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Tell us about the day in the life of one of your characters.
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The books I write follow some unconventional character lives. Blue Honor, the US Civil War drama, is the only one that follows a semi-normal track. It is historically set, so the days in the lives would still be different from what we know today. That said, they’re a little closer to home.
During the US Civil War, life was hard–especially for women, indigenous, and Black people. There was nothing typical for the latter two of that list. Lives torn apart in the upheaval of colonization, they were no longer on their familiar territories and there cultures erased to force assimilation to the current power structure. Survival against the evils of the times really made the day to day mundane we would think of a lot more dangerous. Just walking to anywhere could be death sentence.
For the main characters of that novel, Emily in particular, mundane life was blown to bits by war. Emily was bored with her northern dairy farm life. However, the winds of change still reached that deep into Vermont and brought change. She had thought things would just grind on as they were, and the expectation of her marrying and carrying on exactly the same would wear her life away.
Why was it so boring for her? She was the daughter of a former New York City well-to-do mother and a thriving dairy owner father. Her mother, a pious and austere woman, had certain ends in mind for her daughter. Yet, her son was free to rise in the ranks and go out into the world to do so. This did not set well with Emily, who was raised far more independently by a father who did not want his child to only aspire to marriage and family. His dairy, in the end, would likely go to her and her husband. She would need enough education to help that business continue to thrive. The man they had in mind would expand their lands, and make it a greater endeavor to deal with for both young people.
Emily did not see herself in that life. True to the Victorian Novel, she had aspirations of adventure and lives spent elsewhere. Fetching eggs from the coop each morning was not her fate. Up to the start of the book, that was where she was trapped. The change that came for her mingled with the plans that her parents painstakingly placed. They hired young women and girls to assist with the maintenance of the home. The girls, from neighboring farms and villages, would provide Emily with the knowledge of running a staff.
Although she wasn’t fetching eggs anymore, Emily’s life wasn’t exactly headed in the direction she wanted. The marriage portion was fast approaching. You see, the young man in mind was soon to graduate from West Point and, therefore, present an honorable match at last. He had land, rank, and standing, which would mean that he could take Mr. Conrad’s place as intended.
The pair were tight friends, but had no intentions of ever becoming lovers. If this came to pass, nothing would change for Emily. This also failed to mention her intended’s penchant for chasing women. Although he deeply cared for Emily and respected her, it was only a matter of time before his eye roved and with it his feet. No one would bat an eye at this, but this would betray Emily’s heart. She had expectations for her life aside from adventure, and a good match was necessary if she was to be forced into one at all.
Farm life and the drama of womanhood in the 1800s was pretty typical for Emily. Her brother and friend, however, faced far different lives. The young man alluded to above is Evan. He came from a smaller, far less wealthy farm. That said, his father had a lot of land, though he couldn’t afford to process it and make it produce for him. That would take paying wages and having equipment. While he could make enough to maintain the property as it was, and support his small family, they were saving to help their eldest son find a better position in life. Buying equipment to clear the land and paying hands would certainly benefit them in the long run, but they need an immediate solution.
Evan’s family also had the misfortune of a sickly child in their midst. Paying for medical care was taxing their income, making it far more difficult to make ends meet, and still reach their goal for their eldest. While their neighbors helped as they could, by sending Emily, who was very talented in the ways of medicine to assist, they still had to bring in doctors and buy medications.
Michael is Emily’s brother. He comes from greater privilege and it was easy for him to find his way into West Point. Their family thrived and so did their bank accounts. Evan was lucky to know the Conrads, who were a giving sort–even though it was spurred by ulterior motives. Their intentions saw to their aiding him into a seat at the Point ahead of their own son, just because it was necessary to the joining of the farms and the children. The arrangement was not on paper, which lended the wiggle room those young people needed to escape it.
The day to day for Evan was attending classes and training at the military academy. Comradery and order were his culture. Michael arrived sometime after, inspiring Evan with a plan to escape the arrangement he found himself bound to. A little finagling, and the war willing, he would be able to pull it off. After all, time off to visit family was expected.
In that time, travel by train, carriage, or horse was the norm. It took a lot longer to get anywhere. Letters took longer to travel, instead of instantly via internet. Determining one’s exact arrival time wasn’t as accurate either. You could give a couple days as an estimate, if all went well.
Another typical aspect of the time was the threat of disaster from current technology. Not only could trains wreck, carriages topple, or horses go lame–but a fire was really easy to start in any type of dwelling or structure. Because people used lamps (oil) or candles, and many items in the home were combustible (let’s not even get into wallpapers with arsenic), fires were quite frequent. There is a great series on YouTube that goes into the dangers of the Victorian Home, and I highly recommend it, even though it covers the British nation not the United States. Things were very similar.
So much could kill you at home, thus war was hardly a stretch of difference. For the men of Blue Honor, they spend a great deal of the book away on war campaigns. They’re cavalry soldiers, but marching is also part of their daily experience. The household tasks were conducted by lower ranks, while the upper ranks administered and executed the battles. The dangers of the home would be with them, even in the camps. Fire, poison, accidents, and disease were still top threats, but they also faced the addition of mortal wounding by lead bullets or bone shattering cannon shot.
Don’t let me leave you before mentioning the lives of the Maynard family. They play an important role in the changes that sweep Emily off the family dairy. Because Evan went to West Point, he met the Maynard’s son Joseph and became fast friends. The pair so hit it off that they remained inseparable and end up deployed together. Joseph also provided the exit strategy for Evan from an ill-fated marriage. Evan knew that this was the right man for his friend.
What was it about the Joseph that clued Evan in? The lives of the Maynards were closer on par with what the Conrads would ultimately want for their daughter. Emily deserved something better than running a farm that he knew bored her to tears. Though she loved the animals there, living marginally satisfied was not acceptable. She deserved to go out into the world, too. She had gifts that only Joseph would be able to support and shield from the conventions of the time. The Maynards lives had led them to be rather progressive–abolitionists and feminists!
Evan would be free to pursue his life as he saw fit, and hopefully not on a farm in the great north of the States. Boy did he relate to Emily’s need to get out of town!
Looking back on the setting of the Victorian times, I always see it with a dreamy, dusty veil filtering the images. The inference of that symbolism is clear, I think. A day in the life of my Victorian characters exists with many threats leading them to misery and death that the time is shadowy.
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