Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to read the second book in this trilogy which just came out, A Darkness Strange & Lovely (but my birthday IS in two weeks... just saying...), so I will be answering the questions only pertaining to book one and I will try to keep my answers on this epic book about a girl and team of misfits and majestics who are fighting zombies in 1876 Philadelphia as spoiler-free as possible. Yeah, you heard me. It's awesome.
Week One Question: Eleanor's mother expects a lot from poor El. She wants Eleanor to marry and save the family from financial ruin (despite the fact that Eleanor is only 16), she wants Eleanor to become friends with the rich "cool" kids (like Allison and the Virtue Sisters), and she wastes money the Fitt family doesn't have on new gowns and fancy house decor. She demands Eleanor behave according to "proper etiquette" and squeeze into a corset that deforms her ribs. Do you think, given the time period, Mrs. Fitt is justified in her demands on Eleanor? Why or why not?
So this is an awesome question. Historical fiction has a great ability to be shocking because our modern eyes and brains are looking at a world that really did operate by a totally different set of rules. As a modern woman, my initial reaction is "No! Let Eleanor live her own life!" Yet, is Mrs. Fitt really that different from some mothers today? She puts pressure on her daughter partly because society puts pressure on her. With her husband dead and her son nowhere to be found, she puts all her energy into the one thing she has left: Eleanor. She wants her daughter to make successful, important connections. Mrs. Fitt is adhering to the apparently timeless idea of 'dress for the job you want, not the one you hav' every time she redecorates another room or buys another dress. It's not that I agree with what Mrs. Fitt is doing, but I can understand it.
To me, another facet of the question is what is really motivating Mrs. Fitt to put these expectations on Eleanor: is it out of love or out of fear? Given the choices she makes throughout the book, I think it's safe to say that the latter rules her brain. Again, in 1876, I can see why this would be the case. Women went to finishing schools, not universities. There weren't options. In a very Mrs. Bennet/Pride& Prejudice sort of way, Mrs. Fitt knows this: a woman either marries well financially or she is done for. Acting a certain way, dressing a certain way, living a certain way can all be tools to help ensure an advantageous marriage and strong financial future. Maybe she doesn't want to see her daughter suffer and lose the comforts and quality of life she's grown up with, but more than that I believe it's Mrs. Fitt who is afraid of losing her lifestyle. So are her actions justified? To a degree, yes, given the limitations of the time they lived in. But are Eleanor's actions - her choice to refuse, to follow her own bat - justified? Oh heck yes.