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.