Benedict means by this. (4)

[Need help?]

"At St Matthias Mission there is an odd sense of predestination . . . I shall leave before I am its victim."
  • Does Walter leave before he is its victim? (30)

[Need help?]

"And now he was leaving -- fighting a rising desolation: not a victim eager for escape, but an exile sent from home."
  • In what way is Walter "an exile sent from home"? (4)

[Need help?]

"The catastrophic game had ended as he knew it must."
  • What is meant by the "catastrophic game"? (6)

[Need help?]

  • How had it ended? (6)

[Need help?]

"He'd felt a primal cry, rising like a flame in his throat."
  • Explain what is meant by this "primal cry". (4)

[Need help?]

  • What caused it? (4)

[Need help?]

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See also:
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