Saturday, October 18, 2008

Enriching Victorian Age Noble Characters: Not Just for Authors

Beyond fairy tales, the Victorian Age happenings provide opportunistic contrasts for noble and royal characters, and possible fodder for story conflicts. Often missed opportunities as I often perceive authors to underutilize this category of characters.

I’ve been a professional editor and writer off and on for some time; occasionally I’ve been asked to do so while in an emeritus capacity with the USSS to guard against the possible endangerment of protected bloodlines by unwitting revelations about said bloodlines.

While reading, I’ve noted a tendency for the sometimes gratuitously placed royal or noble characters within a manuscript (or a galley) to be, well, cardboard cutouts or paper-thin. Part of background rather than major influencers that they were, still. Although my job is perpetually to keep such bloodlines safe, I’ll be the first to say that much of their popular lore is underutilized and certainly would harm none to enhance storylines with more of their, well, ‘real’ natures.

I’ll explain a few ways to maximize upon typical nobiliary traits for characters.

1) Most queens were in Queen Victoria’s shadow during her imperialism. However, they were as active as usual in spheres of influence. Most appear in history books. But do your readers know that queens are historically known to be animal rights activists, or very nearly so? Their role somehow engenders great love of pets and animals. Can your readers see a queen defending horses being whipped along the roadside without stopping the atrocity? Or going after illegal hunting by poachers on her neighbor’s estate or even public parklands? Or befriending an injured wild animal that can stay in her menagerie if it can’t be returned to its habitat? A queen’s entourage member might also make a good solid story character and would tend to follow her lead or act in her behalf on such matters. Such instances would not only be tolerated but expected, therefore. Realizing that women were still often considered by many to be merely a higher level of chattel still helps to understand why those at the top echelons developed human-like reverence for mounts, hunting dogs, cats who moused their barns, and lap dogs. And then there were the exotic pets, topiaries, preserves, and safaris that had started becoming artistic rather than monetary. Household pets were appearing in Masters-styled artwork preserved for future generations during this rapidly changing era. Authors can utilize their nobiliary female characters for more than their well-publicized fashion sense, or lack of.

2) Hiding royal families typically sought out civil or clerical positions during the Victorian era. Their heritages taught them to seek leadership responsibilities even while hiding from the sunset of the French Reign of Terror. To flesh out such a typified noble character recently or still in hiding, it might take adding in depth by adding extremes to behaviors that were not negative traits such as a noble son being an ethical vegetarian. A higher echelon trend did fascinate Society, and wasn’t unexpected amongst clergy well-traveled and often the unlanded nobility or gentry. Many a lady’s journal interlopes into the dietary habits of monks or other clergy frequenting parties and soirees. Imagine the difficulties and story conflicts while such a displaced noble character travels throughout the Wild West. Extreme customs were individually tolerated during this Era and made good parlor talk.

3) Not every princess during the Victorian Era shopped at the House of Worth. Even when they could afford the price tag and could dawdle in the waiting rooms while perched on elegant chairs gazing at reflections in strategically angled mirrors encircling the exclusive invitation-only shops. The influential princesses understood that they started trends, just as ancient ones did and even modern ones today. But princesses were handy with a needle and were known to design and sew their own attire, even for official State functions. There was no looking down on a creation by-hand. In fact, they were lauded for preserving state coffers, or their own purse strings. Rather than be embarrassed by a financial need to sew when they couldn’t use a haute couture fashion house, this generation of princesses excelled at being fashion-forward with their own creations. The license allowed these princesses freed up ladies in lower echelons to remain proud of their own household designed wardrobe pieces. Such princesses were known to draw on their historical accoutrements such as heraldic embroidery and laces. Ironically, perhaps, the fashion designers rising in fame were not on the invitation lists of the same socialites and aristocrats that they dressed. Even though a trip to their shops was considered the height of Society trekking. But Society could speak freely in front of the haute couture designers of this era. Gossip disallowed in the typical drawing room was encouraged over pink champagne in the designers’ show rooms, after all. Even in the company of princesses.

4) Madame Guillotine still drove many a royal son into the military decades later. Speaking of this type of hero, he wouldn’t have given up his heritage. The Armed Services worldwide were (and still are) known to accommodate hiding royal lines within their ranks. With accommodations. Such an officer might have many a secret to hide, beyond the brooding hero’s clandestine needs of the Dark Ages. He would be trying to take care of loyal pensioners from a lost estate, support dependent female family members unable to work, and yet still maintain a show on the surface equal to his military counterparts so that he didn’t give anyone away. He would forgo luxuries, maximize gifts, become a martyr due to perceived need, and woo a heroine with charm rather than expensive gifts. Although in the end her reward might be a title should she prove worthy of his noble household. Plenty of room to demonstrate his nobler-than-thou character that was nonetheless expected by his pressuring social peers. All about adding depth to even the smallest kind gesture, beyond mere formalities, for story characters.

5) Writing in a noble character’s active participation in reviving a trend can expose their inner-motives and set up story conflicts to an advantage. For example, the Victorian Era was known for self-imposed or directly dictated decorum, reflected on the surface with aforementioned Morality Laws. It was a matter of taste. Renewed, at that. Nude horsewomen riding through central parks were no longer tolerated. But artistic visions promoted by noble patrons of the arts would still find nudity in plays far above the saloon hall patronage. Especially during the Renaissance revival that spiked in between revolutions and wars worldwide. Although Victorians were not underdressed, they were not shocked by nudity in its artistic form. As in the Renaissance, a top noble lady would be expected to play the part of an upper echelon Shakespearean heroine in the buff. Albeit, at that level, the plays were by private invitation and tickets were not on the market for a general public, per se. A character with a vested interest in hiding, or exposing, such artistic venues would only add depth to motivations, for example, and give plenty of valid reasons for secrecy between characters. Not all aspects of such trends were potentially scandalous or to be misunderstood. This flirtation with the Renaissance that even revived blackwork embroidery that spread like wildfire across the Wild West.

Merely a smattering of ideas for Victorian Age authors of any genre to consider, as they are the types of elements I would love to read or watch more about, myself. Go ahead and come up with your own ideas on how to more deeply motivate your noble household members and their ilk. I promise you'll be pleased with the responses.

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