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.