Blogging about siblings in fiction last week got me to thinking about other family relationships in novels. I’ve always liked children in books. At first I think a lot of it was wanting someone my own age to identify with. I was ten when I first read Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy (or rather when my mom read it to me). I remember being fascinated to meet Amabel (the hero’s little) sister who was the same age I was at the time. But at the same time, I was intrigued by heroes and heroines who combined their adventures with the role of parents or surrogate parents. This interest grew stronger as I got older. Nearly all my books have children as characters, going back to my mom’s and my Anthea Malcolm Regencies. The hero’s children, the heroine’s children, their children together, younger siblings wards, street urchins, waifs, a governess’s pupils.
From a writer’s perspective, children serve a wealth of plot purposes. They can be a great source of motivation. For instance, in Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, the heroine decides in the middle of the book that she can’t risk trusting the hero. The fact that the safety of the young boy who is her charge is at stake raises the stakes and puts her in an impossible dilemma. She might risk trusting her heart over her head on her own. She can’t with young Philippe’s life at stake. Chidlren can be the source of unbearable dilemmas (Sophie’s Choice, the chess game in Dorothy Dunnett’s Pawn in Frankincense). They can also be wonderful truth-tellers, particularly among the intricate social codes of many historical eras. Think of Felix in Georgette Heyer’s Frederica or Edmund in Heyer’s Sylvester. And they can be acute observers of adult events, though they can also misinterpret those events (Briony in Atonement).
I knew I wanted Charles and Mélanie to have children even before I decided their son would be abducted in Secrets of a Lady. The crisis of confronting the lies on which their marriage was build was so much stronger if they had children to consider. And once I decided Colin’s abduction would be the driving force of the book, I knew I wanted them to have another child. I wanted Jessica so there would be a child they could interact with during the book, so that in the midst of the intense crisis I could deal with both of them being parents. Though Beneath a Silent Moon, The Mask of Night, and the other books I envision in the series don’t revolve round the children in the way Secrets of a Lady does, Charles and Mélanie’s roles as parents remains key in my vision of the series. I love the tension of their lives as spies and their responsibilities as parents (a tension Len Deighton wrote about beautifully in the Bernard and Fiona Samson books). Colin and Jessica’s presence balances the glamour and adventure of their parents’ lives with the practical reality of parenting . It creates tension (Charles accuses Mélanie of forgetting she has children when she runs particularly dangerous risks in Beneath a Silent Moon; Mélanie says that’s something she never forgets). It anchors them to every day reality and gives them much needed moments of warmth and joy.
Do you like children in books? Why or why not or in what circumstances? Any books in which you think the children are particularly well integrated into the story? Any thoughts on Charles and Mélanie as parents? Or on how you’d like to see Colin and Jessica in future books in the series?
In keep with this week’s topic, the latest edition to the Fraser Correspondence is a letter Mélanie writes to Isobel Lydgate in which she discusses Colin and Jessica, just as the Frasers are about to return to Britain in 1817.