Monthly Archiv: July, 2014
The Heir starts in 1928. There’s a 50 year gap in the history of the Merrick family to account for. We need to know about Augusta Merrick, way up there in Canada, married to Harold Edgerton, in love with John Bradley. We need to know what happened to Kingsland and Julia Merrick, so proudly holding on, and with the town of Waterford, left to run its own affairs after the departure of the captains.
By starting in the 20’s, I could avoid a lot of boring narrative that would bring the reader up to date but might put him/her to sleep. I wouldn’t have to do flashbacks to account for the intervening years — a common way to handle years gone by, but often confusing, especially when there are a lot of years involved. So I chose to account for those years by one character telling another about them, a bit at a time until all the loose ends were accounted for. And in the process Steven Sinclaire’s entrance onto the scene would be accounted for, too.
I used a story from my mother-in-law’s girlhood days. Before she was married, she served as “companion” to a wealthy girl who summered in town. Just the fact that such an arrangement had been made was all I needed. I’ve always used such facts as I could get hold of to move my plot forward, and here it was – a way to show the wealthy folks and the ordinary ones at the same time. My mother-in-law wasn’t ordinary, exactly, but she wasn’t rich either, so the plot could use her as the template for Alice Bradley. And Fieldstone Hall, which still exists, would serve very well for the Warden mansion.
I have no idea what the job description for a companion might have been. Was it a chaperone? My mother-in-law would have been a little young for that, but such gaps in information never bothered me. We know that Pris Warden was on the wild side, as so many young people were in that period. Their elders escaped from the memory of war with bootlegged alcohol, music and dancing, speak-easies and parties and fun, fun, fun. Certainly there was no reason why the younger set wouldn’t do the same. And Pris, as we know, was not only wild, but had been caught in the act. Her father knew just the person to get her in line.
Sounds like a chaperone, doesn’t it? Certainly she needed one!
We haven’t talked about the Heir, yet. Since it’s been so recently published, we can’t do more than look into the first chapter at this time. But there’s plenty in that chapter to keep us busy. Take, for example, its historical introduction.
Shortly before the American Civil War, an immense silver trophy was captured by the New York Yacht Club. It was awarded by England’s Royal Yacht Squadron when the schooner America beat the Royal’s ship in a race around the Britain’s Isle of Wight. Queen Victoria, watching from the finish line, is said to have asked who was second. “Madam, there is no second,” was the reply.
Not many years after the war, the sailing ship no longer dominated the seas, and many captains were either out of work or took on other kinds of positions. (Remember, they were the buyers and sellers of cargo, and had a lot of expertise in the business world.) This sets the scene for Emily’s chapter (1) which shows us how Steven Sinclaire comes to be the hero of this story. A lot of it is not imagined by me, but certainly is embroidered! To begin with, the “roaring twenties.”
I think we can’t overlook the impact of World War One, for starters. The conditions of the trenches in France and the use of weapons of mass destruction were unthinkable – yet, these had to be faced. This rude awakening to the dark side was so devastating that escaping it with hilarity and alcohol was the only answer for a lot of people.
Then there was Prohibition, and the new freedom of women and girls who dared to take advantage of it. They could smoke and drink in public, have body contact while dancing, wear shorter hair, a good deal of make-up, and loser clothing styles including modification of the corset. They even got the right to vote!
One can hardly mention prohibition without its corresponding accompaniment – organized crime. A killing could be made bringing alcohol to all those thirsty people! All you had to do was bring boats filled with liquor from wherever, park them a foot beyond the three mile limit of US territory, wait for the rum runners to come and load up. And they did.
This summer there’s an exhibit at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum about the rum runners. I didn’t think the Museum would mind if I posted their information here:
Risky Business: Rum Running on Cape Cod
HYANNIS, MA—Importing alcohol into the United States was a risky business between 1920 and 1933, one that drew in Cape Cod sailors and captains, Coast Guard seamen and officers, gangsters and code breakers. Throughout the “Roaring Twenties” the waterways of Cape Cod were the scene of a cat and mouse game played between souped up speedboats built specially for the “wet” trade in illegal liquor, and the Coast Guard ships and boats charged with keeping America “dry”. “Risky Business: Rum Running on Cape Cod” exhibit provides a look at another Cape Cod, where shootouts on the beaches, high-speed chases in the night with no running lights, and murder on the high seas were all part of this very risky business. The exhibit opens on July 10th and runs through December 15th.
And voila! It’s certainly realistic to think that Tom Warden might have dug up a case of gin on the flats.
There’s a lot of information about Victorian clothing on the internet; back when I originally wrote this novel (1977), I had to rely on books and pictures. But I’m not sure I’m any better informed now than I was before. There are so many choices! Even then, though, I knew Kingsley needed to look as though he was successful already, in order to get the loan he needed. When I went about preparing him for his interview with Uncle ’Lije, I found that the hat was a very important part of his presentation. Many men wore a top hat even to work; they were absolutely required for the more elegant, successful male. As the president of a coaching company (which didn’t yet exist) Kingsley bought one he couldn’t afford, as well as a walking stick, or cane — with a gold knob – which he also couldn’t afford. But these were essential in convincing his uncle that he was a man of substance.
The entire subject of the male hat is an interesting one, in terms of social history. In the mid nineteenth century, the protocol was fairly rigid, though I don’t remember reading about the Hat Police. But if you were a member of the working class and wore a top hat like the one pictured here, you were an imposter. (Kingsley was treading a fine line). At about this time, though, the crown of the top hat was dropping and becoming round and – voila – the derby. And the bowler, which is supposedly different. All the guys wore them, and the top hat was relegated to history.
These top hat permutations were eventually overtaken by the fedora,made popular by Victoria’s son and heir, Edward, whose attire was the model for men of his time.(The hat was called a “homburg” then). Seems it was also adopted by the mafia, but became standard headgear for every business men, regardless of the implication. I have to digress long enough to describe the arrangement my father-in-law and his neighbors made in the ’30’s. Money being tight, four of them bought a car, sharing equally, and called themselves “the syndicate”. The automobile was garaged in rotation, and when it was time to disband, the syndicate sold it and shared the proceeds. (BTW, “syndicate” is slang terminology for an underworld business. Nobody could have been more proper than my father-in-law and his friends, and everyone got a big kick out of their being a syndicate.)
Finally the 60’s arrived, and its more relaxed standards made male head-coverings optional, or at least more casual (i.e. the little sporting model fedora, or the more serious flat cap.)
Most of us know that Australia was begun as a penal colony. Once the American Revolution had been won, there was nowhere to banish criminals, and the prisons were overpopulated to begin with — after 1783, their population exploded. Eleven ships were sent down under (Read Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCollough of Thornbirds fame, which is about the convicts and their deportation. With more details than I personally thought necessary, I have found it unforgettable because of them!) Here is a painting depicting the arrival of that first fleet.
Kingsley is visiting Waterford in the first place because he wants to get a loan from his uncle in order to start a coach line in Australia. The generalized detail I was able to include, both in this chapter and in chapter four, (when Kingsley returns successful and rich), reflect the facts in the life of Freeman Cobb, my husband’s second “ancestor of interest”. Gold was discovered in Australia in 1848, but news of it was suppressed, and the rush itself didn’t begin until 1851. The Melbourne area hadn’t developed much at that point. Its port was a swale, as Kingsley described it to all those adoring listeners who were willing to overlook his undesirability now that he was rich (see A BASTARD?), and British coaches were the only transportation available, built along traditional lines and very heavy.
Enter the Concord – light and therefore very fast. While the English coaches were stuck, the Concord could float.
If you look carefully, you may be able to see “Cobb & Co” on the side panel. Perhaps the four founders chose to use Freeman’s name because it sounded catchy and quite Yankee-American, or perhaps because Freeman made the largest financial contribution. It really was as successful as I described, though I suspect I’ve exaggerated the actual money made on this venture. But, in fact, it was enough to build the mansion in Waterford and set Kingsley up until the 1870’s, when he tried again in South Africa, (as did Freeman Cobb.)
A stamp commemorating Cobb & Co. was issued some while ago (I think in 1951). I’ve always loved it.
I’ve also got a letter of Freeman’s, with his VERY fancy signature. It’s quite beautiful, don’t you agree?
Back to the subject at hand — Kingsley Merrick. He had come back to Waterford to get a loan from his uncle, who had never treated him well, just as Waterford itself had never treated him well.
Many reviews (so far) mention that one of his social difficulties is illegitimacy. I guess I asked for that — I wrote illegitimacy out of the second edition without realizing that reviews of the first might serve as a kind of “cliff note” for todays reviewers. The disdain that accrues to Kingsley in the “nicer” part of town indeed has to do with his father (Kingson Merrick) getting his mother (Susan Slater) pregnant out of wedlock. The result of this union was a baby girl– a child who died when her mother did, of some sort of fever or another. Kingsley was the second offspring of “Sonny” and Susan, who were married by then. But Susan’s reputation was forever tarnished, therefore tarnishing Kingsley’s. To make matters worse, “Sonny” became an alcoholic after Susan died, a double whammy for the boy. (His mother was a whore, his father a drunkard.) That’s all it would have taken, in those days,to cause Kingsley to be questionable, even undesirable.
OK. But why, you might ask, did the author change his status from bastard to simply undesirable? His unacceptability was essential to the plot, wasn’t it?
Absolutely. And when I wrote the first edition 35+ years ago, I was totally focused on getting each book written, hopefully within the contracted time. I knew what I wanted to say but didn’t know how it could best be accomplished. In Kingsley’s case, illegitimacy was a natural.
This time, I was able to look at the series as a whole, and realized that two books had important male characters born or at least conceived — out of wedlock. To let that remain was not only repetitive, but also unimaginative. And unnecessary. It didn’t take much to tarnish reputations in the 1840’s and 50’s, so Kingsley wouldn’t have needed to be a bastard to be unacceptable. I could work on the other, more subtle ways that society functioned in those days (which was a lot easier to research now, by the way, with google available).
I have to say that the reviewers probably looked to the reviews of long ago, used them to fill the gaps without having to read every word of the book in front of them — which is understandable, considering the amount of reading they do. But somewhat misses the point in terms of the social history I’m trying to portray.
However, that is corrected now!