The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Ann Shaffer

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Study Guide

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Brief Biography of Ann Shaffer

Mary Ann Shaffer was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She attended Miami University in Ohio and married in 1958. After moving to California with her husband, Shaffer had two daughters. Over the course of her lifetime, Shaffer worked as a bookshop clerk, a librarian, and at the publishing house Harper and Row first as a receptionist and later, as an editor. The idea for Guernsey took hold in 1980, when Shaffer traveled to Cambridge to conduct research for a biography of Kathleen Scott. When Shaffer discovered that Scott's personal papers were unusable, she decided to spend part of her trip in Guernsey but ended up stranded in the Guernsey airport when it shut down due to fog. She spent her time in the airport's bookstore reading about the German occupation of the island, but she didn't begin actually writing the novel until twenty years later. Soon after the novel was accepted for publication, Shaffer's editor requested extensive rewriting. Shaffer was by then fighting cancer and so asked her niece, children's book author Annie Barrows, to finish the novel. Guernsey was published posthumously in the same year that Shaffer died.
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Historical Context of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

When the United Kingdom first declared war on Germany in 1939, little changed in Guernsey: the island had no conscription requirements and the British government actually relaxed travel restrictions. However, in 1940 after the Allied defeat in France, the government decided that the Channel Islands (that is, Guernsey and Jersey) were of no strategic importance and began to demilitarize them. The British government initially offered to evacuate anyone from the islands who wished to leave but when it became clear that not everyone could be evacuated in time, the government began to encourage people to stay. Because the UK kept it a secret that the Channel Islands were demilitarized, the Germans did bomb them before invading in the summer of 1940. The rest of the invasion proceeded much as the characters in the novel say it did: it was a relatively peaceful occupation (despite the inability to communicate with the outside world) until D-Day, after which the German soldiers were just as hungry as the islanders. The Todt workers on the island were part of the Organization Todt, a military engineering organization created by Fritz Todt. More than 95% of the laborers were prisoners of war or forced laborers from occupied countries, and most didn't survive the war. They built road systems in mainland Europe, built fortifications in France, and fortified the Channel Islands. The island of Guernsey now promotes the bunkers built by the Todt laborers as tourist attractions.

Other Books Related to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society read books from a variety of time periods and genres, from ancient Roman philosophers like Seneca the Younger to poets like Wordsworth and Longfellow. Charles Lamb's book Selected Essays of Elia and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights are especially beloved, though other books by Charlotte and Anne Brontë (Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey) are also favorites. The works the Society members read often help them make sense of their lives; Clovis finds that the poems of Wilfred Owen give voice to his experiences fighting in World War One, while Isola later decides to become a detective like Miss Marple from Agatha Christie's mystery novels. Other novels in which characters love and rely on books to make sense of their worlds include Markus Zusak's The Book Thief and several of John Green's young adult novels, including Looking for Alaska and The Fault In Our Stars. As an epistolary novel, Guernsey shares stylistic similarities with Bram Stoker's Dracula and C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. Guernsey also tackles similar themes as Louis de Bernières’s novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which details the German occupation of the Greek island of Cephalonia during World War Two and the years following the war.
Key Facts about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Full Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • When Written: 2000-2008
  • Where Written: California, USA
  • When Published: 2008
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical Fiction; Epistolary Novel
  • Setting: London and Guernsey, 1946
  • Climax: Kit shares her box of treasures with Juliet
  • Antagonist: World War Two and the Nazis; hunger; Gilly Gilbert and Billee Bee Jones; Miss Adelaide Addison
  • Point of View: First person limited, told in a series of letters between various characters

Extra Credit for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Driving. During the German occupation, Germans insisted that Guernsey change its road rules to comply with the rest of Europe and drive on the right side of the road, rather than the left. Guernsey Islanders reverted to driving on the left after the war ended.

The Real Society. While the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is entirely fictional, there were real secret societies on Guernsey during the occupation. The most notable of these was GUNS (Guernsey Underground News Service), which relied on hidden radios to distribute news of the war to locals. All of the GUNS members were eventually caught and imprisoned in mainland Europe.