In the series on Flawed Heroines, I’ve chosen to go last. Not strategically, so I might benefit from the windfall of readers my wonderful writing buddies have brought to my website (Thank you!) but because I’ve really been avoiding it. I know it must be done, but Imogen’s flaws are very personal. I have received some criticism that her reactions to certain events in her story are overwrought and too drawn out. Before I defend her, let me tell you her story.
When Imogen’s mother died from cholera, she was sent to live with an uncle, despite the fact that her aunt was her godmother. Drake Everard was very wealthy. He had worked in finance, in banking and then investments. And then he began to dabble in personal loans. To be honest I borrowed him from Dickens’ Ralph Nickleby, prurient tendencies included. Like Mr. Nickleby, Everard’s beautiful niece served as some enticement to keep the young and fast set coming to borrow money from him. It was not his intention that he should offer her as merchandise, but there was an unspoken understanding that some favoured patron might win her particular attention. One young man took the challenge, and finding an opportunity one afternoon, when the moneylender had gone out, took advantage of a moment alone with her.
I suppose one must also understand a bit about the education of women of the time. A woman was meant to be pure and innocent, she knew little if anything about the ways of men and women. If she was fortunate enough to have grown up on a farm, then she might have witnessed for herself the reproductive ways of the common beast. Not that this would have served as any admirable example to her own mode of conduct when she found herself so circumstanced as to engage in such activities. Imogen was not raised on a farm, but in colonial India with an absent father, and then in London, with her uncle. She understood that if she made herself appealing, she might have a way out of her uncle’s house. He was not opposed to making his own impositions on her, though he never carried these out to their foulest ends. She knew, at least hoped, that by using some charm and a little feminine encouragement, she might win herself a husband. What she did not understand is how easily a gentleman, and a young one with few principles (he was given to borrow money, after all) might be persuaded to take a little more than encouragement and a little less than marriage. This very sudden awakening to the ways of men and the world is part of Imogen’s trouble.
Another contributing factor is the fact that, upon her uncle’s death (which she deems her fault, as it happened when she was trying to resist him) he bestowed her with the entirety of his fortune. This, she deems, is a way of remunerating her for services rendered. She may be spoiled, damaged goods, but she is not a prostitute and she still has some hope of earning a respectable life. If you’re wondering, yes, I did borrow from Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. In fact the story haunted me so I had to try my hand at rewriting her story.
Another thing that must be considered is the fate of a young woman with money. And money, particularly, that others might get at, and feel they have a right to. Her ability to trust has been shattered. She might not ever gain it back. What hope has she of finding someone who would love her for herself and not for a sheer desire to get at the money that would come with her? And if they did, could she tell them about her past? She might keep the secret, but she knows that others know it. It might be revealed at any time, at which point she’d be ruined. But, like Tess, she is a woman of fatal honesty. She will not misrepresent herself.
So Imogen runs away, and, like Tess, tries to work her way to penance, to carve away a little place in life where she can live quietly and respectably, below the notice of others. But of course, being pretty, and having been raised in something of a genteel fashion, her condescension to the station of a housemaid is somewhat apparent. At least she becomes a curiosity and her employer, and his young nephew, take notice.
All of these things conspire against her when her marriage is arranged, yes, for a fortune. What would you do under such circumstances? The guy may be drop dead delicious, that doesn’t mean you would automatically place your heart in his hands ten minutes after he had bought it. Does it?
I probably needn’t say that my marriage wasn’t arranged. I probably needn’t say I did not inherit an immense fortune, or ran from it or hired myself out as a servant in a large country house. But I did go into marriage with some of Imogen’s issues. And I know from experience how difficult it was to trust, even though I knew my husband to be a good man (which is why I married him). I still had to deal with those issues. And there were rage issues too I had not expected. One minute I would be just fine and the next I thought I would explode. Imogen didn’t have the benefit of counseling or therapy. She didn’t have modern mores to say that a woman going into marriage unblemished was the norm rather than the exception. She had guilt, she had self loathing, she had anger. And a lot of it.
So, despite the injuries imposed upon her, despite her nearly fatalistic need for independence, Imogen’s greatest flaw is the hatred and loathing she bears for herself. How does one overcome it? It can’t be done through another. Her husband may adore her, but that means nothing considering how their union has come about, the deceptions he necessarily engaged in, or that others did in his behalf, in order to bring the marriage about. Not when he has bought her. Not when he has a right at any time to demand of her what Lionel Osborne did, and in any fashion he may like, for she is as surely property to him as the money that came with her. Only that isn’t quite right, because there is another complication in the mix in the way of his uncle, upon whom he is dependent, and toward whom he is indebted. And so, quite understandably (at least to my mind) it takes her a long time to learn that her happiness is in her own hands and no one else has that responsibility. That, despite whatever obstacles might have been placed before her, happiness is ultimately a choice she alone must make for herself. Perhaps it takes her longer than it should. But that is the very point I wished to make.
Perhaps I’m alone in my reaction to my own circumstances. I don’t believe so. And if Imogen gives one other person in this world a reason to hope, there is nothing more I could ask for. It will have been enough.
V.R. Christensen attended Brigham Young University, Idaho, where she earned a degree in Interior Design, while, at the same time studying English Literature, Art History and Sociology. When she is not writing, she is designing impractical clothing, redecorating her historical homes, or making impossible demands of her husband of seventeen years. She travels a great deal and considers herself a citizen of the world.
Currently, V.R. makes her home in Appalachian Virginia, where she lives with her three children, seven cats and a dog named Jasper.
V.R. is a member of Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, Past Times Books, Authors Anon and Literary Underground, all of which are aimed at ensuring that the publishing revolution now upon us produces some of the finest work available to the reading public–and makes it available.