Getting ready to go to a friend’s house for a Mother’s Day dinner party, I started thinking about mothers in fiction. Specifically heroines are mothers. A number of my heroines have had children or have become stepmothers because in the course of the story. I knew being a mother would be an important part of who Mélanie was from my very first plotting the idea for the book that became Daughter of the Game and then Secrets of Lady. I hadn’t even come up with the idea of Mélanie and Charles’s son being abducted yet. I just had the idea of the two of them and the secrets in their marriage. But I knew I wanted them to have children, because that would be an extra tie between them, a tie that would add so much more weight to the choices they had made and the choices they would be compelled to make in the course of the novel. Once I had the idea of having their son kidnapped, I knew I wanted them to have another child, so I could show them interacting as parents even while trying desperately to get their son back.
Like my friends who are working parents, Mélanie and Charles struggle to balance their responsibilities to their children with the other responsibilities in their lives. In Beneath a Silent Moon, Jessica is a baby. Investigating a murder and coping with spies, smugglers, assassins, and the Elsinore League while taking care of an infant is a challenge for Mélanie. It was a challenge for me as a writer as well. I decided Mélanie would nurse Jessica herself, so I had to keep track of how long it had been since she’d fed Jessica, and I made unexpected research forays into questions such as “did they have breast pumps in the Regency?” (they did, called “breast exhausters”). But having the children in the book, particularly baby Jessica, was a great way to bring the tensions in Mélanie’s to the fore. At one point in the book, when Mélanie’s deliberately put herself in a dangerous situation, Charles tells her she should remember she has children. Mélanie shoots back that she never forgets she has children and says she’ll stop putting herself in danger whenever Charles stops running risks himself. Mélanie takes being a mother very seriously, but she isn’t completely defined by it, any more than Charles is completely defined by being a father.
In one of the excerpts I posted from The Mask of Night,, Charles and Mel try to balance the demands of an investigation with the demands of their children. The tension between having children and their lives as agents is a continuing thread throughout the series for both Mélanie and Charles, one I look forward to exploring.
Do you like heroines who have children? Any examples of books where being a mother shaped the heroine in interesting ways? How do you think Mélanie would be different as a character if she didn’t have children? How might her relationship with Charles and the choices she made be different?
This week’s addition to the Fraser Correspondence is a letter to Mélanie from her friend Isobel Lydgate (David’s sister and Honoria’s cousin) about the vicissitudes of being a mother.
Update 14 May: I’m guest blogging today on Writers as Play, taking off on my earlier blog on Focus Shifts in Historical Fiction.