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Peeling Away the Mask

By C.V. Lee
October 5, 2021

For October, our lanterns are tackling the topic of unmasking our characters as we develop our stories. Just as it takes time to get to know a new acquaintance, so it is with our characters. For me, I can create a character sketch, but as I write, and my character confronts new situations, I learn something new about them. Just as we are sometimes surprised by how friends and family react in certain circumstances (maybe making us at times question how well we really know them), a character can amaze or bewilder.

My writing poses unique challenges in that most of my characters were once living, breathing individuals. They lived in the 15th century so there isn’t much available about their history except a few anecdotes. These snippets are shrouded with questions. Did the events happen as recorded? Some of the stories were passed down for a few generations before they were written down, so who knows what was forgotten, or what was embellished. From the few facts available, I needed to extrapolate and envision each character and their relationship with the others in the cast.

My heroine, Margaret, although an important figure in the island’s history, is not given her own biography. Everything I gleaned about her came from biographies of various men. So I hope you’ll enjoy following the thought process I went through, using the few known details of her life, to sketch her character.

First, I know that she was the daughter of the governor, and she married the son of the seigneur of the most prominent estate on the island. Since the fathers of the bride and the groom were friends, I surmise they arranged the marriage. Given the time period and their social status, this would be commonplace.

Together, Margaret and her husband had 21 children. From this fact, I assumed these two fell in love and were happily married. Certainly their life behind the chamber door is obvious. Although different than our own, some options for birth control were known. So my guess is they both wanted many children. As far as I can tell from the history, Margaret was an only child. There is no record of her mother, which even in this time is rare, so I had to grapple with the options of did her mother die in childbirth, was she illegitimate, or was her mother an embarrassment to the family and they preferred to forget her existence? Further, there is no indication her husband had siblings either. So I inferred both may have experienced lonely childhoods and wanted their home filled with activity and laughter. Of course, being members of the gentry, it was helpful to have servants to help care for that brood!

As to other aspects of her character, I took a lot of clues from this brief recorded exchange between my heroine and one of the antagonists, Clement. I used this exchange to draw conclusions about their character.

Margaret greets Clement: Gossip.

Clement: Madam, don’t you know who I am?

Margaret: Are you not my gossip, Clement?

Clement: Certainly not! Am I not the Lieutenant and the Bailiff?

Margaret: Yes, and you will be the first to be turned out.

Rightly or wrongly, I took away several things from this brief snippet of conversation:

  1. That Margaret and Clement must have known each other quite well at one point for her to greet him so familiarly.
  2. Perchance at the time of this meeting, it had been several years since they had seen each other. Clement’s appearance may have changed significantly as he aged, and he seems uncertain if she recognizes him.
  3. Clement was a gossip.
  4. He didn’t like being considered a gossip.
  5. He took great pride in his position of power and wanted even an old friend to address him by his titles. I take this to mean he was very self-important.
  6. Margaret knew exactly who he was.
  7. She didn’t care about his status, which at this point in time was higher than her own. She was willing to flout convention by not addressing him properly.
  8. She doesn’t have a lot of respect for him.
  9. She is politically astute.
  10. She has strong opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them.

From other texts, I got a vision of a bold and fearless woman. If others declared something was impossible, she wasn’t deterred. She took the destiny of her life and the future of her family into her own hands. I surmise if she had seen the following quote, it would have been her motto.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

– Nora Ephron, writer

C.V. Lee
Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

View CV’s PLW Profile

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