Tuesday, April 03, 2012

C is for Convict . . .

Three women of three different classes interact throughout my current work in progress, Years of Stone. Deidre, a schoolteacher, has followed the man she loves to Van Diemen's Land. Deidre was quickly befriended by Lady Jane Franklin, an actual historical person, the wife of ill-fated and quite famous Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin, who later died on his quest to find a Northwest Passage.

At first I thought my story would be about these two women, Deidre, fictional, and Lady Jane, this fascinating, quirky woman of the 19th Century, who was villified by the press in Van Dieman's Land as the 'petticoat' behind the scenes who unduly influenced government decisions. This intrepid woman actually lobbied local leaders on policy, wrote correspondence to the London Home Office, climbed mountains, and in many ways would have been more comfortable in modern times.

But then along came Mary Dallow, what I call 'blue collar scrappy,' a conduit between prison life and the very small middle class and the elite class of Van Diemen's Land. Mary, like other transported women, moves in and out of the Cascades Female Factory, a euphemism for a woman's prison, shaped by the Victorian passion for reform through work.

I am comfortable with Deidre, the middle class schoolteacher. for I did teach. Lady Franklin is the least accessible for me, but letters and diaries are available, as well as histories that track the accomplishments of the elite. Mary Dallow is the most fun for she takes me in unexpected places.

My father was a bartender, and and one of my stepfathers was a steelworker. As a kid, I knew about neighborhood taverns and how to 'make do' with my baby sister when no one was home. We moved often, as one joke goes, when the rent was due, and I found solace in books, working my way through college and into the middle class at a time when college tuition was much lower than it is today.

At first I wanted to be a social worker, but a field trip for a criminal justice class to a local prison changed my goals immediately. As we entered the prison, each of us were taken -- one at a time -- through a double locked door. For just a moment, as I stood there alone, locked in a sort of cage with bars on both sides, I knew I was totally dependent on whoever held the key. Later, the young women in our group were taken to an all female facility. I watched the girls fawn on the guards, saying what 'the man' wanted. But when the guard turned away, sneers and asides showed me what those young women really felt and how they survived. As Mary Dallow would say, "An' who wants to know, ya pig sticker."

I'm still working on Mary Dallow and whether she will have a happy ending. Is happiness a middle class invention?


  1. Wow, Beth... Indeed, three very different women, and your story will be that much better for their participation, because it'll give roundness. Years of Stone sounds a little like those Ken Follet historical sagas--Pillars of The Earth, etc.--which I love.

    Middle-class inventing happiness... Well, I guess that depends on what you define happiness as. Monetary affluence, or at least security? Poverty doesn't seem in line with that. Possessions, acquisition power? Yep, poverty won't work either. That kind of "happiness" may indeed be an invention, not of the middle class, but of humanity and our continuous striving for "more". But there's other kinds of happiness, and sometimes I think poverty is much more conducive to those than affluence.

  2. Beth, a very lovely post about your characters and a little about you as well. I enjoyed reading this. Best wishes for your continued development of your characters.Thanks for sending the link through email. I get a bit lost with the list. Holly

  3. I love this Mary Dallow character who has entered your world. I can tell she is going to be a handful. And as far as happiness being a middle-class value, I think so. "The American Dream" is defined by material and financial security. There is an attempt on the part of Republicans to convince people that "spiritual happiness" is the American Dream, but that's a bunch of hogwash if you ask me. Wonder what Mary Dallow would say to them. ;-)

  4. Beth, your book is fascinating and it should resonate to so many women. I don't know if happiness is a middle-class value. What is happiness? Is it accumulating wealth? Is it having a job that's intellectually rewarding? Is it being surrounded by the people who love you. I think if we were to ask people from all classes what happiness is, would have a very different set of values.

  5. This sounds very interesting! And no, I don't think happiness is a middle-class invention at all. People don't need modern conveniences to find joy.

    Nice to meet you, and welcome to the Challenge!

    A to Z Challenge Host

  6. Things were very hard in those times. I'm glad I live nowadays.

  7. It depends on where the happiness comes from, if it's dependent on an outside influence then it probably had an 'origin' but if it comes from within, then it's an itegral part of 'self'.
    Best wishes with the WIP, it sounds very complex.

  8. I don't think happiness is a middle class invention. Some people are happy with a lot less "stuff" than others if they are content from within.

    Nice, thought-provoking post.

  9. Sounds like a very interesting work... I look forward to hearing more.

  10. That's a deep question you ended with. I lived in poverty as a child, but I didn't know anything was wrong. I was happy. I think part of it comes down to what those around you are reflecting. I never knew we were poor until I grew up and really looked around.

    Your characters sound very interesting and well thought out. Good luck to you!

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z