Categotry Archives: themes

Discussions of the major important themes that the Mrs. Hawking stories engage with.

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

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

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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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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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Mrs. Hawking’s radical versus Mary’s intersectional feminism

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I think it’s pretty clear that this is a feminist story. It engages a great deal with the systemic inequalities in culture against women, and focuses the telling in a way emphasize the female perspective that is all too often lacking in mainstream media. I personally identify very strongly as feminist, and telling the story of dynamic, proactive, and ultimately human female characters was a huge motivating factor in my writing the play.

As such, the central relationship of the piece, and indeed of all the pieces to come in the series, is the friendship between two women who make each other better. Its power is meant to be always at the forefront. They support one another, but they also challenge each other, and the combination of those two things is key. Obviously in this relationship the older, more experienced, more free-thinking Mrs. Hawking is the mentor, while the younger, less radical Mary takes on the role of the protege. Mary of course has much to learn from her– but Mary, with the unique position she acquires of the closest person in Mrs. Hawking’s heretofore solitary life, has a great deal to challenge within Mrs. Hawking as well. She provides a different perspective, a reality check, a sanity check, and a tempering force on her mistress’s fire. Particularly when it comes to their personal expressions of feminism.

The nature of this particular aspect of their relationship was first codified in so many words by Brad Smith, the fabulous actor who read for Cedric Brockton in the Bare Bones staged reading. Both characters are intended to be represented as feminists in a spiritual if not technical academic sense, since that term comes along many years after their time period. But as Brad observed, they do embody it in contrasting forms. Mrs. Hawking represents radical while Mary stands for intersectional feminism.

Mrs. Hawking’s form is modeled as a true second-waver– on the vanguard of the challenge to the flawed system, motivated chiefly by anger. Men are the enemy in her mind, to be overcome and escaped rather than educated. And though she helps women who struggle under the patriarchy, she still carries a lot of contempt for anyone she does not see as taking up arms in the gender war, or who is not smart enough to understand just how oppressed they are.

Mary, by contrast, is supposed to represent more of a third-wave perspective, one based on making allies rather than enemies, with a more nuanced approach to gender equality, and a mind to the ways that oppression compounds on those with fewer privileges. She brings compassion and inclusion to the struggle, and she is meant to bring a voice of critique to her mistress’s judgmental elitism.

This clash resides mostly in the realm of metaphor at the moment, for a number of reasons. Firstly because it’s too early in history for either of these ideologies to literally exist in their minds, it’s mostly meant to speak to the audience’s modern perspective. Secondly, I am aware that while Mary does bring some small amount of intersectionality by virtue of her being working class, there is a definite lack of other axes of oppression currently in the story, such as people of other races. I would like to endeavor to fix this in the future, to make this presence of “intersectional feminism” even more meaningful as I tell more stories in this world. But right now I acknowledge it’s a problem.

But the feminist theme is a major one we’ll be exploring. And I like that even as we tell the story of two very strong female characters, they don’t always get feminism right– and that gives a great opportunity to try and figure it out for ourselves.

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