This is the story of Princess Anne, the Princess Royal was the eldest daughter of George II.
Princess Anne was born into what we would call a dysfunctional family in May 1709. (For more information about her grandmother and the House of Hanover read my blog on 15th November.) Anne was a remarkable woman in many ways; criticised and praised by contemporary chroniclers for her arrogance and her accomplishments in equal measure.
A Dysfunctional Family
Anne was born at Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover, five years before her paternal grandfather, Elector George Louis, succeeded to the British throne as George I.
Her parents’ relationship with King George I was a troubled one.
Her mother, Caroline of Ansbach, was brought up in the Prussian Court where she was treated as a surrogate daughter and was well educated. It is difficult to know to what extent her experience of life at the boorish and brutal Hanoverian Court influenced her opposition to George I in England.
One cannot help wondering did Caroline suspected her father-in-law of having her mother-in-law’s lover killed? Did she support her husband’s desire to set his mother free from her imprisonment at Ahlden? Whatever the cause, their relationship was not good and Anne’s parents left Hanover in 1714 and did not return.
Political differences between father and son led to factions in the court in Hanover from the late 1710s.
These disagreements carried over to the British court and came to a head following the birth of George and Caroline’s second son, Prince George William in 1717.
At the baby’s christening, Anne’s father publicly insulted the Duke of Newcastle. This so infuriated George I he banished his son and daughter-in-law from St James’s Palace.
The king kept their children, including Anne under his guardianship at Leicester House.
The family rift was healed, in part at least, in 1720 when Anne’s brothers were returned to the care of her parents but she and the other girls remained the wards of the King.
Princess Anne Ravaged by Smallpox
That year, 1720, Anne’s body was ravaged by smallpox. It is estimated the disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year during the closing years of the 18th century.
This near-death experience and her parent’s experience of the disease at the beginning of their marriage led Anner to support her mother’s efforts to test the practice of variolation (an early type of immunisation against smallpox). The practice of variolation was witnessed and recorded by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Charles Maitland while they were in Constantinople.
At the direction of her mother, Queen Caroline, six prisoners condemned to death were offered the chance to undergo variolation instead of execution. The prisoners all took the offer and they all survived, as did six orphan children given the same treatment as a further test. (There were no medical ethics committees then). Convinced of variolation’s safety, the Queen had her two younger daughters, Amelia and Caroline, inoculated. Royal patronage the practice spread the demand for inoculation amongst the upper classes.
Family Feud Continues
On 22 June 1727, George I died while in Germany, making Princess Anne’s father king.
The following year, her elder brother, Frederick, who had been educated in Germany, returned to England. Father and son had not seen one other in 14 years and when they did the fireworks began. Their relationship was even more tempestuous than the one between George I and George II especially after 1733 when Frederick purchased Carlton House and set up what George II considered to be a rival court.
Princess Anne’s Marriage Prospects
Anne’s sisters, Princess Caroline (1713-1757) left,
Princess Amelia (1711-1786), right.
As a daughter of the future British King Anne’s marriage was always going to be a dynastic one. As a princess requiring a Protestant marriage, her options were limited. The government hit on the idea of a marriage with the rather lowly William, Prince of Orange-Nassau to sure up their anti-French alliance.
George II was not enamoured with the proposal and Anne was concerned too because William had a well-known physical deformity. To find out more she dispatched Lord Hervey, a close confidant, to report on its extent.
First Sight of the Hunchback
Hervey reported that although William was no Adonis and his body was as bad as possible; William suffered from a pronounced curvature of the spine, probably the result of sclerosis-like the English King Richard III; he had a pleasing face.
Despite his deformity and the inferiority of his territory, Anne decided she would take him. She was already 25 years old and did not want to end up an old maid surrounded by her warring relatives. When they married in 1734, her mother and sisters wept through the ceremony. Lord Hervey described the marriage as more sacrifice than celebration.
Princess Anne Marries William, Prince of Orange-Nassau
As an outsider and British, Anne was not popular in the Netherlands. Her life must have been a lonely one as she did not get along with her mother-in-law and her husband was frequently on campaign protecting the states of the Dutch Republic from its enemies. In these lonely years Anne concentrated her efforts on literature and playing the harpsichord; she was an accomplished artist, musician, and lifelong friend of her music teacher George Frederic Handel.
Willem Karel Hendrik
Friso van Oranje-Nassau, 1751.
Princess Anne’s Stillborn Baby
Producing the required heir was problematic too. In 1736, Anne gave birth to a stillborn daughter and then another in 1739. Her first live birth came in 1743 with the arrival of Princess Carolina of Orange-Nassau who was followed by another daughter, Princess Anna two years later. Her only son arrived in 1748 when she was 39 years old.
When her husband died three years later in 1751 at the age of 40, Anne was appointed regent for her 3-year-old son, Prince William V.
Princess Anne is Widowed
Anne was given all prerogatives normally given a hereditary Stadtholder of the Netherlands, with the exception of the military duties of the office, which were entrusted to Duke Louis Ernest of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
The Princess Takes the Tiler of Government
To say that she took to the role like a duck to water would not be an exaggeration. Finally free to exercise some power, in true Hanoverian style, Anne used her wit and her determination to secure her personal power base and with it the dominance of her family and the Orange dynasty.
Anne was hard-working but remained unpopular. Commercial rivalry between the Dutch and the British East India Companies was part of the cause. Another reason was the constitution of the United Provinces. But what made her most unpopular was that she seized the opportunity to centralise power in the office of the hereditary Stadtholder over the traditional rights of the Dutch states particularly the State of Haarlem. Her foreign policy was also a source of vexation for the Dutch as she favoured a British-German alliance over alliance with the French.
All a Woman Could Do
Ultimately, as a woman she was reliant on the men around her and it is fair to say that her husband and her son were fighting a losing battle against the tide of history at the end of the 18th century and Anne with all her skills could not realise the ambitions of the House of Orange on her own. She ruled the Netherlands for eight years dying of dropsy in 1759 when her son was 12. She was replaced as regent by her mother-in-law, Marie Louise of Hesse-Kassel and when she died in 1765, Anne’s daughter, Carolina, was made regent until William V turned 18 in 1766.
The Remarkable Princess Anne
Anne was a remarkable woman. With her beauty shredded by smallpox, she took on the world and won. (I am sure she took the opportunity to show herself in her best light in her self-portrait above.) Anne accepted and made a success of her marriage which on the face of it held little prospect for personal happiness. An intelligent if a haughty woman she endured many years of loneliness, the pain of 2 stillborn children and widowhood. As Staadholder (chief executive of the Dutch Republic) she was as effective as any man and laid the foundations of the Dutch royal family. Her grandson, William I became the first king of the Netherlands in 1815.
George II: King and Elector By Andrew C. Thompson, 2011, Yale University Press.
Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857) was the lover of Klemens von Metternich. She was the wife of Prince Khristofor Andreyevich Lieven, Russian ambassador to London from 1812 to 1834.
Considered cold and snobbish by London Society Dorothea was not an instant success when she arrived fresh from the Russian court. Her destiny was however to become the lover of one of greatest men in European history.
Her long elegant neck earned her the nickname, “the swan” by those who loved. She was called“the giraffe” by those who did not. Reputation did not bother her. Dorothea was not after friendship she was after power and she used all her intelligence, charisma, and social skills to get it. Her aim was to influence others to support the Tsar and the Holy Alliance. She was passionate about defeating Napoleon and reestablishment of absolutist monarchy in Europe. Not only did she become the Austrian Chancellor, Prince Metternich’s lover she was also reputed to have had affairs or at least very close friendships with Lord Palmerston, Lord Castlereagh and Lord Grey while she was in London.
Her hard work paid off and soon invitations to Dorothea’s home became the most sought after in capital. She was the first foreigner to be elected a patroness of Almack’s where she is said to have introduced the waltz in 1814. The waltz was a dance considered riotous and indecent. It was first danced when Tsar Alexander came to town in 1814. This was when Dorothea first met Metternich. It seems they took an instant dislike to one another. She thought he was cold and intimidating and far too self- important. He dismissed her as just a pretty woman travelling in the Tsar’s wake and treated her with complete indifference.
Some four years later, the pair met again at the Dutch Ambassador’s party at Aix-La-Chappelle. Sitting next to each other they found they had much in common – they both hated Napoleon. Their notorious liaison began a few days later when Dorothea entered the Prince’s apartment incognito.
Prince of Metternich-Winneburg-Beilstein; (1773 – 1859)
In Metternich, Dorothea had found her equal. The Prince was a man who could satisfy her physically, emotionally and intellectually. She wrote, “Good God! My love, I know how to rejoice in so few things, do you understand what makes me feel true happiness, it is you, only you! My Clement, if you cease to love me what will become of me? … My dear friend promise to love me as much as I love you; our lives are pledged in this promise.”
In Dorothea, Metternich had met the woman of his dreams; she could match his intellect and his passion. He wrote, “My happiness today is you. Your soul is full of common sense your heart is full of warmth … You are as a woman what I am as a man.”
Their heated, clandestine affair soon succumbed to the requirements state. They met occasionally but corresponded frequently. Like many illicit lovers, they were tortured by their separation and the knowledge they could never be together.
Dorothea was well aware of Metternich’s reputation as a libertine seducer. She knew he had a string of women following him and in his bed. She continued the relationship for eight years. Finally, she heard that he had thrown her over for a younger woman. Desolate, she broke off their relationship in 1826. By the end, references to Metternich in her letters were cold and spiteful. Time did not heal her broken heart. She had nothing good to say about him or his third wife when she saw him in Brighton in 1849. she describes him as “slow and tedious” and his wife as “stout and well-mannered.”
She ended her days in Paris as the ‘wife’ of the French politician Guizot. It was said that although she was a widow she refused to marry Guizot because it would mean giving up her title ‘Serene Highness’. This was something the proud and regal woman was never going to do. Like her former lover, she was ancient regime through and through.
Dorothea died peacefully at her home in Paris, aged 71, in January 1857. She is a recurring minor figure in many historical novels, notably those of Georgette Heyer. Heyer portrays her as a haughty, formidable, and unapproachable leader of society. In The Grand Sophy she is described as “clever and amusing”, and there is a passing reference in that book to her role in political intrigues. Metternich died in Vienna two years later aged 86. He was the last guardian of the ancient regime, which had long since passed into history.
Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857)
Dorothea Lieven: A Russian Princess in London and Paris, 1785-1857 By Judith Lissauer Cromwell
The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics After Napoleon By Brian E. Vick
1815: The Roads to Waterloo By Gregor Dallas
Using the Present Tense to Write About the Past
Writing about the past in the present tense is hot with publishers but does it work for readers?
In writing and rhetoric, the historical present or narrative present is the employment of the present tense when narrating past events.
Dickens – David Copperfield
Dickens used it to give immediacy: ‘If the funeral had been yesterday, I could not recollect it better. The very air of the best parlour, when I went in at the door, the bright condition of the fire, the shining of the wine in the decanters, the patterns of the glasses and plates, the faint sweet smell of cake, the odour of Miss Murdstone’s dress, and our black clothes. Mr. Chillip is in the room and comes to speak to me.
“And how is Master David?” he says, kindly.
I cannot tell him very well. I give him my hand, which he holds in his.
— Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Chapter IX
More recently, analysts of its use in conversation have argued that it functions by foregrounding events that is, signaling that one event is particularly important than others. Historical novelist Sarah Dunant is one of the ace exponents of this style of writing. She uses the present tense to bring the past to life. The elegance of her prose can be seen in this quote from her latest book, In the Name of the Family, Virago, 2017.
“He leaves for work each day at dawn. In the beginning, she had hoped that her nest-ripe body might tempt him to linger awhile. Florence is rife with stories of married men who use early risings of excuses to visit their mistresses, and he had come with a reputation for enjoying life. That even if that were the case, there’s nothing she can do about it, not least because where ever he is going, this husband of hers has already gone from her long before he gets out of the door.
In fact, Niccolo Machiavelli doesn’t leave the warmth of his marriage bed for any other woman (he can do that easily enough on his way home), but because the days dispatches arrived at the Pallazzo della Signoria early and it is his greatest pleasure as well as his duty to be among the first to read them.
His journey takes him down the street on the south side of the city and across the river Arno via the Ponte Vecchio. A maverick winter snowfall has turned into grimy frost and the ground cracks like small animal bones under his feet. On the bridge, fresh carcasses are being unloaded into the butcher’s shops. Through the open shutters, he catches glimpses of the river, its surface a silvery apricot under the rising sun. A feral dog streaks across his path, going for a goblet of offal near the wheel of a cart. It earns him a kick in the ribs of his daring but his jaws remain firmly clenched over the prize. Scavenging opportunist Niccolo thinks, not without a certain admiration.”
Dunant describes her inspiration in an interview with Meredith K. Ray.
She said, “I became interested in a very simple idea, which was, “What would it have been like to be in the middle of the cauldron [Florence] of the shock of the new that they must have felt when it was happening around them?”
I just kept thinking “Dear God, everywhere you go in this city, it must have been vibrating!” I wondered whether or not it would be possible to write a book that would capture that sense of exploding modernity within the past.
Then of course what happened is when I went back to look at the history, I realized that there had been a quiet but persuasive revolution going on within the discipline. When I was doing history [at Cambridge] . . . people studying [gender and race] had yet to move into doing their post-graduate work and become professors and start producing the literature which was starting to fill in the missing spaces or at least make a gesture towards the colour.
I really often think of [history] as a pointillist painting, which is made up of a thousand dots. It’s just bits of paint, but as you walk away, each one of them gives you more of a sense of internal life and dynamic. I really began to feel that that was true about some of the history that I’d studied: blocks of primary colour, but there was stuff missing and it was very important stuff. It was like, “What was it like to be half the population?”
Dunnant’s story proceeds through a succession of tremendous set pieces, including a sea storm, a plague, the delivery of a child and various skirmishes as the pope and his children seek to tighten the “Borgia belt” around Italy. The focus is on the immediacy of the experience in a similar way to Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels. Like Mantel Dunant’s project is a sympathetic presentation. The villains are human beings with families and needs – power being the first among many. Dunant has made the Borgia’s completely her own in this way. How the use of the present tense fits this aim is unclear as it used in all her writing.
Mantel’s prose is sparse and more visceral by comparison;”The blood from the gash on his head – which is his father’s first effort – is trickling across his face. Add to this, his left eye is blinded, but if he squints sideways with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father’s boot is unravelling. The twine has sprung loose from the leather, and a hard knot in it has caught his eyebrow and opened another cut.“So now get up!” Walter is roaring down at him, working out where to kick him next. He lifts his head an inch or two, and moves forward, on his belly, trying to do it without exposing his hands, on which Walter enjoys stamping. “What are you an eel?” his parent asks. He trots backwards, and aims another kick.” Woolf Hall, Harper Collins, 2009.
Mantel said, “My concern as a writer is with memory, personal and collective: with the restless dead asserting their claim.” Perhaps that is why she uses the present tense in her work.
She goes on to say that when we memorialise the dead we are sometimes desperate for the truth or for a comforting illusion. As a nation, we need to reach into the past for foundation myths of our tribe. We find them in past glories and past grievance, but we seldom find them in cold facts. Nations she says are built on wishful versions of their origins: stories in which our ancestors were giants, of one kind or another.
According to Mantel, we live in a world of romance. Once the romance was about aristocratic connections and secret status, the fantasy of being part of an elite. Now the romance is about deprivation, dislocation, about the distance covered between there and here. The facts have less traction, less influence on what we are and what we do, than the self-built fictions.
Novelists she says are interested in driving new ideas but readers are touchingly loyal to the first history they learn. However, if you’re looking for safety and authority, history is the wrong place to look say Mantel. Any worthwhile history is in a constant state of self-questioning, just as any worthwhile fiction is. If the reader asks the writer, “Have you evidence to back your story?” the answer should be yes: but you hope the reader will be wise to the many kinds of evidence there are, and how they can be used.”
Does writing about the past in the present tense work? As much as I admire both writers I shall be sticking to the past tense in my writing with a bit of present tense thrown in for immediacy when required. As a reader, I find it much easier to read and hold onto the story when it’s written that way. Too much present tense, in my opinion, can end up like listening to the audio-description while you’re watching TV even if the prose is elegant.
Julia Herdman’s debut novel ‘Sinclair‘ is available on Amazon worldwide.
The profession or the jobs of your character does plays a major role in making your novel a hit.
That’s because a character’s profession affects the entire story.
A job or profession gives an indication of personality, class, wealth and motivation. You can use it as a stereotype or as a short-hand description or develop the character with it.
Just think for a moment. What character attributes would you give to a teacher?
Perhaps the teacher in your imagination is a dotty old professor. A man dressed in tweed with patches on his elbows, a mop of thick grey hair and horn-rimmed spectacles. He teaches classics and quotes passages from Cesar’s Gallic Wars.
Alternatively, the teacher of your imagination may be a young ambitious woman of Anglo-Caribbean descent who teaches physics. She wears a smart white lab coat and red, five-inch heel stilettos. She’s sassy. She drives a sports car and the boys in the class don’t know where to look when she comes into the lab.
Muriel Spark’s character Jean Brodie from the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a highly idealistic character with an exaggerated romantic view of the world. The phrases Spark gives her character are now clichés in the English language. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.” “These years are still the years of my prime. It is important to recognise the years of one’s prime, always remember that.” ‘I am a teacher! First, last, always!’ Spark gives the character the name of the historical Jean Brodie the common law wife or mistress of Deacon Willie Brodie. Brodie was an Edinburgh cabinet maker and thief hanged from a gallows of his own design. The fictional Jean is doomed like her namesake whose husband was the was the inspiration for the gothic novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Now think about a taxidermist? Somehow there is always something a bit creepy about this job. Is it the association with dead things, the dismembering of bodies or the macabre nature of the results of their work – an animal that looks alive but is dead? The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Moss is a story in which ghosts and ghoulish patriarchal secrets, estranged female psyches, and tumultuous bird-life. All these elements coexist in a compulsively readable yarn.The novel is a cabinet of curiosities, a tale of sexual predation and female revenge. The protagonist Connie is bright, beautiful, determined, and has a very strong stomach. She’s a victim of traumatic memory loss. The plot involves her mind’s recuperation from obscene events 10 years ago. A crime opens the story. A woman’s corpse is found outside Blackthorn House, where Connie is attempting to stuff a jackdaw. The woman has been garrotted with taxidermist’s wire.
These examples show that giving your character a profession enables you to start building that character and the character, in turn, helps you to build the story. In my novel Sinclair, which is set in the late 18th century, Sinclair is a man of the Enlightenment who has rejected religion. This leaves him isolated from his family and much of society. He is a dedicated doctor who wants to heal people.
If the story is a realistic fiction, it’s best to avoid ridiculous characters and professions that don’t exist in the real world.On the other hand, if you are writing a general fiction story, an absurd and unrealistic profession is perfectly acceptable as long as you stick to the descriptions you have given about that character and his or her profession. For example, if you plan on writing a fantasy fiction, your character will probably include mythical creatures such as goblins, trolls, giants, or unicorns. The main character will possibly possess magical powers again consistency is the key here – what can your character do with magic and what are their limitations? Limitations are often the making of a character.
Even in Sci-fi, the best characters have jobs: Ship’s captain, the General of an invading army, the pilot or navigator of a space of underwater cruiser. Phillip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction novel describing humanity’s struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic world after a nuclear war has irradiated the Earth, forcing humans to create a separate colony on Mars. Character Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter who is about to have one bad day.
Unlike the bounty hunters of the Wild West, this space age cowboy will, within the space of twenty-four hours, have to kill six state-of-the-art androids, have an inter-galactic corporation mess with his mind, meet a metaphysical god twice, and discover an extinct animal.
Rick clearly lacks empathy for androids, his electric sheep, and for his wife which, in an ironic twist, is the very fault androids are accused of and as a result, they must be killed. Rick is a hypocrite, in a way he represents the hypocrisy of mankind. He punishes androids for lacking empathy when he’s the least empathetic person on the planet.
Some authors and screenwriters choose to write an ironic character that doesn’t match their profession. Other times, a profession can be used to create a twist in the plot. This is usually true for novels with a dramatic theme. A character could be shown doing something they don’t enjoy at all. They are bored of their ordinary life and their ordinary profession.
Take “Fight Club”, a book by Chuck Palahniuk for example; in this novel, his protagonist who is never named is a man who works as a product recall specialist. Our protagonist hates his job and his lifestyle. In this anti-capitalist story, the narrator attempts to treat his depression and insomnia through obsessive consumerism and knowledge of brands.
On a flight home from a business trip, the Narrator meets Tyler Durden, a soap salesman with whom he begins to converse after noticing the two share the same kind of designer briefcase. After the flight, the Narrator returns home to find that his apartment has been destroyed by an explosion.
With no one else to contact, he calls Tyler and Tyler invite the Narrator to stay at his place but requests that the Narrator hit him first, which escalates into a minor fistfight. The Narrator then moves into Tyler’s home, a large dilapidated house in an industrial area of their city and begins assisting with Tyler’s handmade soap business. They have further fights outside the bar on subsequent nights, and these fights attract growing crowds of men.
The fighting eventually moves to the bar’s basement where the men form a structured club (“Fight Club”) which routinely meets to provide an opportunity for disaffected local men to fight safely for recreation. Ultimately, the story degenerates into a stop the bad guy destroying capitalism movie but the initial idea is interesting.
See also: 10 Things that can turn a character bad.
About the author: Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Her debut novel Sinclair is available worldwide in print or as an Ebook. Go to Amazon to find out more.
The dead are always present, says Hilary Mantel, they live with us in our memory, in our genes and in the legacy of their decisions and actions that shaped the world we live in today. In the words of St Augustine, she says, they are ‘invisible, they are not absent’. My inspiration for it Sinclair was family history. Whoever we are we all have some sort of family and some sort of history, we could not have got here without it even if we do not know that history.
There is a poem by WH Auden, called “As I Walked Out One Evening”:
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead’
Like most people I come from a long line of very ordinary people; people who struggled most of their lives to make ends meet them to keep a roof over their head. These are not the people we think of when we think of history. History was, until the last century, very much the domain of great men and great events. When we imagine the past in drama, in books, and, in films, the characters are always the movers and shakers of history; their decisions and actions change the world. Rarely do we think of the ordinary run of the mill people in the background who were most likely our ancestors.
My grandparents were born at the turn of the 19th century, they were Victorians. They lived through great events, the Great War, the economic depression of the 1930s, the Second World War, and the post-war boom but they did not shape them. They were lucky, they survived these huge historic events and so did their children; all of them living to ripe old age thanks to the introduction of the National Health Service in 1947. They were the first generation to live in Council Houses, proud tenants who always paid the rent on time. They worked hard and life was not easy but it was certainly better than it had been for their parents who had lived in overcrowded city-centre tenements with no interior sanitation. My Victorian ancestors worked hard, feared the workhouse, died young and were buried unceremoniously and as cheaply as possible.
My novel, Sinclair, is inspired by my husband’s family, the Leadams, who came from Walkington near the market town of Beverley and city of Hull. Christopher Leadam trained as a surgeon in York then moved to London sometime in the 1770s. I recently visited Walkington to look at the place he left to work at Guy’s Hospital. The contrast between this rural idle of the East Riding and the busy streets of Southwark could not be greater. Walkington is a beautiful place but as the 10th child in a family of farmers Christopher, who was clearly bright and adventurous, knew that if he was going to make a life for himself he had to leave the place of his birth.
Christopher died when he was relatively young, probably around 40. We know from the historical record that when he died he was the owner of an apothecary shop in Tooley Street and that he had a 14-year-old son and a wife. Christopher was not a great man of medicine but he was one of the cast of players who helped to heave medicine out of its medieval roots into the modern scientific age.
The Leadams of Tooley Street has led me on a journey into the 18th century and early 19th century. My novel begins in the aftermath of the disastrous American War and ends as France is about to throw the shackles of the ancient regime. Most historical romance is about aristocratic families, families with connections and status. My fiction is about a family too but this family has to make their own way in the world. They have no estate or inheritance to come into; they have to use their hands and their brains to make their way in the world. Men like the Leadams and the fictional Sinclair were men of the professions, industry, ideas, and commerce; they were the men for a new and enlightened age, the men who shaped the world we know today.
As a novelist, I want to tell the story of that change, of the development of the middle class if you like. The middle class is much maligned and forgotten in the pages of history and novels. Today middle-class values are under attack from libertarian capitalists who view government as a barrier to the unfettered accumulation of personal wealth, they do not believe in society or collective endeavour. In the historical novel, the middle class gets lost between the aristocratic splendour of the ballroom and the rags to riches stories of the poor.
‘The pursuit of the past makes you aware, whether you are novelist or historian, of the dangers of your own fallibility and inbuilt bias’ says Mantel. I agree I am the product of my own history. I am not the past I am now writing about the past in a language that is understood today. I am a writer of fiction but I am a historian too; an anachronism an oxymoron. The 19th-century historian Lord Macaulay said, “History has to be burned into the imagination before it can be received by the reason.” I burn with a passion for the past, but I also burn with a passion for the future, for a better future for my children and mankind. I’m biased and I don’t feel guilty about it; all history is biased, I am not perturbed about my desire to tell stories about people who live in townhouses and not country estates, people who value education for its own sake, people who want to engage in the political life of the nation because they want to improve the lives of others and build a better future.
Mantel says, “The historian and the biographer follow a trail of evidence, usually a paper trail. The novelist does that too, and then performs another act, puts the past back into the process, into action, frees the people from the archive and lets them run about, ignorant of their fates, with all their mistakes unmade.” Sinclair makes plenty of mistakes.
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42 Also available on:
Amazon New Zealand
Amazon South Africa