In 2016, I was struck with a ghost story idea loosely based on incidents from my teenage years. As is common in my writing, however, the seeming focus of the story was a web weaved over the true meaning behind the tale. I knew from the very start that I wanted to write about female strength and the women’s struggle and was excited to watch it peek out from beneath a tangle of grief, revenge and the paranormal.
As I created my female characters, I committed to showcasing a spectrum of strength. Like many other women, I’m sure, I was tired of seeing the hyper-masculine brand of female strength: essentially a tough-guy act with a pretty face, zero-percent body fat and a history of trauma.
In a later post, I’ll share some of my characters with you and perhaps you’ll see a bit of yourself in their strengths and weaknesses. In the interim, here are three real Victorian women who compel us to rethink the shuffling of women into neat little roles of housewives or shrews.
These women were rulers and paramours, mathematicians and mothers, writers and wives. And most importantly, they did it at a time when women were regarded as little more than decorative items with the occasional functional purpose of managing a household and birthing sons.
I grew up hearing about Frankenstein and seeing the often green, clumsy, stitched-together monster in many cartoons and kids’ movies. It wasn’t until I was sixteen or seventeen years old, however, that I happened upon the book in my college library and decided to give it a read. I wasn’t especially impressed, but I could see why it had left such an indelible mark in the arts and history alike.
While watching The Frankenstein Chronicles as an adult, I found myself wanting to learn more about the author behind this eerie tale. So, I read a lot about this Mary Shelley, who is said to have kept company with one of my own characters, Lady Charlotte Moreau. Of all the things I read, nothing stands out as much as her love affair with another woman’s husband.
Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and was the daughter of the feminist philosopher, Mary Wollstonecraft. Her father was also a philosopher but focused more heavily on politics. His liberal ideas attracted the following of the poet, Percy Shelley.
The two began their affair in 1814 after Percy threatened to kill himself if she didn’t return his most ardent affections. They later ran off to continental Europe, returning when Mary fell pregnant. They married in 1816 after Percy’s wife killed herself.
To be fair, it sounds worse than it really is. Percy and his wife had separated and she committed suicide after believing she had been spurned by her new paramour. Like husband like wife?
Understand, I am by no means condoning either Percy or Mary Shelley’s actions. Even so, I am surprised that any woman of note in Victorian England could be so brazen.
Another historical name that came up while watching The Frankenstein Chronicles was Ada Lovelace. At first, I wondered why her name sounded so familiar. Then, I remembered she was touted as the first computer programmer in my high school IT classes. What I did not know was that she was a countess and a willful one at that.
Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Percy Shelley’s fellow poet friend, Lord Byron. He left her mother, Anne Isabella, within a month of Ada’s birth. He passed away when Ada was only eight years old, but her mother remained bitter about the parting and blamed madness for his licentiousness.
In an effort to keep Ada on the straight and narrow, she steered her clear of poetry and the arts and provided her with an education in mathematics. In 1835, Ada married William King, who then became the 1st Earl of Lovelace in 1838, making his wife a Countess. She gave birth to two sons and a daughter, namely Byron, Anne Isabella, and Ralph Gordon.
Ada’s close company with educated and talented men spurred many rumours of extramarital affairs. Her circle of friends and acquaintances included Charles Babbage, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and Charles Wheatstone. What is it with Ada and men named Charles??
Royalty is almost always equated with an ostentatious lifestyle. However, nobility and wealth were not synonymous in Victorian times. There were many noblemen and noblewomen living in run-down castles with hardly a penny to their name.
While Victoria was certainly not dirt poor, she was nonetheless born to a Duchess with hardly a penny to her name and a Duke up to his neck in debt. After he passed away, mother and daughter continued to live in the Kensington Palace. In The Victorian Era: A Very Short History Tristan Clark describes the palace as…
…a palace only in name. The building was neglected, the décor shabby and the food plain. Victoria did not have her own room, having to bunk with her mother.
Victoria did, however, have her own tutor and was educated with her future occupation in mind, though she did not know she was in line to be queen until a history class at ten or eleven years old. It is said that this was the pivotal moment in her life when she decided she would do all in her power to be a good queen.
She kept well on this alleged promise to herself. Queen Victoria was the longest reigning monarch until 2016 when she was surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II. Under her influence, Britain—the world’s largest empire—grew to be a political and economic stronghold.
During her reign she married Prince Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to end her mother’s negative influence on her life. The couple nonetheless loved each other, so much so that when he died, the queen suffered from severe grief and disappeared from public life for a time. Together, they had nine children. She was a mother, a wife, and an empress.
No list of strong women from the Victorian era could be complete without the woman who gave the era its name. And, while there are many other women worthy of note, these are the three who receive an honourable mention in The Moreau Witches. Through them, I was able to breathe life into my matriarchs, not as stock characters, but as people who perhaps once lived in another time and another dimension—or so I hope.
The Moreau Witches is scheduled for publishing on Halloween, October 31st 2018, in celebration of its two-year anniversary. Official pre-ordering is not yet available, but all of these purchases come with a complementary eBook to be delivered at the time of publishing. Thank you to EVERYONE who has supported my online store, so far. You may underestimate the contribution of one T-shirt, knapsack (book bag) or dog tag, but as we say in Jamaica, “one, one cocoa; full basket”!
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