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Encyclopedia > A Great and Terrible Beauty
A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author Libba Bray
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Fantasy novel
Publisher Random House
Released December 9, 2003
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 416 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-385-73028-4
Followed by Rebel Angels

A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first novel in a fantasy trilogy by Libba Bray. It is told from the perspective of Gemma Doyle, a girl in the late 1800s. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Libba Bray (born March 11, ???? in Alabama) is an author of Young Adult novels, including the books A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Look up Fantasy in Wiktionary, the free dictionary For other definitions of fantasy, see fantasy (psychology). ... Random House is a publishing division of the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann based in New York City. ... See also: 2002 in literature, other events of 2003, 2004 in literature, list of years in literature. ... A hardcover (or hardback or hardbound) book is bound with rigid protective covers (typically of cardboard covered with cloth or heavy paper) and a stitched spine. ... Libba Bray Rebel Angels is the second book in a fantasy trilogy by Libba Bray. ... Image File history File linksMetadata Size of this preview: 332 × 598 pixel Image in higher resolution (810 × 1460 pixel, file size: 363 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg) Libba Bray by David Shankbone. ... Image File history File linksMetadata Size of this preview: 332 × 598 pixel Image in higher resolution (810 × 1460 pixel, file size: 363 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg) Libba Bray by David Shankbone. ... Libba Bray (born March 11, ???? in Alabama) is an author of Young Adult novels, including the books A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels. ... For other definitions of fantasy see fantasy (psychology). ... Libba Bray (born March 11, ???? in Alabama) is an author of Young Adult novels, including the books A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels. ... Gemma Doyle (born c. ...


Plot Summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Gemma Doyle has lived in India with her English mother and father for her entire life. Gemma wants nothing more than to be sent to London to get an education and have a social life. On her sixteenth birthday Gemma and her mother are walking in the Bombay market place when they run into a young boy about Gemma's age and an older man, and something he says to Gemma's mother makes her panic and insist that Gemma returns home at once. Gemma gets angry with her mother and runs away from her. Her mother commits suicide when faced by a shadowy spirit while searching for her and even though Gemma is nowhere near the spot where it happens she sees every moment of the murder in a vision. Gemma Doyle (born c. ...

With her mother dead and her father addicted to opium to deal with the grief, Gemma is shipped off to a finishing school in London. When Gemma arrives at Spence Academy for Young Ladies she is immediately an outcast because she is new. That is until she finds the most popular and influential girl in school, Felicity, in a compromising situation that would ruin her reputation, and therefore her life, if Gemma decided to tell anyone. This secret bonds Gemma and Felicity together and soon a strong friendship emerges between the two girls, along with Gemma’s roommate Ann, and Felicity’s best friend, Pippa. Gemma continues to have visions and is followed by the young Indian man from the Bombay market place named Kartik, who warns her that she must close her mind to these visions or something horrible will happen. Felicity Mildrade Fee Worthington (born c. ... Ann Bradshaw (born c. ... Pippa Pip Cross (c. ...

During one of her visions Gemma is led into the caves that border the school grounds. There she finds a diary written 25 years earlier by a 16-year-old girl named Mary Dowd who had attended Spence Academy and seemed to suffer from the same strange visions as Gemma. Gemma learns of an ancient group called the Order and becomes convinced that her visions are linked to it. Members of the Order could open a door between the human world and other realms, they helped spirits cross over into the afterlife and had the powers of prophecy, clairvoyance, what was considered the greatest force of all, the ability to weave illusions. Gemma, Felicity, Pippa and Ann decide to create their own Order in the caves behind the school where they will be able to escape from the monotone lives that they are expected to lead.

As the girls read further and further into the diary of Mary Dowd they realize that the actual Order existed at Spence Academy and that Mary was a part of it along with her best friend Sarah and the original Headmistress Eugenia Spence, all who ended up dying in a fire at the school. Gemma tells her friends the truth about her powers and together they travel to the realms. There Gemma finds her mother alive and well and all the girls find that they can achieve their hearts desires. Gemma wishes for self-knowledge, Felicity for power, Pippa for true love and Ann for beauty. The girls continue to sneak out to the caves in the middle of the night and visit the realms. Gemma’s mother warns them not to take the magic back into their own world, for if the magic leaves the realms the evil sorceress Circe will be able to find Gemma and will kill her like she killed Gemma’s mother, and the realms will be left unguarded. The girls listen to Gemma’s mother, but after a time they are no longer content to only have power in the realms. They decide that their lives could be different if they had magic back in the real world, that they would be able to change things. The girls take the magic back with them and have fun around the school with it, but find out that the magic is also evil. Then, Gemma learns that Mary Dowd’s best friend Sarah is actually Circe, and that Mary and Sarah had committed an unspeakable crime together, they killed Mother Elena - the gypsy's - daughter Carolina and that Sarah never died in the fire. Gemma desperately searches the school for a class photo of Sarah and Mary and discovers the picture behind the photo of the class of 1872, and is shocked to see her mother's face in the photo with the name Mary Dowd under it.

Gemma confronts her mother and she confesses that she was once a member of the Order and escaped the fire thinking the others had died and that the only way for her to ever be at peace is for Gemma to forgive her. When Gemma and the other girls go back to the realms they realize that something is not right and before they can leave, the creature that killed Gemma’s mother shows up. Pippa runs off and Gemma does not have time to help her before they would all be killed, so she takes Ann and Felicity back and leaves Pippa there. When they come back Pippa has a seizure and Gemma knows she must go back into the realms to try to save her and bring her back. When she gets to the realms she doesn’t see Pippa, instead she finds the creature and becomes locked in a struggle with it. Gemma feels that she will lose and be corrupted by the creature, and when she believes that it is the end she thinks about her mother and forgives her. This act kills the creature and Gemma’s mother once and for all. Gemma finds Pippa, but Pippa refuses to return to a world where she is to marry a man she doesn’t love, to a society that will never see her as anything more than a pretty face. Instead she chooses to remain in the realms and cross over into the spirit world. Gemma returns to Spence on her own and finds that Pippa has died. Gemma, Felicity and Ann attend Pippa’s funeral and Gemma knows that Kartik is still following and watching her. She approaches him and tells him that it is only the beginning, that she will not give up her powers and that there is no going back.

Spoilers end here.

References to Other Literature

A Great and Terrible Beauty refers to many literary classics. Among those mentioned are

  • Persephone: Pippa is sometimes seen as being like the tragic, beautiful Greek Queen of the Underworld, who ate pomegranate seeds to stay in the Underworld, just as Pippa ate berries in the Realms[1]
  • The Lady of Shallot by Tennyson: Miss Moore leads her art class in a discussion of the Elaine, The Lady of Shallot, and art based upon Tennyson's poem, in Chapter Nine. This poem has special significance for Ann and Pippa, who both see themselves as being trapped, as the lady was. Miss Moore states that the lady dies "because she lets herself float through [the] world." Stanzas five, six, eight, and fifteen of The Lady of Shallot are also quoted, as a form of introduction, before Chapter One.
  • The Perils of Lucy, A Girl's Own Story: A fictional three-volume novel that Ann loves. Gemma thinks that stories like it (a popular staple of Victorian literature) about a "poor, timid girl" who is greatly put upon by her wicked peers, before eventually being found to be of noble birth, are "poppycock". As with The Lady of Shallot, the implication is that women, even in a male-dominated society, can only expect to be happy if they do something to make themselves happy, instead of sitting passively by.

Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874) (Tate Gallery, London In Greek mythology, Persephone (Greek Περσεφόνη, Persephónē) was the Queen of the Underworld, the Kore or young maiden, and the daughter of Demeter— and Zeus, in the Olympian version. ... Pippa Pip Cross (c. ... John William Waterhouses The Lady of Shalott, 1888 (Tate Gallery, London) For other uses of the word Shalott, please see Shalott (disambiguation) The Lady of Shalott is a romantic poem by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892). ... Tennyson may refer to: A placename: In Australia: Tennyson, Queensland Tennyson railway station, Brisbane Tennyson, New South Wales, a suburb of Sydney Tennyson Point, New South Wales a suburb of Sydney Tennyson, South Australia, a suburb of Adelaide Tennyson, Victoria In the United States of America: Tennyson, Wisconsin Tennyson, Indiana... A figure in Arthurian legend, Elaine was the figure of unrequited love later solemnized in Alfred Tennysons poem The Lady of Shalott. ... Ann Bradshaw (born c. ... Pippa Pip Cross (c. ... The three-volume novel (three-decker) was a major stage in the development of the modern Western novel as a form, being a standard form of publishing for British fiction during the nineteenth century. ... Charles Dickens is still one of the best known English writers of any era. ... The term Rags to Riches refers to any situation in which a person rises from poverty to wealth. ...


In 2006, the sequel to A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, was published. Ms. Bray is presently writing a third book in the series, The Sweet Far Thing, which is set to be published in 2007. For the Manfred Mann album, see 2006 (album). ... Libba Bray Rebel Angels is the second book in a fantasy trilogy by Libba Bray. ... The Sweet Far Thing a novel by Libba Bray, to be released in 2007. ... 2007 (MMVII) is the current year, a common year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar and the Anno Domini (common) era. ...


In July, 2006, Icon Productions, the film production company run by Mel Gibson, announced that it would adapt a movie based on A Great and Terrible Beauty, to be written and directed by Charles Sturridge. Icon Productions LLC is an American independent production company founded in August 1989 by legendary Hollywood actor and director, Mel Gibson. ... Mel Columcille Gerard Gibson AO (born January 3, 1956) is an American born Australian actor, director, and producer. ... Charles Sturridge (born June 24, 1951) is a British television and movie director. ...

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