Whether you’re a man or a woman the process of writing a book that is a good read about someone of the opposite sex can be tricky. Historical characters have to be every bit as complex as people today, they have to think and feel, have a back story, desires and beliefs.
People of either sex and those who class themselves as something in between are complex. Do you know where your characters score on the Big Five Personality Taits?
Where would your characters fit in the Myres Briggs range of personality types?
As an author who wants to write historical fiction books with believable characters I try to make my characters multidimensional and rounded. I like to write characters who change and grow as they overcome the obstacles I put in their way so who they are affects how they react, what they do and say.
As a writer, you have to show your reader the character.
To do this your actors have to understand some things about themselves, the people around them have to understand parts of their personality they are unaware of themselves, and they have discovered things about themselves as the story unfolds.
Use A Johari Window
Think of the Johari Window – In the open pane there are things known to self and others, then there are things known only to self, there are things known by others and not by self, and finally things about the character that are unknown to both. These are the things the character will learn of their journey.
Making your character want something big will give you a good starting point to build around. What will Jane or Belle do get what her heart desires? Of course, what she will do wholly depends on how you’ve set her up. So much women’s fiction, historical and modern literary fiction is based on morally deviant characters these days because its an easy way to get Jane or Belle to do something extraordinary, something shocking and unexpected.
What makes these characters so well loved is that they overcame the obstacles society and their families put in front of them.
So, to write an attractive female character, she needs a goal and a lot of opposition, not necessarily a bad-ass attitude to the law.
Draw a Picture Warts and All
Angels are for heaven, not this earthly realm.
Being human, male or female, means we come with strengths and weaknesses and lots of imperfections. Try to make your characters interestingly flawed. Strengths, when we rely on them too much can be our downfall just as much as weaknesses.
Fears and Weaknesses
Overcoming weaknesses could be the making of a remarkable historical character, so don’t think to create a sassy heroine she has to be macho or fearless.
The most common fears for women are pretty much the same as they have always been. Which of these fears are you going to challenge your female historical characters with?
not getting married or finding a life partner,
not having kids or losing a child,
getting old, maimed or scarred,
being killed or raped,
being trapped in a loveless relationship,
ending up in poverty or dying alone.
Good writers let the reader know which fate awaits their historical heroine should she fail.
Mesmerising historical characters use everything they’ve got, their strengths, weaknesses, and their ingenuity to save themselves from their horrible fate.
Not the Prettiest Girl in Town
Characters we come to love are not the prettiest girls in town or the girls who never lose their temper.
Historical women had pride, intellect and ambition. The felt pain, they hated people, and of you had been around to prick them they would bleed.
If your historical female character is the sidekick to an all-conquering male protagonist, why shouldn’t she feel peeved and throw the odd spanner in the works from time to time?
Let your characters surprise you and surprise themselves.
Turn the tables on them, flip things around. Make what seemed impossible possible.
Let your characters find their courage, make fortuitous mistakes, try something they have never tried before even if it is taking the wrong advice.
Let your characters learn painful lessons, be confronted by their hypocrisy or the results of their stupidity.
Let them learn a secret that gives them power over others – lead them into temptation, and see how they perform.
Remember, whether you’re creating a female character or writing about a woman, she’s just human.
And that being human is to be full of possibilities.
Julia Herdman writes history and historical fiction. Her book Sinclair is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s.
Strong female leads include the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam.
Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street. Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.
Sinclair is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s. Strong female leads include the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam. Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street. Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.
Find a Good Starting Point:
When I wrote my book, Sinclair, I had no idea where or when to start my story. I had had the idea for a book for a long time, but it was very unformed. I wanted to write a book that was a good book to read, but I was struggling for somewhere to start.
I had discovered I had married into a family whose ancestors were apothecary surgeons working at Guy’s Hospital and living in Tooley Street close to London Bridge in the late 18th century.
The family were quite a well-documented, as the historical record goes. I had already done a lot of research, but I did not have a story and I could not see how I was ever going to write a book.
Determined not to give up on my quest to be a writer of novels I searched the internet for ideas and found one that I thought would work for me. I looked for a dramatic historical incident, adapted it and put my characters into it. Suddenly, my writer’s block had disappeared, and my characters were telling their own story.
The sinking of the Halsewell, by Turner
Keep the End in Mind:
When I was writing my book Sinclair, I always knew how the story would end.
I did not know how my characters would get there, but I knew where I wanted to get them.
Keeping the end in mind is a tried an tested technique in many endeavours, and it works well when you’re writing historical fiction or any book for that matter.
Hit the Books:
Getting the history right is important when writing historical fiction, but don’t get hung up on having to get everything right in the first draft. If you don’t know what they called something in the 1870s, just give the thing its common name and get on with the flow of your story.
Details can be corrected later. What cannot be repaired are fundamental errors such basing your book on an iron or steel ship in the 1780s when everything was made of wood.
Details matter, to the avid historical fiction reader. I remember reading a book set in the 1950s and the author described the stuffing coming out of an old settee as foam. It grated on me all the way through the book.
When I wrote my book I had to research the history of medicine and the key players in its development, particularly the London teaching hospitals.
To my horror, I found that medicine of the 1780s was very primitive. There were no anaesthetics, no antibiotics and doctors didn’t even have stethoscopes.
Getting a feel for scale is hard when you’re writing about the past.
Visiting the sites or similar locations to those you are writing about in your book will help you get a sense of how long it took people to do things in the past.
Putting the house or the street you are writing about into its context will help you paint a more vivid picture. I looked at old maps, old painting and illustrations and used contemporary descriptions of places I used in my story when I could find.
I also visited the central locations in Sinclair – London, Edinburgh and Beverley in Yorkshire.
When I write about the past, I know I am taking my reader into a foreign country.
Beyond the memory of your own generation, the past is a mystery, it is an uncharted territory that is both dangerous and exciting.
I aim to create a world my reader can believe because I want to write a book that is a good read. I want to show my reader a world that they might have experienced if they had lived in that time and place.
As a writer, I place myself inside my characters, I see the world I have created through their eyes because I am telling their story.
So, remember to think about the journey your characters will take, what will they be like when your tale is told. What will they have learned about life, themselves and their friends? No matter how accurate your history is if your characters are not believable and do not grow, you have not written a story, people will want to read.
Here are some websites to try if you’re thinking about writing historical fiction:
This London based historical fiction is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s. Sinclair is the eponymous hero but there are strong female leads including the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam. Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street. Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.
A generation has been lost on the Western Front when this London based historical romance gets started. The dead have been buried. A harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins in London. Ghosts of the summer of 1914 linger tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles.
Everyone at Abingdon Pryory wants to forget the past. The old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into journalism. Fenton Wood-Lacy is exiled in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville recovers from shell shock. Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance.
Circles of Time captures the age in the midst of one of England’s most gracious manor houses, in the steamy nightclubs of London’s Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed—but only for a moment.
The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy’s monumental chronicle of the lives of the moneyed Forsytes. As London based historical fiction goes you really could do no better.
The Forsytes are a family at war with each other. The story of Soames Forsyte’s marriage to the beautiful and rebellious Irene and its effects upon the whole Forsyte clan run through the series.
The Forsyte Saga is a brilliant social satire of the acquisitive sensibilities of a comfort-bound class in its final glory. Galsworthy spares none of his characters, revealing their weaknesses and shortcomings as clearly as he does the tenacity and perseverance that define the most influential members of the Forsyte family.
In his autobiography, Anthony Trollope called the Palliser Novels “the best work of my life,” adding “I think Plantagenet Palliser stands more firmly on the ground than any other personage I have created.”
These London based historical novels centre around the stately politician Plantagenet Palliser, but the interest is less in politics than in the lively social scene Trollope creates against a Parliamentary backdrop.
Trollops’ keen eye for the subtleties of character and “great apprehension of the real” impressed contemporary writers from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Henry James, and in the Palliser Novels we find him at his very best.
This is a masterful portrait of Victorian society and politics with a profoundly human touch.,
Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode.
Set in the 1840s, this London based historical romance starts when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters and begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 at the Duchess of Richmond’s new legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever, but you’ll have to read the book to find out whose it is.
The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off and All Change
Howard offers a classic English country-house saga, in this impressive London based historical saga covering the late 30s to late 50s. As the various members of the upper-middle-class Cazalet family circle are hatched, matched and dispatched against a background of the changing times Howard keeps the family and the story together. Her characters are forensically interrogated to reveal their strengths and their weaknesses. This historical fiction is based on her own experience, giving Howard’s characters a ring of authenticity that is rare. The war looms large and alters lives. It is the social history of this class of people who would disappear with the modernity and taxes of the 1960s.
It was November and the war had been over for more than a year when I took Rosamond Furnivall to live with her great aunt in Cumbria.
Like me, Rosamond was an orphan. On a clear summer’s day in 1944, a V2 fell silent, dropped out of the sky and obliterated her parents leaving her silent and brittle.
My parents died before the war. My father drove the car off the road and into a ravine. We lived in Kenya at the time. They were on the way home from a house party. He was drunk and they were probably arguing. They always argued. My mother didn’t stand a chance.
A few weeks after the funeral, I was packed off to a boarding school in Kent. I was eight. When school ended I found myself homeless so I joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, the WAAFs. It was 1939.
I spent the next six years in Whitehall typing orders for the Allied High Command. Like Rosamond, I was burdened with grief but my sorrow was not for my parents it was for the people I had grown to love in London, the friends and lovers I would never see again. I was sad too for the countless, nameless people who had died following the orders I so carefully typed. You see, from an early age, I knew there was no gentle way to destroy a life.
Peace found me signing on at one of London’s most prestigious domestic service agencies. I wanted to get away from the city; put the past behind me. More than anything, I wanted to live in a place where I could breathe fresh air and feel the ground under my feet.
The woman at the agency was impressed saying staff of my calibre were hard to find. So, after a single interview with the owner of the agency I was engaged to escort Rosamond to Cumbria.
The Journey North
“Hester, where shall we sit?” Rosamond whispered nervously as we struggled down the platform with our suitcases. A porter saw us and picked up our cases. I showed him our tickets and caught a glimpse of a photograph I kept in my wallet. It was a photograph of my parents sitting on the veranda of our house in Kenya drinks in hand and smiling at the camera. The porter showed us to a first class compartment at the front of the train and we settled into our seats.
I thought for a moment about the photograph. The camera had caught my mother and father in a vignette of happiness; the lens had trapped a fiction but I was glad of it. I looked at little Rosamond and was sad that she had no photograph, no memento of happier times.
At precisely nine-thirty, the Glasgow train pulled out of the station. The journey through the bombed scared city was slow but gradually the dereliction of war was replaced by a frozen white landscape of winter fields.
Rosamond was a beautiful child. Her thick hair was the colour of burnished copper and her blue eyes were proud and defiant like the portrait of her namesake by Rossetti I had seen in the National Gallery before the war. When she grew up she would have the power to break many hearts. My own heart had been broken many times. My father was the first of course, and I had inherited my mother’s knack for picking the type of man guaranteed to disappoint.
I had never had much to do with children. During the long years of war I had never thought of having a family of my own but now, looking at Rosamond, or Rosy as I was starting to call her, I felt an overwhelming urge to care for her, to hold her and keep are safe. She stirred some deep primal instinct in me. I thought it was because I understood her vulnerability and her pain but I really didn’t care what it was, it was strong and I liked it.
We read stories and played cards to pass the time and arrived in Keswick after dark. Following the instructions I had been given we waited on the platform for Miss Furnivall’s chauffeur to take us to the Hall. The train pulled away. We watched anxiously as the alighting passengers pulled up their collars and headed for the ticket hall and their homes.
The platform cleared and a man in a heavy coat and flat cap approached us. After a brusque and perfunctory greeting, he led us to an old black Bentley parked outside and put our suitcases in the boot. We sat in the back and Mr. Lewis coaxed, the Bentley into life. The car lurched forward with a splutter and we were off, heading away from the town.
I suddenly felt nervous. I realised I knew nothing of Rosamond’s great aunt or where we were heading. The idea of living in a hall in Cumbria had seemed romantic and exciting in London but now sitting in the car travelling into the night I was not so sure.
A few miles outside the town, we turned off the main road into a steep lane. The engine began to labour. The moon was high bathing the frost covered hills and vales in its cold milky light. We passed through a pair of large stone gateposts with spiky statues of rampant stags on top. The drive was overhung with trees. There were no neat lawns or rhododendrons at Furnivall Hall. Jagged rocks pocked out of the ground catching the moonlight on their angry faces. Rosy slipped her hand into mine and I held it tightly.
Eventually, the drive flattened out and a large stone house came into view. Fashioned from dark Cumbrian stone it stood proudly silhouetted against the densely wooded hillside. The leafless branches dragged against the walls. Beyond the woods, the bare fell stretched up towards the starry sky. The car crunched onto the gravel of the oval drive and stopped in an eerie silence.
Every sound was amplified by the stillness. Our feet crunched loudly on the gravel. A pair of owls hooted in the distance. The paintwork was ancient and peeling and everywhere there was a strong smell of musty earth and decay. The house was dark. Rosamond turned her face to mine and I smiled to reassure her.
Our driver found a torch in the glove compartment and waved it at the door. “We live in the back in the winter.”
I took Rosy’s hand and we followed him through the vast, oak door. The beam of golden light revealed a large central hall. In the gloom I could see a magnificent bronze chandelier hanging from the middle of the ceiling; standing next to the west wall there was a handsome grand piano, and at the end of the room there was a great fireplace with a set of fire dogs but there was no welcoming fire burning tonight. A life-sized portrait of a woman dressed in a white high collared gown, the sort worn by debutantes, hung over the empty fireplace. The moonlight from the window above the front door made the woman’s face as ghostly as her frock. Her smile was almost a sneer. Her cold blue eyes looked as sharp as a pair of steel daggers. “Who’s that?” I asked pointing to the portrait.
“That’s Miss Maud, your aunt, Miss Rosamond,” replied Mr. Lewis immune to its hostility. In the kitchen, at the back of the house, we were introduced to his wife. Mrs. Lewis was the cook and housekeeper. She explained that Miss Maud and Miss Stark her companion, were in bed and that we would meet them in the morning.
There was no electricity in the house. It had never been connected, the house was too remote. Taking an oil lamp the Housekeeper led us to our rooms taking us up the hall’s Jacobean staircase past portraits of generations of Furnivalls. Rosamond’s bedroom was at the back of the house and mine at the front. Mrs. Lewis departed and left me alone with my charge. I put the lamp on the dressing table so that the light would be reflected and magnified by the mirror, a trick I had learned as a child in Kenya. e room was freezing.
I dressed Rosy in her pajamas and got her into bed. to sleep Rosy,” I said kissing the back of her head, “you’ll soon be cosy and warm.”
“Goodnight Hester,” my little darling yawed back to me and it was then that I realised just how like her aunt Rosy was; she had inherited her aunt Furnivall’s piercing blue eyes.
The curtains in my room were open. I looked out across the frozen landscape. Beyond the drive, I could see a patch of shiny black water catching the moonlight. The scene was sublime but eerie. I undressed reluctantly and got into my cold damp bed. I decided to leave the curtains open so that I could look at the stars and listen to the silence which after so many years in London was totally alluring if a little unnerving.
As the need to sleep fastened its grip on me I was sure I could hear a strange tapping noise on the landing. I thought I could hear the piano music coming up from the hall below. Mr. Lewis must have left a radio or a gramophone on somewhere. I turned over and went to sleep.
In the days that followed, Rosy and I found that most of the house was off bounds to us.The whole of the East wing was locked and the windows were shuttered from the inside. Miss Maud and her companion, Miss Stark occupied the west-wing.
The octogenarian Miss Maud was no longer the beauty in the portrait. Her once proud face was lined with deep heavy creases. Her cruel lips had all but disappeared but her eyes were still as sharp as two icy jewels. Maud’s hearing obliged her to use an extravagant ear trumpet to hear the snippets of conversation Miss Stark barked down it otherwise she was content to read a book or work at the tapestry. The two old ladies seemed pleased to have Rosy for company.by the fire.
Rosy and I spent many happy hours exploring the house.The nursery like the rest of the house was frozen in time, stuck in bygone days. There had been no babies at Furnivall Hall for at least two generations.
Over a cup of tea in the kitchen one morning I asked Mrs. Lewis about Rosy’s parents and why they had not lived at the Hall.
“Old Lord Furnivall, cut him off,” the housekeeper clucked. “Chucked him out of the family from what I’ve heard. He’d turned communist or some such thing and fell out with the old man. Rosy’s grandfather was the last Lord Furnivall’s only son. By rights, he should have inherited everything but he never got a bean. By all accounts, he went to London and made a name for himself in Law. I believe his son was a doctor and was on leave when he and his wife were killed.”
“Yes, that’s what I was told,” I concurred. Then I changed the subject to Miss Maud.
“You think Maud was beautiful, well you should see the portrait of her sister Aida. Now she was a real beauty,” roared Mrs. Lewis. “I can show you if you like but if I do you must never let on. Miss Maud has forbidden anyone to look at it.”
Intrigued I followed Mrs. Lewis up the stairs to a room Rosy and I had discovered was kept locked at the front of the house. Mrs. Lewis slipped the key into the lock and turned it. The door opened onto a dark and dusty room. The housekeeper drew the curtains and the grey winter light flooded in. Above the mantelpiece, there was a portrait of a woman similar to that of Miss Maud in the hall below. The woman in this picture was wearing the same type of high-collared gown. Miss Aida was a beauty indeed. In the picture, her thick red hair hung in a loose bun at the nape of the neck but unlike her sister’s shape angular features Aida’s features were soft. The woman looking at me had the same haughty look as her younger sister. Her eyes were as cold as crystal and emitted a look of total disdain.
“What happened to her Mrs. Lewis?” “
She died, my dear, went mad in the asylum. Now, Miss Maud can’t bear to look at her.”
“Oh, how awful for the family,” I said thinking of the photograph in my wallet. Although the image of my parents gave lie to their true relationship, I had always carried it with me. Somehow, I needed the comfort of the fantasy. I need to remember them in better days; it made me feel that I had once been happy and that I could be happy again. Miss Maud clearly did not feel the same about her sister.
That night I woke to the sound of tapping on the landing and piano music in the hall. This time it was louder and more discordant as if someone was playing out their anguish and distress. The wind whipped up outside and started to howl. The window frames began to rattle. I turned the wick of my lamp up and got out of bed. Outside it was snowing. The jagged landscape was disappearing under a smooth blanket of white.
I had to know where the music was coming from. I opened my bedroom door and peered over the gallery balustrade. I am not sure what I expected to see. There was no one at the piano but the sound seemed to be coming from it. Trembling, I forced myself down the stairs. When I was halfway Mrs. Lewis appeared from the kitchen. “Go back to bed Miss Hester. There is nothing to fear. It’s just Miss Aida playing her piano. She does no one any harm, let her be.”
Miss Aida! Miss Aida was dead. Mrs. Lewis, was she talking about a ghost? I turned around slowly taking in what the housekeeper had said. She was telling me that the Hall was haunted by the spirit of Miss Maud’s sister. Was that why Maud could not look at the portrait of Aida?
The next day was my free day so I asked to borrow the Bentley saying I wanted to buy Christmas cards in the village. It was true I did need to buy cards but I also wanted to get out of the house. I needed to think. Miss Stark agreed to my request reluctantly. Her concern was not my driving but the icy weather.
I drove the old car out of the garage and made my way down the snow-covered lane into the village and parked ext to the pub. I chose my cards then retired to the pub where a large fire burned in the grate. I was relieved to be away from the Hall, glad to have a moment outside its gloomy and increasingly oppressive atmosphere. I was just wondering if I would be able to afford a cottage for Rosy and me when a man’s voice startled me back to the present.
“You must be from the Hall,” said the man.
I looked up to see a fair-haired man in his thirties dressed in tweed and a thick woollen jumper holding a pint of ale.
“Yes, I am,”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I recognised the car. I have a habit of put two and two together. My name’s Peter, Peter Wilson. I live in the village. Well, my parents do. I’m just visiting; between jobs as it were.”
“Hester McKinnon,” I said shaking his hand. “I’m Miss Furnivall’s niece’s Nanny.”
“It’s a pleasure Miss McKinnon, or may I can you Hester?” he said sitting beside me.
“Oh, Hester’s fine,” I said returning his smile, which was quite unlike me.
“How are you getting on up there? I can’t imagine old Miss Maud with a niece who needs a nanny.”
“You know the family then?”
“Everyone around here knows them and I can’t help wondering what a nice girl like you is doing working up there.”
I had to admit I was beginning to wonder myself, although I wasn’t sure I liked his tone, it was a long time since I was a nice girl. I was desperate to spill the beans about what was going on at the Hall but decided to say nothing. I didn’t want to look like a neurotic fool talking about ghosts and pianos that played tunes in the night and the way the family seemed to take Aida’s nightly musical ramblings it in their stride.
“Will you be here for Christmas?” he asked tentatively.
“Yes,” I replied feeling he was about to make me a proposal I did not want to reject.
“I have two tickets for the Christmas Eve barn dance in the Village Hall. Would you do me the honour of being my guest?”
I had quickstepped and jived in London but I hadn’t been country dancing since I was at school. I looked into his eyes and found myself agreeing. He said he would pick me up from the Hall at seven on Christmas Eve. When he had finished his pint he insisted on accompanying me to the post box before he waved me goodbye.
The Girl in the Snow
It started to snow again. I drove back to the Hall and went to look for Rosy. The daylight was fading. I lit a lamp and called for her but no child came running to see me. I checked all Rosy’s usual hidey-holes and favourite places but she was nowhere to be found. Finally, I went to the kitchen and asked Mrs. Lewis if she had seen the child. Mrs. Lewis shook her head. “No love, I haven’t. I thought she was in the drawing room with Miss Maud.”
My heart sank, neither Miss Maud nor Miss Stark had seen her. Sensing my distress Mrs. Lewis said. I’ll send Mr. Lewis out to look for her. She won’t have gone far in this weather. The silly girl’s probably trying to make a snowman.”
I pulled on my coat and followed Mr. Lewis out of the house. I watched as the beam of his torch picked out a single line of tiny footprints being filled by the fast falling snow. Miss Furnivall was watching from the drawing-room window. She was in a fearful state. We followed the footprints through the thorny undergrowth, past the gnarled oak trees across the road and down the hill towards the lake.
Tears started to stream down my face and froze on my cheeks. I followed in Mr. Lewis’s footprints hoping and praying we would spot her soon. Then through the snow, we saw a shepherd coming towards us carrying my little Rosy in his arms. Fear ripped at my heart. Oh God, I thought. Is she dead?
In the kitchen, Mrs. Lewis and I stripped the child of her cold wet clothes and warmed her by the stove. I wrapped Rosy in a blanket and cradled her in my arms and Mr. Lewis went to fetch the doctor on Miss Maud’s orders. As the child’s face turned from white to pink the terror in my mind subsided. An hour later, Mr. Lewis arrived with Peter Wilson in tow.
“The doctor’s out. His son’s here instead.”
“I am a doctor too,” assured Peter with a smile. He was always smiling. I think that’s what first attracted me to him. He examined Rosy then pronounced her fit enough to go to bed with a hot water bottle. Before he left he reminded me of my promise for Christmas Eve.
I decided to Rosy why she had gone out into the snow over breakfast the next day.
“It was the girl,” she said. “She called for me.”
“What girl Rosy?” I demanded.
“The little girl at the window. She said she needed me to go to her mother.”
“Don’t tell me lies Rosy,” I said angrily. “We followed your footprints Rosy. There was no little girl. Besides, where would this girl have come from. There are no houses around here?”
“I’m not lying Hester. I didn’t look at her feet. She held my hand tightly. Her hand was very cold Hester. She took me down the path towards the lake. Her mother was there. She was crying, Hester. She was very upset. She called me over and put me on her knee then she started to sing and I fell asleep. I’m telling you the truth. My mother in heaven knows I’m not lying.”
Rosy had never mentioned her mother before, this was a new development, and I was not sure it was good one. Why would she make up such a story and why would she bring her dead mother into it? I tried not to be angry but I was perplexed. I went to Miss Furnivall and shouted Rosy’s story down her ear trumpet. When I came to the part about the little girl out in the snow, coaxing and tempting Rosy outside and the woman by the lake the old woman threw her arms up and screamed, “Oh! Heaven, forgive! Heaven have mercy!”
Miss Stark stepped forward to comfort her mistress but to no avail. Miss Furnivall was hysterical. She shrieked, “Hester! Keep our Rosy from that child! It will lure her to her death! That child is evil like that woman! Tell Rosy the girl is a wicked and that she must have nothing more to do with her.”
Maud collapsed into the back of her chair sobbing and Mrs. Stark escorted me out of the drawing room. I did not understand what was happening. I stood in the hall wondering if the ghost of the child was linked to the ghost of the woman who played the piano. Had Aida had a child that no one ever talked about? Was it the loss of the child that drove her mad? As I was thinking these thoughts, I remembered that I did not believe in ghosts, at least I had not until I had come to Furnivall Hall. I had lived through the blitz. I thought I knew what death was but this business of ghosts and spirits was something I did not comprehend. Had I not heard Aida’s ghostly music in the dead of night? Had I not heard the strange tapping sound on the landing each night before I went to sleep as if someone were walking with a stick? A shiver ran down my spine but it was not because I was cold. I shook off the shuddered and decided to pull myself together. For goodness sake, I told myself, the music must have come from a radio or a gramophone, what other explanation could there be? Then I thought, but there is no electricity in the house!
I was uneasy and decided to keep Rosy close.When I put her to bed I stayed with her until she was asleep then locked the door. As we counted the days to Christmas Aida’s nocturnal piano playing became wilder and angrier. Everyone seemed fearful as if they were expecting something terrible to happen.
I tried to keep things as normal as possible for Rosy but inside I felt as if I were going crazy. I was sure that if I didn’t get away I would soon end up as mad as everyone else in the house.
I decided to tackle Mrs. Lewis again on the subject of the Furnivall’s again. I needed to understand what was happening.
Mrs. Lewis, poured herself a cup of tea and explained that the last Lord Furnivall was a man eaten up with pride and his daughters, Aida and Maud, were much the same. Suitors came and went but no one it seemed was good enough for his girls.
“They say that the two sisters fell in love with the same man; their music master! The man was a handsome foreign gentleman, an Italian called Carboni,” she said, “and he was a cad. It seems that Miss Aida, being the older and more beautiful of the two sisters decided the scoundrel should be hers and stole him from under Maud’s nose. Aida said she was going to Switzerland for her health but in reality, she was in Venice in a love nest with the fellow. When Aida returned to England, she had a little girl with her. Her father would not have approved of her choice of husband; if they had ever married of course. I heard the child was farmed out to a couple in the village, in the house where Dr. Wilson and his family live today.”
“Oh,” I wonder if Peter knew the story when he asked me how I was getting on at the Hall,” I said thinking aloud.
“Everyone around here knows my love. It’s only Miss Maud that thinks it’s still a secret.”
“What happened to Aida?”
“Well, they say her husband, if he ever was, of course, abandoned her and that she was forced to keep the child secret especially from her sister. Maud had a very jealous nature when she was young. By all accounts, Aida was a good a mother as she could be in the circumstances. The little girl was left at the cottage and her mother rode over to see her once a week.” “Maud, however, had not given up the hope that the music master would return one day to marry her and Aida could not resist mocking her sister’s false hope. Knowing what she did Aida taunted her sister mercilessly saying that the man of her dreams would never come back and that Maud was too ugly and fat to be wanted by any man let alone a handsome man like Signor Carboni. In the meantime, their brother had become a communist or some other kind of discontent at Oxford and the old lord had disowned and disinherited him. “
“As the years went by the family grew further and further apart. Old Lord Furnivall suffered a stroke and was forced to walk with a cane. The stroke made him even more bad-tempered and angry. Aida, who loved her daughter dearly, was desperate to be with her child and with her father’s growing incapacity she became brave and moved the child into her rooms in the East wing saying she was a cottager’s child she had taken a fancy to.
Miss Stark, who was always more of a friend to Maud than a servant found out about Aida’s marriage and on Christmas Eve in 1910 she told the old Lord all about it. Well, you can imagine what happened can’t you Hester? There was a big bust up by all accounts and people say the old man hit his daughter with his stick then he turned her and her child out of the house with only the clothes they stood in. The next day some shepherds found Miss Aida sitting under tree nursing her child. The child was dead poor think. They said it had a terrible gash on its right shoulder. Aida has lost her mind and was taken to the asylum in Keswick. She died in the ‘flu’ in 1919.”
Mr. Lewis brought a Christmas tree up from the village and Rosy and I made paper chains to hang on it. Winter had the fells in its vice-like grip. The frost was bearing hard into the ground and a freezing wind was howling in the trees. I did my best to carry on as normal. As the last of the daylight faded on Christmas Eve I heard the west drawing-room bell ring three times, it was Miss Maud’s call for me. I took Rosy by the hand and went to see the old woman. From the drawing room windows, I could see that it had started to snow again and I wondered if Peter would be able to get his car up the lane to collect me for the dance.
“Why did you bring Miss Rosamond with you?” demanded a disgruntled Miss Stark. “Because I was afraid of her being tempted out by the child in the snow, Miss Stark, “ I said knowing I had Miss Maud on my side. “I have decided Rosy must be with someone at all times. Mrs. Lewis will stay with her while I am away at the barn dance.”
“That is what we wanted to speak to you about. Surely, you are not going out on a night like this Miss McKinnon. Rosamond needs you here.”
I was about to argue my case when Miss Maud’s face drained to grey. “’I hear voices! Oh no, it’s my father!”
“I can hear him too, Aunt Maud,” cried Rosy clinging to my dress. “Hester, he’s going to hurt the little girl. She wants me to help her.”
Fear gripped me. The warmth of the sitting room disappeared and the ghostly whispers spread through the air. Soon I could hear them myself.
Miss Furnivall walked as if in a trance into the hall. Miss Stark followed. My chest was so tight I could hardly breathe. I held Rosy close to me. The ghostly whispers were replaced by the sound of a woman screaming. Rosy tugged my arm, I picked up a lamp and we followed the old women into the hall.
The bronze chandelier hanging from the ceiling began to sway and the doors of the East wing that had been locked since the day we arrived snapped open. Rosy looked up at me. “’Hester! I must go,” she cried. “The little girl is here; she needs me.”
“No Rosy,” I said holding her tight to my body. If I had died at that moment, I swear my hands would not have released her. I would not let these phantoms have her.
There was a thunderous crash and the front door swung open. Snow began to blow into the great hall. I was still holding Rosy as a milky light began to fill the room. An image of a tall old man appeared. He was poking a beautiful woman with a child clinging to her skirts with his walking cane.
“Hester! Look!’ cried, Rosy. “It’s the lady! The little girl is with her.”
I held her tightly as we watched the phantom images replay their horrific scene. Miss Maud and Miss Stark stood under the swaying chandelier transfixed.The old man raised his stick and struck Aida and her child. The ghostly woman stood firm shielding her child from his blows. Then he caught her with a savage blow to the head. The ephemeral woman crumpled and the old man raised his stick to the child. Then Maud called out, “Oh, father! Father, spare the child!”
A new figure appeared in the ghostly scene. It was the figure of a woman in a diaphanous high-collared gown. She joined the old man. The look on her face was one of terrifying hate and triumphant malice.
The new apparition raised her head and laughed at the woman on the floor. Her cruel eyes rejoiced and her lips quivered in anticipation. I turned to Rosy. We both recognised the figure from the portrait in the hall. We watched as Maud took her father’s cane and smashed it into the child’s shoulder. Her sister screamed as the child fell beside her. Then Maud chased sister and her child out of the house and into the freezing December night.
When the drama was over, I scanned the room for old Miss Furnivall. I found her prostrate on the floor with Miss Stark by her side. She looked dead but her lips were moving. I leaned forward to hear her last words. “What is done in youth can never be undone in age! What is done in youth can never be undone in age!” the old woman muttered over and over again.
As Maud fell silent the yellow beam of car headlights flashed through the open front door. It was Peter. He had made it up the lane. He examined Miss Maud and pronounced her dead then he gave a sedative to Miss Stark. We retired to the drawing room, Mrs. Lewis made everyone hot sweet tea, then and put Rosy to bed. The atmosphere in the house had changed; the ghosts had disappeared and taken their venom with them.
“I wasn’t sure you’d make it because of the snow,” I said as Peter was about to leave. I was in no mood for a dance and I could not leave Rosy.
“I didn’t want to disappoint you,” he replied with a smile.
I smiled back and kissed him lightly on the cheek knowing that somehow he never would.
All great stories have baddies. Baddies or antagonists are the characters who get in your hero or heroine’s way. They create conflict and problems – all the things readers love. Evil villains help create a story that is exciting and sometimes even scary. Evil is up there with Love, Death, Beauty, Friendship, and Fate. Sooner or later we encounter at least a few of them in a good story. Here are 10 ways you can turn a character bad as a writer.
1. Bad Parents
When King Minos became king of Crete he challenged his brother to a dual. He prayed to Poseidon, the sea god for some help. Poseidon sent him a snow-white bull. The deal was that the king had to kill the bull to show honour to the gods, but he decided to keep it and kill one of his own bulls. To punish Minos, Poseidon made Pasiphaë, Minos’s wife, fall deeply in love with the bull. She was so in love that she had craftsman Daedalus make a hollow wooden cow, then she climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull. The offspring was the monstrous Minotaur. Pasiphaë nursed him, and as he grew he became ferocious and started to eat people. Minos went to the oracle at Delphi for advice on how to handle his monstrous son. He had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur under the palace.
Deviant parents give a character a bad start in life as the Greeks knew all too well!
American author Ray Bradbury gave the theme a modern twist with his short story The Veldt in 1950.
The Hadley family live in an automated house called “The Happylife Home,” filled with machines that do every task. The two children, Peter and Wendy, become fascinated with the “nursery,” a virtual reality room able to reproduce any place they imagine.
The parents, George and Lydia, begin to wonder if there is something wrong with their way of life.
Lydia tells George, “That’s just it. I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can? I cannot.”
They are also perplexed and confused as to why the nursery is stuck on an African setting, with lions in the distance, eating a dead figure. There they also find recreations of their personal belongings and hear strangely familiar screams. Wondering why their children are so concerned with this scene of death, they decide to call a psychologist.
The psychologist, David McClean, suggests they turn off the house, move to the country, and learn to be more self-sufficient.
The children, feeling reliant on the nursery, beg their parents to let them have one last visit. Their parents agree and when they come to fetch them, the children lock George and Lydia into the nursery with the pride of lions. Shortly after, it is implied that the lions eat George and Lydia.
When the psychologist comes by to look for George and Lydia, he finds the children enjoying lunch on the veldt and sees the lions eating figures in the distance – George and Lydia, the reader is lead to presume.
Favouritism is a commonly used trope in Fiction Land. Bad enough when you’re an only child, but if you’re among a pack of siblings, this particular trope is nearly guaranteed to raise its head at some point in order to make life even more difficult.
Parental Favouritism is just what it sounds like — one child is given preference over their siblings.
Cain and Abel were sons of Adam and Eve in the biblical Book of Genesis. Cain, the firstborn, tilled the soil, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. The brothers made sacrifices to God, each of his own produce, but God favoured Abel’s sacrifice instead of Cain’s. Cain murdered Abel.
God punished Cain with a life of wandering and set a mark on him so that no man would kill him. Cain then dwelt in the land of Nod where he built a city and fathered the line of descendants beginning with Enoch. The narrative never explicitly states Cain’s motive though it does describe him as being wrathful, and his motive is traditionally assumed to be envy.
This biblical story and archetype of brothers locked in dual for their father’s affection is the basis for many a story and many a baddie. Sibling rivalry, envy, and wrath can motivate a character to a lot of very bad behaviour.
Favourites come in a number of varieties: Birth Order, Gender, Personality, Biological versus Adopted or Step Children – just think of all those fairy stories!
Way back in Ancient Greece King Tereus of Trace takes his wife Procne and her sister Philomela to visit their father in Athens. On the way, he lusts after Philomela. One night he rapes her. To stop her telling his wife he cuts out her tongue.
Those Greeks sure knew how to do baddies. Here sexual desire, power, and guilt are the key motivators along with a good dollop of misogyny.
Continuing the story of the now mute Philomela; she weaves a tapestry that tells her story. When her sister finds out what has happened she kills her son by Tereus; boils him up and serves him up to his father for dinner. Philomela is turned into a Nightingale and given a beautiful voice by the gods to make amends for her terrible ordeal.
Yes, this is an extreme case and the origin of the expression revenge is a dish best served cold. Your characters don’t have to murder children to get their revenge putting rotting shrimps in the air conditioning ducts of his nice new apartment might be enough revenge for a women spurned.
Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth couldn’t just be happy with her Scottish castle and thanedom, could she?
“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it. (1.5.15-20)
After reading the letter from her husband which recounts the witches’ prophesy, Lady Macbeth’s thoughts immediately turn to murder. Problem: Her husband Macbeth has ambition, but he doesn’t have the nerve to see it through. Luckily Lady Macbeth is man enough for both of them.
The novel, The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett, begins when the knockout Miss Wonderly walks into Spade’s office. It turns out she’s a knockout with money. And she wants to hire the services of a private detective to find her missing sister, who supposedly ran off with a crook named Thursby. Neither Spade nor his partner Miles Archer, buy her story. But with the money she’s paying, who cares? When Archer and then Thursby are murdered, Spade realizes that he’s getting more than he bargained for. In fact, just about everyone around Sam Spade dies trying to get their hands on a bird figurine worth…$10,000.
Is the love of money the root of all evil? Charles Dickens thought so. Unlike Hammet he saves his character Scrooge from his lonely fate when the author shows him what happens to greedy and selfish men – that it when the author isn’t bumping them off at a rate of knots!
This terribly sad true-life story shows just what can happen when someone feels rejected. Rejection is painful. Being made to look worthless is a frightening experience so rejection can be a powerful motivation for baddies. Children rejected by their parents are often lonely, angry and hostile to a world they perceive does not love them.
Because being left out can be so painful for children, researchers have spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure out why some children are rejected. About half of rejected boys are aggressive. They hit, kick, or shove more than other boys, and they also tend to be more disruptive and argumentative. However, not all rejected boys are aggressive. Another 13-20% are shy and withdrawn. Still, others are socially awkward. Their odd, disruptive, or immature behaviour is off-putting to peers.
The son of a Hollywood assistant director went on a shooting rampage near the UC Santa Barbara campus slaying 6 people and engaging in a shootout with police which left him dead. The young man was 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, the son of Hunger Games second unit director Peter Rodger. Prior to the rampage, Rodger submitted recordings to Youtube, chronicling his catastrophic emotional state after admittedly being rejected by women for eight years.
7. Feeling Invisible
In 1917, “Baby Jane” Hudson is an adored yet ill-tempered vaudevillian child star while her older sister Blanche lives in her shadow. By 1935, their fortunes have reversed: Blanche is a successful film actress and Jane lives in obscurity, her films having failed.
One night, Jane mocks Blanche at a party, prompting Blanche to run away in tears. That same night, Blanche is paralysed from the waist down in a mysterious car accident that is unofficially blamed on Jane, who is found three days later in a drunken stupor.
In 1962 a wheelchair-bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) and Jane (Bette Davis) are living together in Blanche’s mansion, purchased with Blanche’s movie earnings. By now, Jane has descended into alcoholism and mental illness and treats Blanche with cruelty to punish her for stealing her spotlight.
Later, when Blanche informs Jane she may be selling the house, Jane’s mental health begins to deteriorate further. During an argument, she removes the telephone from Blanche’s bedroom, cutting Blanche off from the outside world.
Jane begins denying Blanche food, until she serves Blanche her dead parakeet on a platter—and, at a later meal, a rat that she killed in the cellar. Jane kills Blanche’s carer and then drives to the beach where she finally goes bonkers as the police arrive to arrest her for the carer’s death and Blanche dies.
This is a powerful case of sibling rivalry, ambition, and ego. The story of these sisters shows just how powerful these motivators can be in the hands of a great writer. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller–horror film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell. Upon the film’s release, it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White.
Lord Varys: Thwarting you has never been my primary ambition, I promise you. Although, who doesn’t like to see their friends fail now and then.
Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish:You’re so right. For instance, when I thwarted your plan to give Sansa Stark to the Tyrells, if I’m going, to be honest, I did feel an unmistakable sense of enjoyment there. Game of Thrones (TV Series), The Climb (2013)
Varys and Littlefinger may seem to be minor players — but the maneuverings of the noble families of Westeros often seem to come back to their ongoing chess game. Varys and Littlefinger articulate two very different philosophies. Lord Petyr Baelish, popularly called Littlefinger, was the Master of Coin on the Small Council under King Robert Baratheon and King Joffrey Baratheon. He was a skilled manipulator and used his ownership of brothels in King’s Landing to both accrue intelligence on political rivals and acquire vast wealth. Baelish’s spy network is eclipsed only by that of his arch-rival Varys.
Love them or hate them, Littlefinger and Varys are the series’ real game changers. They also take the reality TV show approach to competition, forming alliances, lying, and manipulating. Basically, they aren’t here to make friends. They are here to win. But, winning means different things to the two characters and the more they can thwart the other the better.
9. Lies and Betrayal
In the song made famous by Tom Jones the price for lies is death – ‘I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more, why, why Delilah?’ The biblical Delilah was approached by the lords of the Philistines, to discover the secret of Samson’s strength. She was offered eleven hundred pieces of silver for her pains. Three times she asked Samson for the secret of his strength but each time he gave her a false answer. On the fourth occasion, he gave her the true reason: that he did not cut his hair in fulfillment of a vow to God. When he was asleep she allowed his enemies to cut off his hair. They took him, put out his eyes, and bound him with fetters. Later, of course, he took his revenge by bringing the whole house down on his foes.
Betrayal destroys trust. If a loved one betrays us it crushes our faith in ourselves and others. The world and everyone in it can become an ugly place to live in. Betrayal is a particularly effective emotion-filled type of conflict that we can use in fiction to create long-lasting problems for our characters.
10. Being a Psychopath
Characteristics of a psychopath: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioural control, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility, a history of “revocation of conditional release” (i.e. broken parole), multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behaviour.
A recent study suggests that 1-4% of the population is on the psychopathic scale. This means that we’ll probably all meet at least one psychopath in our lives.
Psychopaths love themselves. Even if nobody else loves them. They’ll think they’re the best at whatever it is that they do, even if they suck at it. It’s entirely possible they’ll take credit for other people’s success too – they live vicariously and will work how a way to feel they contributed to it somehow. Ultimately, their world revolves around them and no one else. Psychopaths are great characters to write as they give you so much scope for upsetting others and it’s so rewarding when, as an author, you can give them their comeuppance.
About the author: Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Her debut novel Sinclair is available worldwide on Amazon.
The history of letter writing is part of women’s history. Writing letters to family and friends was one of the new pastimes enjoyed by 18th-century middle-class women. Although the Post Office had been open since 1660 it was not until the 18th century that the use of letters for private correspondence took off. It was only then that middle-class women began to enjoy what had been until then an aristocratic luxury.
Should letters be personal and private, public or works of art? These were the questions being debated in the parlours of the 18th-century chattering classes.
For the 18th century household, the distinction between what was public and what was private was seldom straightforward. Controlling relatives or husbands were frequently concerned by the potential secrecy between correspondents, especially female ones. This gave rise to a general unease about the propriety of women’s letter writing.
Samuel Richardson’s fictional heroines, Pamela and Clarissa are repeatedly praised for their talents in letter-writing by their hosts. but it was an insult to a host if a lady refused to read aloud the contents of her correspondence. The contents of women’s letters were viewed by many in society as public property.
Letter writing was a place where a woman might show off her literary prowess in the same way she might demonstrate her ability on the pianoforte. But, as Richardson wrote to one of his female correspondents, Sophia Westcomb, in 1746, letter-writing was not only a social talent.
‘The Pen is almost the only Means a very modest and diffident Lady (who in Company will not attempt to glare) has to shew herself, and that she has a Mind. … her Closet her Paradise … there she can distinguish Her Self: By this means she can assert and vindicate her Claim to Sense and Meaning.’ (Selected Letters of Samuel Richardson)
Richardson’s sentiment was echoed and expanded by Virginia Woolf two centuries later when she wrote; ” A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” This is the central theme of her book ‘A Room of One’s Own.’ In it, Woolf asserts that unlike their male counterparts, women are routinely denied the time and the space to produce creative works. Instead, they are saddled with household duties and are financially and legally bound to their husbands. By being deprived of rooms of their own, there is little possibility for women to rectify the situation. Woolf’s assertion, even in the mid 20th century was deemed revolutionary.
An example of a woman who used her letter-writing to assert their intelligence and enter the public sphere is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Montagu’s Letters from Turkey, written between 1716 and 1718 and published in 1762, were influential both as models of epistolary style and as anthropological works.
Other women followed where Montagu had led. Mary Masters’ ‘Familiar Letters’ (1755) discussed women’s education and domestic abuse. Hester Chapone published her ‘Letters on the Improvement of the Mind’ in 1773. These letters and Elizabeth Carter’s to Catherine Talbot were published in 1809, were referred to by Elizabeth Gaskell in ‘Cranford.’
After being estranged from her husband, Lady Sarah Pennington wrote ‘An Unfortunate Mothers Advice to Her Absent Daughters’. This was a book in a series of letters instructing women on religion, prayer, dress, needlework, the theatre, marriage, dancing, and other “feminine” pursuits. it was published in 1761.
Pennington wrote that a good marriage is rare. “So great is the hazard, so disproportioned the chances, that I could almost wish the dangerous die was never to be thrown for any of you.”
Lady Sarah also discusses the need for a certain “cheerful compliance” when it comes to men and their disagreeable habits. The book enjoyed much popularity and ran to three print runs, the last was in 1803. ((See Vivien Jones, “Mary Wollstonecraft and the literature of advice and instruction,” in Claudia Johnson, ed., Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft (2002), 119-40, at 124).
In one of life’s ironies, it was men not women who would excel when it came to transposing the letter into literature and commercialising it. Perhaps this was because writing for a living was considered morally suspect for women. In an ideal world, women had no reason to seek financial independence through their writing. Nevertheless several of the major female novelists of the period began with the epistolary form.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Fanny Burney abandoned the epistolary form after her first novel Evelina and, most famously, Jane Austen dabbled with the form in her short story ‘Lady Susan’ subsequently finding a more satisfying form in the omniscient authorial narrative.
In its private capacity, the letter allowed a woman confined to the home to communicate outside the home with both men and women. While in the form of published letters it was a valuable platform from which publicly to assert women’s intellectual capabilities. Of course, the eighteenth century did not wholeheartedly embrace the potential of such a development. Both kinds of letters aroused contemporary criticism, but it was the suspicion aroused by private, domestic letters that inspired many of the novels of the period, exploiting as they do the potential scandals and secrets and it was female novelists such as Jane Austen who created the modern novel.
This article is based on an original article by Mona: https://blue-stocking.org.uk/2011/03/01/public-and-private-real-and-fictional-the-rise-of-womens-letter-writing-in-the-eighteenth-century/