Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Characters That Won't Go Away

I've mentioned my various characters on this blog in passing, as if they were real and you all knew them. (I mean, they are real. To me anyway. Most of the time.) And I mentioned that the Keegan family won't let me go without writing down their stories. It's ridiculous. I was watching Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time and do you know what? I was sitting there thinking, "Hmm. Alex would totally walk into the village instead of riding, just like Lizzy..."

I've never done a full bio of a character or a psychological analysis of a character in a blog because my characters tend to develop as I write the first draft and most of the stories I've written here have not progressed past the first draft. I guess Keegan Family Version 2.0 is, technically, a revision of some kind and at this point, I think the characters might become more nuanced but they won't really change much. And I want to avoid writing another, ahem, "textbook," so by all means, if you read something that feels cliche or too pat, please point it out!

So let's start with Miles Keegan, father of Alexandra and Madeline, whose story this incarnation seems to be shaping up to be about. Note: this is all backstory.

Miles Edward James Keegan is the fourth son of the Viscount Halbridge, which means that Miles is born into the aristocracy, but has no chance of inheriting the title or the property. Because he's the son of a viscount, he's properly and formally titled as The Honorable Miles Keegan.

His family, by the way, are Irish originally. They got the title about ninety years before Miles's birth because an ancestor gave away some important positions during a battle campaign in Ireland, went to the English king's side, got a title, but the ancestor was deemed a traitor to the Irish and now that ancestor's name lives on in ballads about Irish traitors. Not important at all, but I like the idea of Alex saying to her future husband, who is Irish, "My ancestor is that blackguard Keegan in those ballads."

Miles is born in 1769. He is sent away to boarding school at 12, but is very rebellious, so his father sends him packing to the navy at age 13. This, by the way, was actually quite common at the time. At any rate, Miles gets to travel all over the world, which suits his rebellious nature, but he must take orders, which disciplines him. He loves the ocean and the freedom it brings. He mixes with a varied crowd of men, since the Navy was a social mix and drops him everywhere, and I suspect that this is where Miles begins to lose any social snobbery he may have had as a son of the nobility and becomes quite egalitarian. It certainly gives him self-sufficiency and social ease. He's a charming guy anyway.

At 19, Miles finds himself in Boston with a load of prize money. He decides to leave the Navy, but is unsure of much else. He becomes friends with a local young businessman named Nicholas and the two decide to band together and form a shipping company. It's 1788, the U.S. is brand new and still piecing together The Constitution, and it's not long before Miles and Nicholas are doing well, transporting cotton, rice, tobacco, cloth, and whatever else in their ships up and down the Eastern seaboard. They earn more money, start shipping to England. But they have their eye on the West Indies, because at the time, that was the cash cow.

Like a lot of families, Miles's family has a plantation in the West Indies, which they have never seen. Miles proposes to dear old papa that he ship the plantation's sugar cane on the company ships, thus saving the plantation transportation costs and giving Miles a cut of the profits. I guess it works out, because Miles and Nicholas become bloody rich but they are also faced early on in the West Indies with a moral dilemma. Should they also be involved in the slave trade or not? They don't transport slaves on their ships, but Miles has slaves on the plantation and they ship slave-grown products, so they're complicit in the whole institution anyhow.

On his few visits to the plantation, Miles meets a freed black merchant's daughter, Delphine. In Boston, Miles has a mistress. The West Indies end of their business is too lucrative to be left to managers, so in the 1790s, Miles moves to Barbados. He breaks things off with his Bostonian mistress and lands on Barbados. He's not like the other plantation owners because (a) he works for a living, (b) he's in a way, trying to gain dear papa's approval, (c) he doesn't entirely approve of slavery. Plus, he has a damnable crush on Delphine. They marry at the end of 1793. She gets pregnant quickly. Nicholas writes to tell Miles that his former mistress has given birth and abandoned the baby, a girl, in January 1794.

Miles and Delphine sail up to Boston, where little Alexandra is a few months old. Nicholas has been referring to the baby as Alexandra, after his own mother, so Miles adds Hannah, his mother's name, and gives the baby his last name. He owns up to the responsibility of a daughter, despite the illegitimacy issue, and completely intends to raise her. By September 1794, they're back in Barbados and Delphine has Madeline. Rather suddenly, he's the father of two daughters.

Delphine dies in 1799. By then, Miles is incredibly rich. The world is embroiled in containing Revolutionary France and the West Indies are no longer paradise. There are a few naval battles fought in the area during this time and a couple of slave revolts and I think that Miles finally realizes how much he doesn't fit into this plantation owner's lifestyle. He's too restless and active for that sort of thing, he finds slavery sickening, and he misses England, so he packs up his daughters and off they go.

Back in England, Miles buys a country estate. He is wealthy, but still runs his business and is an attentive father to both daughters. Miles forges his own path, so he gets over that need for papa's approval, or that early greediness of "money, money, money." It's hinted later on that Miles read radical tracts about the American Revolution and even approved of the French Revolution before they started killing everyone, so he's pretty radical politically. He scorns certain customs of the wealthy. For example, his daughters are not formally presented to the Court for their debut. He finds most of the aristos boring.

He's also detail oriented (or is he making up for what must have been a cold and distant childhood?). Before he sails away from England for the last time, Miles updates his will. He reaffirms that Alexandra is his eldest child and the amount of her inheritance. Because, being illegitimate, Alexandra would not have gained anything from Miles's estate unless he specifically willed something to her.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts. Check back soon. I reply to all comments. Happy reading!