Phoebe

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Hawking, Incorporated

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One thing I will have to explore sometime in the far future of these stories is the eventual aging of Mrs. Hawking. I made a conscious choice to depict her as forty years old when our story opens in 1880, and though she is a remarkably healthy and fit individual, as time goes on she will have to face the inevitable truth that eventually everyone physically deteriorates.

I think this will be extremely hard for her. So much of her work, upon which she bases her identity, requires her being an agile infiltrator and a dangerous fighter, all of which require her to be strong, flexible, and able to endure, and heal quickly from, injury. I also think that the idea of becoming a fragile old woman terrifies her. Even today we live in a culture that devalues weak old woman, and I think her own distaste for weakness made it so that she could not help but internalize it. Coming to terms with being unable to do the work by which she defines herself will be one of the greatest struggles of her life.

In the second story, she is going to settle upon the idea that Mary will be the one to continue on her work when she can’t do it anymore. Mary is not only her assistant but her protege and eventual successor. But I think she has not yet really thought about how this won’t just be after she’s dead– there will come a point in her lifetime when Mary will have to take over because she just can’t physically do it anymore. I think that struggle is going to make an impression on Mary as well. And that is going to spur her forward.

As I’ve said many times, Mary is the dynamic force that will take everything that’s great about Mrs. Hawking’s work and ways and bring it to a whole new level. She is not limited by the old resentments and psychological baggage that her mistress is. I think she’s going to see the enormous potential they have to do good and realize that it doesn’t have to be just a few women against the world, the way Mrs. Hawking has always seen it. I think Mary is going to start bringing in more people, and making a true organization devoted to society avenging.

A big inspiration for Mrs. Hawking has always been the character of Batman. A brilliant, brooding, lone wolf detective simultaneously motivated and handicapped by old psychological wounds. We’re already heading toward something that resembles the Bat Family, as it’s called, the group of heroes associated with Batman. If Mrs. Hawking is our Batman, Mary is a combination of Robin and Alfred, both her assistant and protege as well as her lifeline against losing herself in her own darkness. In the upcoming second story, our “Hawk Family” as it were, will expand to officially include Nathaniel as well.

In the excellent animated series Batman Beyond, Bruce Wayne goes through a similar struggle coming to terms with aging out of the ability to be a crime fighter. The solution there was to recruit someone new to be Batman who could act where our hero couldn’t, with the original Batman as his mentor and adviser. While Mary herself will never work in exactly the same manner as Mrs. Hawking, she recognizes the need for such ability. So I think eventually Mary is going to propose bringing in others who can expand the team, with Mary as their leader, and Mrs. Hawking as their trainer. In time, it may come to even resemble “Batman, Incorporated,” a concept from the comics where Batman essentially expands into franchises across the world, training people such that every city has a trained Batman to protect them. I love the idea of Mary recruiting youths (mostly women, but I doubt she’d turn away boys as well) and leading them as a team of society avengers fighting for justice, trained by their original and inspiration, Mrs. Hawking.

This would not happen until fairly far down the line. A great deal of adventure is to be had before then. But I think it would be an excellent evolution, and fitting consummation of their talents, to move in time to a point where brave young women are trained by fierce and cunning Mrs. Hawking and under the brave and sensible direction of Mary.

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Musing on a prequel story

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Thinking so much about Mrs. Hawking makes me think of all the other possible stories that could be told about those characters and that world. It’s very much set up to be a series of adventures, given that they theoretically work “cases,” so even though Shakespeare is the only theater writer I can think of that does sequels with any success, I can’t help but think of what else could happen to our society avengers.

I would love to write an “origin story” of sorts for Mrs. Hawking, how she came to become the female-Sherlock-Holmes-Batman that she is, detailing her youth and circumstances that made her who she is. What I see of her background is that she grew up the child of a local governor in the Asian colonies or something like that. Her father had a native valet with a martial background who she insisted teach her how to stalk and sneak and fight. And there would have to be something that introduced her to her trade, some injustice to women that would pull her into her true calling, of avenging those who society had trapped and wronged. Her resentment toward her father is a huge motivator for her in the present day, so the cause thereof could give me a great deal to work with.

One character people ask me about a lot in regards to this story is the Colonel, the esteemed Reginald Prescott Hawking, Mrs. Hawking’s late husband. As he died before the events of the play, we do not actually meet him. In fact, all we know about him is provided by his two family members, his wife and his nephew Nathaniel. What makes it interesting is that they have very different perceptions of him, and neither of them are totally reliable narrators. Nate idolizes him while she resents the hell out of him, and I like to think that neither of them are entirely right, nor entirely wrong. That origin play would also have to include how she and the Colonel met, how they got married, what led to all Mrs. Hawking’s resentment.

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On the theoretical “Gabriel Hawking”

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WARNING: Spoilers ahead for reveals in “Mrs. Hawking”

One aspect of Mrs. Hawking’s character that I like thinking about is how this woman, who is completely unmotherly and has zero desire to have children, interacts with the theoretical person of “Gabriel Hawking,” her stillborn baby boy. (Here I go again, with Important Babies in everything.) She is haunted by the idea of that dead baby. I think he is weirdly personified to her. Through most of the pregnancy it wasn’t a person, a child then, just a parasitic medical inconvenience. But when Reginald named him, and when he came out fully formed but dead, he became cemented in her mind at least as the suggestion of the person he would have been.

She has no maternal feelings for him. She doesn’t really think of him as her son. Instead he is Reginald’s son, he belongs entirely to Reginald. And Reginald’s pain at his death– see the ten-minute play “Like a Loss” for an exploration of this –is the biggest source of her guilt. In her mind, she has this nagging feeling that she took something that was his away from him and killed it. I think up until that point she never saw anything really get to him, wound him, even when she unleashed her own venom. But that was the most hurt she’d ever seen him, due to something she feels responsible for because of how hard she wished that baby away. As mad as she is and will always be at her late husband, she never wanted to hurt him like that.

Pregnancy was awful for her. This active woman, honed like a weapon and in complete physical control, becoming heavy and awkward and incapacitated. Did she push to do everything she did before? Did she ever get hurt or overexert herself? I think that if so, she couldn’t help but wonder if all that was the season the baby died. That it wasn’t just her wishing him away– that she actually did something to kill him.

And I think she benefited from the loss of that baby more than she is comfortable with. I imagine that after it happened, Reginald concluded that she was at least as devastated as he was– probably more so, because in his mind, as a woman and the child’s mother, she had to be. And so forever after that, he attributed all her cold, standoffish behavior to her having had to endure that. She forever had that as an excuse for her behavior, no matter how outlandish or unpleasant. And because it was effective like nothing else was, she used it. She took advantage of his assumption in order to keep him out of her business. And she feels guilty about it. She feels like she killed his child and then benefited from a death that doesn’t hurt her like it hurts him. A baby she never wanted in the first place, but didn’t want to kill. And she resents having to feel guilty about it, but still, she does.

I think she has an image of “Gabriel Hawking” in her head– a vague, incomplete, nonspecific one, but an image nonetheless. An impression of the person– the man specifically, not the child –he could have been. I’m not exactly sure what she pictures, but I imagine it’s mostly influenced by her impression of Reginald. And I think she wonders how much he would have been like Reginald… and if he’d have been any different.

I don’t think she likes to dwell on that last part.

It would make for an interesting literary device. To have a character follow her around who isn’t actually there, who she mostly tries to ignore but sometimes can’t help but engage with, who is actually that impression of Gabriel. If it were a film, I picture a young man that resembles the Colonel but with curly golden hair occasionally appearing at odd moments, rarely addressed but never totally able to be banished. Unfortunately that’s probably too far out of tone with the rest of the story, but it’s definitely interesting to think about.

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“Like a Loss” – a ten-minute play in the Mrs. Hawking universe

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I like how much potential there is for other stories in this universe. Most of them I hope to turn into full-length pieces in some way, but on occasion I want to tell a story that’s not centered around one of our heroes Mary and Mrs. Hawking. So I need to find some other ways to depict those ideas, and a ten-minute play is a nice idea.

So in this piece, I am giving you all the first-ever first person look at the most speculated-upon character in the Mrs. Hawking universe, the late Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking. I am not sure, in the grand scheme of the story, if it’s better to always leave you guessing about him or if your desire to know more about him should be fulfilled, but for scribbling purposes it’s all right.

One big question regarding the Hawkings’ relationship is how they interacted given the huge amount of silence, secrecy, and distance between them, and the one-sided nature of the affection. It’s a little hard for me to conceive of, as it’s tough to imagine how little talking and communication there would have to be to allow that, but this scene is my attempt to show a bit of how it might have been.

Also, I’ve been watching Downton Abbey so this sort of master-servant relationship is in my head right now. It was from this that I created the character of Henry Chapman, the Colonel’s batman and valet. I think, after the Colonel’s death, Mrs. Hawking got rid of Chapman so fast it made his head spin. Which did nothing to improve his opinion of her. I think he works for Nathaniel or maybe Ambrose or Justin now, but he’s still bitter.

This piece was originally written on August 2nd, 2013, and was expanded over the course of November 2013. Some very talented, discerning theater friends kindly workshopped a reading of it for me, with Ben Federlin as the Colonel and Eboracum Richter-Dahl as Chapman. As a production note, this piece is intended to stand alone and can be performed completely out of context. Though I do warn you, this contains spoilers for “Mrs. Hawking.”

Like a Loss
by Phoebe Roberts
~~~

London, England, 1862

COLONEL REGINALD HAWKING, of the Indian Rebellion, late thirties
HENRY CHAPMAN, his batman and valet, early thirties

~~~

(CHAPMAN sits in the dressing room, brushing a top hat. He stands when his master THE COLONEL enters.)

THE COLONEL:
Evening, Chapman.

CHAPMAN:
Good evening, sir.

THE COLONEL:
I think I’ll turn in now.

CHAPMAN:
Very good, sir.

(He takes THE COLONEL’s tailcoat and helps him undress.)

CHAPMAN:
If I might ask… is she any better today, sir?

THE COLONEL:
Much the same, really.

CHAPMAN:
I’m sorry to hear it.

THE COLONEL:
I expect she shall be for some time now.

CHAPMAN:
I see. A shame.

(CHAPMAN makes a face as he assists THE COLONEL.)

THE COLONEL:
I know that look.

CHAPMAN:
What look, sir?

THE COLONEL:
Come off it, now. I know you don’t approve.

CHAPMAN:
Sir! I would never presume—

THE COLONEL:
Of course, of course.

CHAPMAN:
Far be it from me to judge the bearing of the lady of the house—

THE COLONEL:
Spare me, old boy. Just that I’ll thank you to keep it to yourself.

CHAPMAN:
Of course, sir.

THE COLONEL:
Well. I’ve had enough of all this. Tell me something new, Chapman.

CHAPMAN:
Something new, sir? Well. You’ve had another letter from your brother.

THE COLONEL:
Have I? I suppose he won’t be put off, then.

CHAPMAN:
May I ask what he wants?

THE COLONEL:
A visit, it seems. A long one.

CHAPMAN:
Hmm. It would be quite understandable if you weren’t keen on having company.

THE COLONEL:
I think he means to take my mind off things.

CHAPMAN:
Well. That’s kind of him.

THE COLONEL:
Ambrose always looks out for his little brother.

CHAPMAN:
Perhaps you might find him a comfort.

THE COLONEL:
Perhaps. She won’t, though. He’s never cared for her either.

CHAPMAN:
I’m sorry, sir.

THE COLONEL:
He can think whatever he likes. I only hope he doesn’t teach it to the boys.

CHAPMAN:
Will they be joining him?

THE COLONEL:
I expect so.

CHAPMAN:
You don’t seem pleased.

THE COLONEL:
Don’t I?

CHAPMAN:
I thought you were quite fond of them.

THE COLONEL:
I am. They’re fine boys. Ambrose is very lucky. But— I fear they may wear on Mrs. Hawking’s nerves.

CHAPMAN:
I see.

THE COLONEL:
With her mood this black, that’s the last thing she needs right now.

(Pause.)

CHAPMAN:
It must be difficult.

THE COLONEL:
What must be difficult?

CHAPMAN:
When the family doesn’t get on.

THE COLONEL:
That’s putting it mildly.

CHAPMAN:
Well… it isn’t as if we choose our brothers’ wives.

THE COLONEL:
No more than we choose our brothers. Like it or not, Ambrose is stuck with the lot of us.

CHAPMAN:
I suppose not every man would choose a woman so… ah…

THE COLONEL:
Yes, Chapman?

CHAPMAN:
Fierce, perhaps?

THE COLONEL:
I’m a soldier, old boy, I’m drawn to it.

CHAPMAN:
Of course, sir. But fierce is a two-edged sword.

THE COLONEL:
Precisely. You lot only see the cuts. You miss how bright the blade is. She really is a remarkable woman, you know.

CHAPMAN:
I’m sure, sir.

THE COLONEL:
No, Chapman, don’t nod me off like that. I know what she seems like to you, but you’ve not seen the other side of it. It means more than just that she’s difficult for going so much her own way.

CHAPMAN:
How so?

THE COLONEL:
She’s utterly fearless. Their judgment can’t touch her, and no man, woman, king, brute, or god can bow her. Have you ever known a woman like that? I hadn’t, not before her.

(He pauses, remembering.)

THE COLONEL:
The first time I ever saw her– I was only a callow youth, a green officer stationed abroad in the colonies. I was making a report to the lieutenant governor in New Guinea, and when I was on my way to his bungalow, I saw, of all things, a girl climbing up a tree. The lieutenant’s daughter, though I didn’t know it yet. I watched her a moment, then all of a sudden she dropped down. I thought she was falling, so I rushed over to catch her. But she landed like a cat, whirled out of my arms, and her fist shot out faster than I could blink. Like a striking cobra, she blacked my eye.

CHAPMAN:
She never!

THE COLONEL:
Quicker than I could blink. Damn near knocked me bum over teakettle.

CHAPMAN:
My word! Surely the lieutenant had something to say about that.

THE COLONEL:
I never told him.

CHAPMAN:
But your black eye!

THE COLONEL:
Said I’d had it boxing with the lads. He never knew the difference. I tell you, Chapman, I thought I’d frightened her that day, but no. She was just that fierce.

CHAPMAN:
I’m afraid I don’t understand, sir.

THE COLONEL:
No. You don’t. No more than Ambrose does, nor anyone else.

CHAPMAN:
Except you, it seems.

THE COLONEL:
Someday, perhaps.

CHAPMAN:
Sir?

THE COLONEL:
It would take a lifetime to understand her. I knew I had to marry her to give myself the time.

CHAPMAN:
I supposed you’ll have to forgive the rest of us if we haven’t done it yet either.

THE COLONEL:
Suppose I shall. If you lot can forgive her in turn.

CHAPMAN:
A fair point, sir.

(Pause.)

CHAPMAN:
Is that how you manage? You forgive her?

THE COLONEL:
Forgive her for what?

CHAPMAN:
For this.

(Pause.)

THE COLONEL:
You’ll not judge her for it, Chapman.

CHAPMAN:
It’s not that, sir. Not precisely.

THE COLONEL:
After bearing through that, she can do whatever she damn well likes.

CHAPMAN:
It’s only… what about you, sir?

THE COLONEL:
What about me?

CHAPMAN:
He was to be your son, too.

(THE COLONEL tenses and turns away. CHAPMAN is chagrined.)

CHAPMAN:
Forgive me, sir. I shouldn’t speak of it.

(Pause.)

THE COLONEL:
I don’t know why it should hit me so hard. These things happen all the time. To some people, over and over again. Nothing to be done.

CHAPMAN:
It’s normal to mourn a loss.

THE COLONEL:
Strange, though, to call it that.

CHAPMAN:
You held in him your arms, sir.

THE COLONEL:
Wonder if it wasn’t a mistake.

CHAPMAN:
A mistake?

THE COLONEL:
He never cried. Never opened his eyes. But he was whole, you know. Still warm. He might have been sleeping but for that he never drew a breath. Made it harder to remember that… we never really had him to lose, did we?

CHAPMAN:
Still. It feels a loss, to you.

THE COLONEL:
There’s the rub, Chapman. If it’s like a loss to me… what must it be to her? She would have been his mother, for God’s sake. If I feel like… like this… what must it be like for her?

(Pause.)

THE COLONEL:
Tell me, Chapman, how can I ask anything of her now?

(He pulls on his robe.)

THE COLONEL:
That’ll be all now, old boy.

(CHAPMAN bows and exits, leaving THE COLONEL there alone.)

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The Hawking family tree

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Large families were all the rage in Victorian England. Guess who set that trend?

For most of the writing of the original draft, I did not give much thought to the specifics of the structure of the Hawking family. I wanted Nathaniel to share the Hawking name, so he had to be the blood nephew of the Colonel, which made him Mrs. Hawking’s nephew by marriage. But when I realized how much drama I could get out of bringing a large extended family in the story, I immediately started figuring out who they were.

Nathaniel is, in fact, the younger son of the Colonel’s elder brother Ambrose. Ambrose is an old-fashioned, self-satisfied man who very much regards himself as the family patriarch. While Reginald pursued a career in the military, Ambrose set himself up as an entrepreneur, building a venture capital firm that made its money in financing industry in the colonies. I decided Reginald was the younger brother so that I could parallel in him that manner with Nathaniel. As I mentioned, they are quintessential Victorian middle-class. Ambrose began the firm as a young man, but has since mostly ceded control of it to his sons. Nathaniel takes care of the books and the business end of things from London, while his elder brother Justin travels the world, investigating for possible investment opportunities.

Justin is a very different person from Nathaniel. Charm runs in the family, but while Nathaniel is sweet, romantic, and gentlemanly, Justin is more roguish, with a somewhat meaner sense of humor and a lot more self-centered arrogance. Nathaniel fell head over heels in love and married young, while Justin tomcats around; I imagine his good looks and charm make him very popular with the ladies.

Nathaniel’s wife of six years is named Clara, and they have two small children Beatrice and Reginald, named, of course, after his beloved uncle. Clara is designed to be in many ways the polar opposite of the other Mrs. Hawking; she’s totally happy with her gender role and her place in the world, embracing her femininity to get the things she wants accomplished. However, like her husband’s aunt, she has learned to use her harmless appearance to her advantage, and she is a complete master of the art of throwing shade from beneath a veil of polite conversation.

One of the biggest reasons I like plotting out the Hawking family is because of how they influence Nathaniel’s arc. Nathaniel begins the story very much a product of his environment. He comes from a family of very decent, upright people who take for granted the conventional wisdom of what men and women are like. Their traditional view of Victorian masculinity has shaped him with the sense of command and entitlement he shows at the beginning of the story. Their pressure for him to conform is also going to be a major obstacle in his growing past this.

Needless to say, the family does not get along very well with Mrs. Hawking. I think it’s mostly her fault, as she makes no secret of the fact that she dislikes them all, but they are hardly openminded about how different and weird she is, plus they do not have progressive ideas about the place of women. But she is forced to deal with them because, thanks to the Colonel marrying her, they are now her family and social norms will not permit that connection to be severed. So on top of everything else her marriage forced into her life, it inextricably bound her to people she has this much trouble getting along with.

This actually makes Nathaniel’s relationship with her very interesting. At the beginning of the story, his presence could not have been more unwelcome. Basically, her husband’s nephew, a young man with no blood relation to her, had the right to take full legal responsibility for her, and had no qualms about doing it. Making decisions for her, trying to control her. But he is growing, growing in ways neither of them never ever thought he would. Once he starts to make a real effort to get passed that patriarchal sense of entitlement and instead wants to help her rather than hold her back, he actually becomes a positive presence in her life. I think she is resistant to this at first, but in time comes to see him as important to her, even precious. Which for her is a pretty big leap.

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Mrs. Hawking’s widows weeds

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In order to give a good mental image of what Mary and Mrs. Hawking are supposed to look like, I’ve been working to create images that are as representative as possible of what I see in my head. Though of course when casting a show one must go with the actress with the best ability to portray the character, the photographs on this website are pretty accurate representations of what I imagine them looking like– Mary is tall and fit with dark hair and freckles, with a kind, pretty face, while Mrs. Hawking is small and powerful, with arresting features behind wavy blonde hair and sharp green eyes.

I recently held a photo shoot to capture more images of the characters with my beautiful models Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking and Charlotte Oswald as Mary. They were kind to oblige me, and they are both lovely, perfect for the look of the characters, and wonderful to work with. I specifically wanted shots depicting scenes that occur in the course of the play.

I photographed them in a number of costumes, but one that turned out especially well was Mrs. Hawking’s widow’s gown. I do most of my costuming by adapting pieces I find in thrift stores to my purposes. This costume is based on an original dress I honestly kind of hated it on sight. On the hanger it looked like a garbage bag, black and shiny and chintzy. I have kind of a love-hate relationship with dresses made of moire– an iridescent fabric that looks like it has water ripples or wood knots in it –because I always find it pretty when I first glance at it, but the longer I look at it, it looks cheap. But it had a lot of the details I’m looking for in the basis of a Victorian gown, a ruffled collar, puffy sleeves, a cloth belt at the waist.

I bought it without high hopes for it. It just looked so damn tacky in the store. The checkout girl used it to wrap a glass decanter I bought in the same trip, and I never even bothered to unpack it. When this photo shoot rolled around, I hadn’t even tried it in combination with the other elements of the costume, so for all I knew it wasn’t going to work at all. But when I tried it on Frances, with black long gloves and over two layers of full tiered skirts kindly lent to me by fellow costumer Jenn Giorno… it transformed. Charlotte pinned the collar closed with a black and silver brooch, and cut a slit up the back of the dress so that it spread out over the skirts, and they even puffed out through the slit in the back to make a sort of bustle-y detail. The moire looked appropriate for the sort of tapestry appearance of fancy Victorian fabric. All together, it made for a shockingly beautiful, and shockingly accurate-looking, costume. I’m really pleased at how well it turned out, but also that I think this is evidence that my eye as costumer is developing, as I’m getting better and better at spotting pieces that will work in combination even if I never actually see them together until they’re fulling assembled.

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An anti-Mrs. Hawking

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In a future story, I would love to give our hero an opponent who was the “anti-Mrs. Hawking,” a woman just as devious and formidable as she, but who uses and manipulates the system to take advantage of women’s social entrapment for her own ends. This is interesting because I think Mrs. Hawking’s usual opponents are men, not other women. They could have a secret war, and I think it should be someone who knows her, someone for whom such actions would be a deep betrayal. I also like the idea that she would know Mrs. Hawking’s ways. Our hero trades on being unsuspected and underestimated, but would not have that advantage over an opponent who knows her for what she is.

I actually like the idea that they grew up together, that they were good friends in their youth in New Guinea. I could include this character in the prequel that details that time. I think at that point I would give no hint to her future villainy, but establish her as having a mentality in conflict with our hero to foreshadow it. And so when she did recur later, as the villain of a later story, it would be particularly shocking to Mrs. Hawking, and seem all that more treacherous.

I call her Elizabeth Frost, nee Danvers. You’ll note I am naming the major female figures in the Mrs. Hawking universe after the queens of England. We have Victoria and Mary already. Mrs. Hawking’s nemesis and opposite, then, is Elizabeth– one of the most powerful and brilliant of them all.

I scribbled a small scene with her this summer. I’m not sure of all its details and it’s not grounded in a plot yet, but it gives a vague idea of who this woman is, and how she interacts with our hero:

~~~

MRS. FROST: It’s no use, Victoria. I know you’re in here somewhere.

(MR. HAWKING emerges from the canopy on the balcony door and land catlike on the floor.)

MRS. FROST: Hmm. The canopy, very cunning. I would have guessed you’d be clinging to the transom.

MRS. HAWKING: It’s been a long time, Elizabeth.

MRS. FROST: Yes, it has. But some things never change.

MRS. HAWKING: I had wondered what become of you after that Frost man took you away. I never suspected this.

MRS. FROST: You make your own way in the world, and I make mine.

MRS. HAWKING: On the backs of helpless women?

MRS. FROST: You never did grasp how the world works, Victoria.

MRS. HAWKING: Oh, I grasp it. I just refuse to be complicit in it.

MRS. FROST: Complicit? No, not you, never you. You’ve never gone along with anything in your life when you could wage all-out war on it instead.

MRS. HAWKING: A world and a system I have spent my life defending helpless women against, you manipulate and exploit to your own advantage.

MRS. FROST: Oh, spare me your righteous wrath, darling.

MRS. HAWKING: You are as bad as any of them!

MRS. FROST: And you are hero, is that it? You are a beast in a menagerie pounding against the bars of your cage! For all your work and all your heroics, what have you done? So you pulled a few petty bacons from the fire. Nothing has changed, the world still traps us and uses us and batters us down! Do you honestly believe you can put an end to all that on your own?

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Mrs. Hawking’s asexuality, and its peculiar effect on her outlook

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I couldn’t tell you why, but I have a fondness for asexual characters. They are very rarely represented in fiction, so I am fascinated when I encounter them, and tend to be very protective of the integrity of their identities thereof. Those of you of the type inclined to ‘shipping may find this frustrating, but that’s the way I’ve always seen Mrs. Hawking.

Mrs. Hawking is to my mind a true aromantic asexual. Completely disinterested in sex, in fact rather disgusted by it, and completely incapable of experiencing romantic love. She is a loner by nature, made worse by her rage and alienation in regards to the world around her, and frustrated by how there seems to be no place or understanding for people who feel that way. This frustration is interesting because despite this, I don’t think she fully realizes how exceptional she is in this respect.

It intersects weirdly, in fact problematically, with her particular outlook on women. As I’ve mentioned she is supposed to represent a kind of radical feminism, the kind that needs tempering with a more broad-minded, inclusive force, which in this case is Mary’s more intersectional feminism. She tends to view sexuality as something men impose on women rather than something that women can and should own themselves. I don’t think Mrs. Hawking has ever really personally witnessed women be anything but victims of men’s sexuality, much less have a healthy sexuality of their own. It’s not like she’s close to many people, so the women she mostly comes in contact with are mostly clients, and given that they’re people in trouble, they’re much less likely to be in happy or healthy partnerships. That combined with the complete disinterest in sex she finds in herself has led her to conclude that NO women are sexual, and there is no positive way they can experience it. Sex, marriage, and even romance are just traps made by men to further arrange the world to their liking regardless of what women need.

It makes it a bit difficult to think about how that played out in the course of her marriage. I think she and the Colonel both bought into the Victorian conventional wisdom about sex much more than was healthy. They both concluded, I think, that of course women are not very interested in such things, and of course men expect them anyway, so they both had a seemingly plain explanation for each other’s behavior. I hate to say it, but I guess Victoria just kind of put up with it– on an occasional basis, at least –because it was the easiest way to deal, and Reginald believed that was just how these things worked. And I have a feeling that after (spoiler) the stillbirth, the issue came up considerably less often.

As a result, she is, to use the academic jargon, extremely sex-negative. It’s part of the way she fails at feminism, as it leads her to either deny part of women’s essential humanity, or look down on women who are sexual as complicit with their victimizers.

But Mary’s role in her world is to challenge her, to temper her and encourage her to grow, as intersectional feminism does to radical. So, I think Mary will emerge as a counterexample to that view. She will be a woman who not only is capable of a functional, equal romantic relationship with a man, but one who DESIRES such a relationship. I think that’s going to be very difficult for Mrs. Hawking, as she has a hard time seeing romance and marriage as anything but submitting to the enemy. That’s going to be something that Mary’s will have to stand up to her about, and help her to see that a woman wanting love and sex does not have to be diminishing to her independence or agency.

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What Nathaniel does for a living, and other middle-class folks

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Categories: character, themes, Tags: , , , , ,

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People sometimes ask me what Nathaniel’s day job is. He does have one, you know, even though it’s never directly mentioned in the text. It’s important because the Hawkings are supposed to be quintessentially middle-class people. The Victorian period was the first time in Western history that the middle class were becoming an important demographic, a group with a lot of their own money and growing political influence. Still, the old class system that prioritized the nobility still hadn’t totally been overcome, so there is an interesting conflict between those with titles and all the hereditary powers associated with them, and increasingly significant professional class that was growing richer and more numerous than they. I want this conflict to have a presence in and effect on the story, as classism is a major theme I want to engage with.

So Nathaniel, as it happens, is what would have been called back in the day a speculative financier– or in modern terms, a venture capitalist. They find promising business ventures, which in this time tended to be resource acquisition in the colonies, and lend them the startup money to get going. His father Ambrose is the head of the firm and Nathaniel has recently become a partner. I am leaning toward Ambrose being the founder, and having him be the first generation of the Hawking family to attain significant wealth and social prominence. Nathaniel’s elder brother Justin may be part of this as well, I haven’t decided yet. The Colonel was not so much, as he was pursuing his military career, but I do think he had a financial stake in the operations. This would enable him to have, as they say, “incomes” from investments. Mrs. Hawking inherited these as his widow, and they provide her with a very significant return.

I like to think that Mrs. Hawking doesn’t think about them, or any money, very much at all. She is the daughter of a prominent, high-ranking military official and went from there to be the wife of another one, so she has never had to worry about such things. I don’t think she’s particularly materialistic, but I also think she’s pretty used to never being limited by money. Again, I want classism to be a big theme in these stories, so this part of her needs to come into conflict with the characters around her that haven’t been so fortunate.

Moreover, she’s in control of her money. As a widow, nobody has power over it but her. That is a MAJOR feminist issue– women with financial resources of their own have a great deal more agency and independence than those who don’t. This casts her in sharp contrast to most women in her society, and those are the sorts who will need her help the most. Her lack of strong consciousness about the privilege that gives her could be an interesting source of drama when she encounters those not as fortunate as her. This could even include Mary, who despite her closeness and growing importance to her mistress, is still her maidservant, still massively less privileged and in a strongly subordinate position.

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Mary’s big future

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Categories: character, looking ahead, Tags: , ,

Of course a big part of any further stories will have to be Mary’s future. Mary would definitely need to come into her own even more, more independence, more agency. She will become more and more important to Mrs. Hawking’s work, to the point where she is not totally just the protege and able to contribute more on her own.

She also will have to develop separately from the path of Mrs. Hawking. I’d love Mary to eventually meet someone and have a romance with a gentleman who was worthy of her, who of course Mrs. Hawking would despise because she would hope Mary to be a confirmed lone wolf like herself. I think a major issue to sort out will be that while the women compliment each other, they are also extremely different from each other, and those differences will sometimes make it difficult to always work in harmony together. I think that will be a great source of dramatic tension.

Honestly, in many ways the story is Mary’s more even than Mrs. Hawking’s. She is, you will notice, the only character in every single scene in the original piece. Mary turned out to be even more central and significant than I ever expected, so I would want her to continue to grow and develop, and, as she proved to be remarkably good at, to force Mrs. Hawking to do the same.

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