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The art of names

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I have to say, one of my favorite parts of the writing and character-creating process is coming up with names. I like it when I can make them subtly significant, if only in my own head, or at least give my characters names I’m going to enjoy saying over and over again.

I’ve written about how Mrs. Hawking’s name is supposed to be deliberately disassociated from her in-universe, but behind the scenes it was carefully chosen. Her married name, Hawking, came first, because it’s a good solid English name and conveys her bird-of-prey nature. It took much longer to choose her first name, but I went with Victoria because I’ve always loved it, the “victory” meaning connotes her warlike nature, and because of the connection with the regnant queen. Stanton, her maiden name, also took some time to determine, and was chosen mostly because I like the way it sounds.

The character of Mary Stone basically just walked into my mind and introduced herself by name. I love when that happens, it feels as if I’m writing about a real person. Thinking about it, I think there was some influence from the fact that she is in some ways a gender-swapped analogue to Dr. Watson, and Watson’s wife is named Mary. I think Mary’s name fits her so well I’m kind of sorry that her surname will change when she gets married. I have given some thought to who her eventual husband will be, and while I don’t want to mention anything about him yet, I chose his surname with the specific intention that I shouldn’t mind using it to refer to Mary. Her middle name, Frances, came from Frances Kimpel, my model for Mrs. Hawking. I very nearly made Mrs. Hawking’s middle name Charlotte, after Mary’s model Charlotte Oswald, but I didn’t think it sounded right with the rest of our hero’s name. I plan on paying tribute to Charlotte’s name in another way in the future, though.

When I noticed that both she and Mrs. Hawking were named after prominent English queens I decided I would continue on with that trend where appropriate. That’s where her eventual Moriarty, Elizabeth Frost, got her name from. I’m kind of sorry that Nathaniel’s wife Clara doesn’t fit the mold, but I think it fits her too much to change. Their daughter Beatrice doesn’t quite, as there is no English queen by that name, but it was the name of the youngest Victorian princess. Reggie, their son, is so called because of course Nathaniel would name his son after his hero.

As for Nathaniel himself, he is named after my friend Nat Budin. Not for any particular reason, except that I like both Nat and his name.

Stephanie Karol, who read the roles of Celeste Fairmont and Grace Monroe in the Mrs. Hawking Bare Bones reading, commented that I seem to like naming patriarchs “Reginald.” Both the Colonel and the head of the society family in The Tailor at Loring’s End both have it. I like the name, but it does have kind of an old-fashioned masculine sound to it.

Cedric Brockton sounds solidly British and upper-class, perhaps to the point of parody, but I like the way it sounds. Ambrose Hawking came from the same impulse. It might be a little absurd, but I guess I have a taste for names like that.

Gabriel Hawking came from the fact that Gabriel is one of my all-time favorite names. I wanted something powerful and striking, given that the mention of the name has a rather totemic quality when uttered in this story.

Justin’s first name came from something silly. I remember thinking that Ryan Kacani, the actor who played for Nathaniel at the Bare Bones reading, looked like a Justin to me for some reason. So I gave that name to Nathaniel’s brother.

Johanna Braun, the name the client gives in Vivat Regina, was chosen because it translates from German basically to “Joan Brown,” as plain and nondescript a name as they come. There is a reason I wanted it to be so generic, but I won’t say what it is here.

Arthur Swann, also a character introduced in Vivat Regina, is also named in the vein of English royalty, though King Arthur is fictional. Also it’s my granddad’s name and I always liked it.

There’s also a bit of a bird theme going on. The Hawking family, Arthur Swann the police man, Clara’s maiden name being Partridge. It doesn’t have any specific meaning, but the presence of a bird name means that they are a character to watch.

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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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