The heroine of my latest release, An Unpracticed Heart, is Charlotte Claridge. If I were to describe her in a few words (e.g. “smart, plucky woman who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” or “quiet, milquetoast kind of person who has a personality the same shade as the page”) I’m not sure I could pull it off adequately.
Charlotte Claridge is a smart, plucky woman who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer… depending on who is doing the asking. Because for the most part, Charlotte is strong and able to stand up for herself. Unless she’s toe-to-toe with her stepmother, Lady Alvord. Then, her courage disintegrates as quickly as wet toilet paper.
Does this make Charlotte a weak character? I think it makes her a real character. In my own life, there are situations in which I feel like I can take control, say what needs to be said, not let anyone browbeat me into submission, and come out on top. And then, when faced with certain people, certain personalities, I simply wither.
In Charlotte’s case, she was not treated well by her stepmother. She was constantly criticized, told she was inadequate, and removed from polite society rather than given the round of parties and social events her father had wanted for her when she grew old enough to participate in them. That particular cloak of verbal abuse is not an easy one to shed, even if Charlotte is capable of standing on equal terms with other people (ones who have never treated her so poorly.)
She met Lady Alvord in the hall, near the bottom of the stairs. Charlotte had hoped her stepmother would have already retired to her bedroom, but there she stood, her bonnet still on her head, one glove dangling from her hand as she sorted through a stack of cards and letters left on the entryway table.
“Ah.” Her stepmother’s grey gaze appraised her as she approached. Nothing else about her expression altered, except for a slight lift of one light brown eyebrow as her gaze swept down to Charlotte’s hem and back up to her face. “I see you managed to arrive in one piece.” Her attention drifted back to the cards in her hand. “You’re later than I anticipated.”
Charlotte clasped her own hands in front of her and tried not to fall into the pose of a scolded child. It was too easy a thing, and a habit she thought she’d shaken during the last few years spent between her grandmother’s home in Shepherd’s Bush and Ellesferth. But less than a dozen words from Lady Alvord’s mouth and a part of herself already fought to pull inwards, to hide away as best she could, even in plain sight.
“No words of greeting for me then?” Her stepmother tossed the cards back into the tray on the table and finished the task of removing her gloves. “Well, I see your time away hasn’t made any improvement in your manners.” She strode forward, her bare fingers grasping Charlotte’s chin as she turned her face first one way and then another. “Hmm, and I see Scotland hasn’t done your complexion any favors, either. You look tired.”
Charlotte held her breath as her stepmother let go of her and turned her attention to removing the rest of her outer garments. She wondered if she could escape to her tiny bedroom off the nursery without being dismissed, if indeed she even still needed to be dismissed. Lady Alvord was less than a decade older than her, and yet her father’s choice of second wife still elected to treat her as a girl only just cut loose from her leading strings.
“I’ll be dining away from home tonight,” Lady Alvord continued, divested now of her bonnet and her spenser. “We do have several things to discuss, and there are preparations to be made before you’re collected for your journey to Wales.” She looked up again, the smile that curved her soft, pink lips never quite reaching her eyes. “I certainly can’t send you off dressed as you are. What on earth will they think of me should you turn up on their doorstep in those sorry rags?”
Years of that sort of treatment would have their effect on anyone, and a large part of Charlotte’s journey in An Unpracticed Heart is learning to overcome the damage her stepmother’s words inflicted.
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