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Instances of the Number 3

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About The Author

Salley VickersSalley Vickers

Salley Vickers’s novels, Instances of the Number 3 and Miss Garnet’s Angel, have been bestsellers in England. She divides her time between London and Bath

photo: Ian O'Leary

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Reading Group Gold

1. With whom does your initial sympathy lie, Bridget or Frances? Compare

their reactions to Peter’s death. Do your sympathies change through the

course of the novel?

2. Describe Peter’s character. How do Frances’s and Bridget’s impressions

of him differ? Which woman has a better understanding of him?

3. Compare the personality traits of Bridget and Frances. In what ways are

they similar? Do their characteristics complement each other? How does the

idea of reactive components (p. 9) account for Peter’s attraction to both


4. Discuss the secular and religious significance of the number 3. What instances

are there of each throughout the story?

5. How can Peter’s declaration of love for Bridget (p. 8), delivered moments

before he consummates his relationship with Frances, be considered a sign of

loyalty? Why is Frances moved by his assertion?

6. How does the voice of an omniscient narrator function in this novel?

What makes this technique especially effective?

7. How would you describe Bridget and Peter’s marriage? Would Peter have

been happier married to Frances?

8. Why is Peter initially attracted to Zelda (pp. 157–60)? Does the nature of

his desire change? He tells Zelda about Frances, but not about Bridget.

Whom is Peter trying to protect by this omission?

9. Why does Bridget accept Peter’s indiscretions? Does her response seem

different from a typical American response? In what ways does the John

Donne quote illuminate her thoughts on this topic (p. 236)? Why did she remain

loyal to Peter? Why does her relationship with Stanley make her feel

as if she were being unfaithful to her husband? Does your opinion of Bridget

change after she begins a relationship with a married man?

10. All three of the main characters experienced tragedies during their

childhoods. How did they react to these incidents? In what ways did their

pasts draw them together?

11. Why does Peter begin to haunt Bridget and Frances? Although he

watches over both his wife and his mistress, he communicates only with

Bridget. Why does he reveal himself only to his widow?

12. Discuss Bridget’s relationship with Sister Mary Eustasia. Why were

these two women attracted to each other? What effect did the nun’s death (p.

123) have on Bridget?

13. What does Zahin want when he arrives at Bridget’s home (p. 25)? Does

he know that Peter has been killed? Does Bridget’s decision to let him into

her home seem uncharacteristic? How do his motives change through the

story? When does Bridget begin to realize the nature of Peter’s relationship

with her young boarder? Why doesn’t she share this knowledge with


14. In what ways does the art gallery crowd—Roy, Frances, and Painter—

constitute another “instance of the number 3”? How does the birth of Petra

alter this relationship? How does she bring Frances and Painter together?

15. Discuss the literary references that run throughout the novel. How does

the author use works like Hamlet and the poem “When You Are Old” to further

illustrate elements of her story? How did Bridget’s passion for literature

affect her relationship with Peter? How did it affect her relationship

with Stanley?

16. Who is the third woman who is always present in Peter’s mind during

his sexual encounters? Why does this image of his young lover haunt Peter

so relentlessly? What does Veronica represent to Peter (p. 107)?

17. Does Bridget bear any responsibility for Peter’s infidelities? Consider

her reaction when she learns that he does not like to be left alone. Why is it

easier for Bridget to feel fond of Peter when she is in France (p. 7)?

18. Peter died on his way to visit Zelda. At the moment of his death, did he

come to understand the truths that Father Gerard spoke of? Has Peter been

punished for letting his desire for Zelda creep into all other areas of his life?

Is there something morally wrong with their relationship?

19. Discuss the concept of forgiveness in this novel. Why is it so important

for Peter to have Bridget’s forgiveness? When does Bridget truly forgive her


20. Consider Peter’s first meeting with Bridget, his holiday in Paris with

Frances, and his long car ride with Zelda. With whom does he seem happiest?

How do his feelings toward these people differ? What does he need

from each of them?

21. Why does Peter begin seeing Father Gerard? What elements of the

Catholic faith is he drawn to? Discuss the role that religion plays in the

story. Is seeing Peter’s ghost a spiritual experience?

22. Why does it take Frances so long to realize that she is pregnant with

Peter’s child? Is it fitting that his mistress, instead of his wife, should carry

his child?

23. Are Frances, Bridget, and Zahin happier without Peter? How did they

each come to terms with his death? In what ways has his absence liberated them?

3 What futures do you imagine for the three lovers that Peter has left behind?

24. In what ways does Salley Vickers’s story borrow from a traditional

drawing room comedy? Can you think of any examples? How does the author

modernize her version of this genre?

25. Love is very important to all the major characters in this book, but each

one sees love differently. How do you think Bridget, Frances, and Peter

would describe love? Do you agree with Bridget when she says, “I wonder if

it really matters who you love . . . It’s that you love that counts, isn’t it?” (p.


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