Christian Davies: Mother of Dragoons

Character: Christian Cavenaugh/Welsh/Jones/Davies

Text: The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies (which is an abridged title!)

I have the novel ‘Kit’, based on – or rather inspired by – the life of Christian Davies, to thank for leading me to this text. I actually didn’t much like the novel, as it was actually a pretty boring and placid, and primarily fictional, account of this woman’s life, venturing through a kind of mundane romance with Captain Ross, then some odd tangent about being a spy. The character in the novel was underpinned by some ill-fitting kind of forced virtue, which was off-putting, considering she did plenty of dishonourable or deceitful things. I assume this was probably the reason the author didn’t think having someone so brassy could attract someone like Captain Ross, though the real woman had no problem finding men to flock around her. She had also had at least ten years stripped from her age, for no apparent reason other than youth perhaps adds the possibility of naivety, and so fitted the model better. If the character in ‘Kit’ had not been based on a real-life woman, perhaps I wouldn’t have withdrawn my sympathy for the story. Perhaps, but not a guarantee. Unfortunately, when there is ample basis for a complex, though not constantly tasteful, and infinitely more interesting character, which is not undertaken when writing about them, I think it devalues, in this case, the adventure and any struggles within it.

I and four of my companions, were rolling ourselves down a hill, and turning heels over head, when the earl of C–d was passing by in his coach…: but finding we put an end to our pastime on our perceiving him (for the youngest of us was seventeen and consequently had sense enough to think that showing our naked tails not over-decent) he called to us, and promising to give us a crown apiece if we would begin and pursue our diversion…

moterrossSo. Christian Davies. What a gal. Not content with being a hardcore Irishwoman – who, after a top education wants instead to work the land because it’s more interesting – owning a bar and having three kids and a hot husband, she adds fighting in the British Army and gallivanting across Europe to her list of things to do before she dies.

Alright, not exactly the way it happened. Her hot husband gets plastered while running some errands and wanders off with some friends, finding himself in Irish troops of the British Army the next day (who has that not happened to, amirite?), and Kit, pretty distraught, decides to head off after him, as you do.

Thing is, Kit happens to be pretty damn good at being a soldier – and apparently damn hot, earning the nickname the Pretty Dragoon – and gets right into all the looting and flirting and duels and accidental fatherhood that many soldiers experienced. Seriously, she actually got accused of fathering a baby by some woman off-her-rocker, and so not to expose her femininity while she still hadn’t found her husband, complied, and treated it as her own! The baby didn’t live long it seems, and so she was released from that astonishing prospect.

When she does eventually find her husband, she proper scolds him for not only being in a relationship with another woman, but having caused her to leave her family and children behind to come and find him. She tells him he has to keep schtum about her being there, forcing him to pretend she was his brother, as she was enjoying herself too much. So they live army life together but separate for a while, continuing the fight with the dragoons. It wasn’t without its difficulties, like his running off to his mistress once in a while:

I was informed by a neighbour that he was at such an alehouse with his mistress. This news, setting me aflame, I ran directly thither… My rage was so great, that I struck at her with a case-knife I had undesignedly brought out in my hand, and cut her nose off close to the face…

What is amazing about this story is that, when she is discovered after being shot, not only do the troops accept Kit as a woman, she is fully complimented as being the best man they had, having earned her stripes, as it were, on the battlefield. She also gets to remarry Richard Welsh, and lotsa money and kisses and a new dress from her mates. And far from being sidelined due to boobs, she can’t help but get involved in stupid things like shooting up the enemy and carrying pots of broth across battlefields to feed her husband.  Obviously, the boys aren’t surprised at this woman turning up in the midst of some stake-outs.  She, too, doesn’t stray away from getting her revenge on arrogant little whelps, who slight her character by taking objection to her freedoms with the army, by seducing their ladies behind their backs.

You see, said I, what it is to affront me ; for I have made but two visits to your mistress, and in them have made such a progress, that you have been twice refused entrance.

Really…long…title…

It’s interesting that her nickname, Mother Ross, is based on little more than the said Captain Ross finding grief in her grief after she finds her husband dead after battle – and after overturning 200 bodies. There is no question of a fling or anything like that. Christian married Hugh Jones, a soldier, eleven weeks after her husband’s death. He died the next year. Then once she returned home she married another soldier. She also met Queen Anne who gave her a massive amount of money and a pension for life. Technically, she became the first female Chelsea Pensioner, and was interred after her death in the Royal Hospital Chelsea cemetery.

It’s fair to say Kit is one of the most fun and brassy women in non-fiction. Her story is far from clean, and the anecdotes of her life are by far the best parts of the book. I say that because there is a lot of detail of the battle arenas and the politics going on, and so if you aren’t much into warfare these might require skipping. But don’t skip too speedily, as some of the best bits, like the officer taking a particular fancy to a mare, come in between the fights as asides.

The language he had given me was provocation sufficient to inflame me ; but a blow was an indignity never before put upon me, and enraged me to such a degree, that not considering I had the child in one arm, I flew upon him, and began to be labour him with my right fist.

For no feasible reason this text is sometimes attributed to Daniel Defoe. The Dictionary of National Biography 1885 had an entry for Christian Davies, which is a cute and brief read, and also questioned this assumption. The text of this book is available entirely for free online at loads of locations, but you can also click the image above and buy it in expensive paperback if you want…

WHERE ARE MY DRAGOONS?

Advertisements

Ada Lovelace: Bride of Science

Seriously, this is what she called herself.

In honour of Ada Lovelace Day – awarded nowadays with being the first computer programmer, but also daughter of the famed Lord Byron – I’m posting a picture of the brainy lady herself, and also an excerpt of a letter from Ada to Michael Faraday (my hero). Faraday and Lovelace had a brief friendship, not least because she died within a very short time of their meeting, though he was far older than she.One of my favourite openers of a letter he wrote to her, on 10th June 1851, was:

One of my favourite openers of a letter he wrote to her, on 10th June 1851, was:

“You see what you do – ever as you like with me. You say write & I write – and I wish I had strength & head rest enough for a great deal more for it would give me very great pleasure to move more earnestly for those young creatures whom I rejoiced to know as your children.”

AUGUSTA ADA LOVELACE

1815 – 1852

ada_lovelace_portrait

Dear Mr Faraday,

I am exceedingly tickled with your comparison of yourself to a tortoise. It has excited all my fun (& I assure you I have no little of that in me).

I am also struck with the forcible truth of your designation of my character of mind:

“elasticity of intellect”.

It is indeed the very truth, most happily put into language.

You have excited in my mind a ridiculous, but not ungraceful, allegorical picture, viz:

that of a quiet demure plodding tortoise, with a beautiful fairy gambolling round it in a thousand radiant & varying hues; the tortoise crying out, “Fairy, fairy, I am not like you. I cannot at pleasure assume a thousand aerial shapes & expand myself over the face of the universe. Fairy, fairy, have mercy on me, & remember I am but a tortoise”.

Please go and have a look at the FindingAda blog where you can view more letters fully scanned (if you can read the swirly lettering!). Her personality leaps from the page and she must have been a whirlwind of vivacity not just for the ageing Faraday (who was, by the way, still rather attractive in his fifties) but for everyone who met her.

Ada has also been committed to comic format – along with naughty Charles Babbage – and so I can also count her as a genuine lady of literature.

Nothing Comes Easily: Althea Vestrit

Ship_of_Magic_Cover

Character: Althea Vestrit

Text: The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb.

(Some mild spoilers)

Althea still sometimes felt she needed someone’s permission simply to be herself. Men seemed to sense that in her. Nothing came easily. She felt the struggle was as constant as her breathing

Upon her father’s death, the families ship the Vivacia is passed down to her elder sister Keffria and through her, her husband Kyle Haven. Althea is distraught, having always anticipated that her beloved father would name her captain, despite her youth and gender. She feels betrayed and hurt – but mostly terrified that she will be forced to cut ties with her  ship.

(I should note here for those unfamiliar with the series, the Vivacia is a Liveship meaning she is a sentient ship. Made from a mysterious wood named “wizardwood” Vivacia has living memories and can communicate via the figurehead she uses as her “body”. Liveships bond with the Trader families who own them, sharing their emotions and their experiences)

 

AventuriersMer1_C1

Althea and the Liveship Vivacia.

 

Her mother Ronica knows that Kyle is not the best choice — he is quick to anger and too concerned with obtaining wealth at any cost —but feels he is their only option to ensure their families survival during uncertain times. Ronica attempts to explain to Althea their situation but the hurt is too deep. Althea begs to be allowed to serve on the ship in any capacity:

I don’t care. I don’t care, really, if I am a pauper or not. Yes, I dreamed that Vivacia would be mine. Because she is mine, Mother, in a way that I cannot make you understand…Vivacia’s heart is mine, and I am hers. I look forward to no better marriage than that. Keep whatever coin she brings in, let all say she belongs to Keffria. Just let me sail her. That’s all I’m asking, Mother, Keffria. Just let me sail her and I’ll be no trouble to you, I won’t dispute your will in all else.

Kyle denies her wishes, claiming she will bring shame to the family for her wild ways. He demands that she settle down and marry – become a “respectable lady”. Of course, Althea wants none of that and instead vows to prove her ability as a sailor and reclaim the Vivacia.

Althea is incredibly headstrong, admittedly sometimes painfully so. She is so determined in her mission that she can occasionally overlook what is going on with other people. She can be selfish, and inadvertently cruel, especially to her mother and sister. She is also fiercely independent to the point of refusing assistance, even when those who offer only mean well. All of these traits could result in a selfish and unlikable character,  yet it is because of all these apparent “flaws” that she is such an exciting and endearing heroine.

In a town (and culture) where a woman’s only real prospects are to marry well, Althea’s determination to follow her own path is refreshing -as are all her flaws and mistakes. She is not a princess, she is not a damsel in distress. She does not charm men with her feminine beauty, nor does she actively look for a romantic partner. In many ways she is not a conventional heroine. She drinks (sometimes quite a lot), occasionally partakes in recreational drug use and has (and enjoys) premarital sex.

She proves herself capable of hard work, taking  the position as ship’s “boy” and completes all of the hard, dirty and back breaking work associated with working on a ship. She is good at her work, but only because she works hard. Nothing is granted to her, she does not have any magical powers, she is not blessed with super strength.

“Anyone can see you’re worth your pay. You were always a good sailor, Althea. And your time on the Reaper has made you an even better one”.

Rather than falling into the trope of the “exceptional woman”, Althea is an example of a well-rounded woman. A woman with many interests and talents, but one who works hard to achieve them. She is neither exceptionally beautiful nor stereotypically plain ( a trope that is often used for those female characters who take on “unfeminine” roles). While she occasionally laments that her skin is rough and weathered due to all the time spent on ships, she feels uncomfortable in skirts and silks.

Althea  is constantly in a state of struggle. While she continues to gain confidence in her ability as a sailor, she is conflicted by how this side of her identity relates to her position as a woman. Her confusion reflects what many women experience in their daily lives: if I’m too strong will I push people away, if I’m too pretty will people not take me seriously? To be a woman is to constantly need to negotiate between what is expected of you and what you desire. Althea represents this struggle so perfectly – yet she never gives up.

Althea demonstrates that yes, nothing comes easily, but if you continue to work hard to make your life (and the lives of those around you) better, things will eventually fall into place.

 

Penny White: More Whiskey, Vicar?

WIN A PAPERBACK COPY OF THE TEMPTATION OF DRAGONS

***

Character: Penny White

Text: The Temptation of Dragons (Penny White) by Chrys Cymri

‘Vicar arrested for drunk driving’ is not the  sort of headline my bishop wants to read about his priests.

Penny White. Church of England Vicar. Fantasy and science fiction fan. Whiskey drinker. Life sounds good, eh? But Penny is also a widow, living alone with the memory of her late husband, and that hole in her life made bigger by the absence of her much younger brother, who she brought up herself after their parents death, plus the general weight of her calling. So she escapes with the made-up worlds of Joss Whedon or in splashes of Doctor Who, and just gets on with it. Problem is, she’s just given the last rites to a dragon on the side of a main road, and she has no idea what the hell is going on. She needs a drink.

Penny-White-and-the-Temptation-of-Dragons 2Her bishop, Nigel, explains all about this mystical otherworld and its connections to our own, and subsequently asks her if she’d like to interview for the position of Vicar General of Incursions, a sort of conduit between this world and the alternate of Lloegyr, inhabited by all manner of amazing creatures including most fantasy fan’s weakness: dragons. Obviously she’s going to say yes. But how deep does the rabbit hole go? Well, probably about as far as getting an associate who’s a sarcastic gryphon, partial himself to a drink now and again and holding some secrets of his own, then meeting dragon bishops, and dragon tacsis (did I mention they all speak Welsh in Lloegyr?), and vampires, and harpies in pubs, and snail sharks the size of labradors. And then her little brother turns up, fresh from New Zealand, ready to sponge off her again and get himself into some uber trouble. Penny White’s life? Yeah, never going to be the same.

‘It says “willies!” one girl was shouting excitedly. ‘Pack your “willies!”

‘Stupid autocorrect,’ I muttered. ‘Wellies. Bring your wellies because we’re going on a walk tomorrow.’

What’s great about Penny is that we’re shown a really normal person who drinks, binges on TV shows, is quite the workaholic, and is so very connected to humanity, its brightest gains and greatest losses, in a way most people are not. She’s not just dealing with her own life and her brother’s rather whimsical view of responsibility, but the trials and tribulations of her parish; births, marriages and deaths are all part of the package on a daily basis, raising church funds, increasing the congregation. Then with Lloegyr she’s introduced to something that would possibly throw any other person off the rails: fantasy come true. A means of escape. Another calling from God. She’s thrown into world which challenges so many perceptions in her own religion, and her colleagues and superiors, and must balance what she feels is right while trying to keep in line with the regulations of the church. It takes a complex character to handle morality of the self and of the belief system ones holds, especially when challenged with really far out experiences, and it’s fascinating seeing the struggle for a character based in a real world organisation like the CofE coping with relevance and sheer human ignorance from every angle, and then having bleedin’ dragon lore to get a hang of. Blimey!

‘Oh for a sonic screwdriver, I thought. Then I remembered that the sonic screwdriver didn’t work on wood. Once again I wondered whether this were actually reasonable, or simply a convenient plot device by the writers.’

Penny is strong, and not in that sword-wielding kind of way whilst handling the highs of fantasy battles and what-not (not that it might not be in her future, of course), but emotionally iron-clad, allowing herself to be the human buffer for everyone around her. But she’s a little too iron-clad for her health, as she cannot face her own burdens head-on. Under all that armour is a woman vying for some closure, but the armour is working both ways and keeping her from asking for help, for answers, as everyone else’s needs pile up. Penny’s walks a long road, through pain and loss, but she perseveres, she works towards what she thinks is right, and she risks herself for those she loves, bringing the family she didn’t realise she had together, and solving a disturbing crime in the process. With dragons.

‘Penny, if you want it to be anonymous you need to cut out the references to Doctor Who and whiskey.’


 

Read Chrys Cymri’s Author Spotlight interview!

Read my book review!

Princess Fianna: An Onion Knight

Character: Princess Fianna

Text: The Dragon Throne & The Unicorn Throne (Four Kingdoms Trilogy) 

‘A ruler is no better or worse than those he rules.’

DT72dpi-1500x2000Fianna is going to be queen, keeper of the Dragon Throne. That’s what she’s been brought up to expect for her entire eleven years, and only through sheer luck was there no son born to her parents to supersede that right. But as a royal princess, confident of herself and somewhat insular in her opinions, Fianna must also learn humility and the bond of knightly code, to understand the people she will rule over and who will offer her protection. But tragedy strikes in the form of Lady Marissa, whose relationship with her father blooms behind Fianna’s back and incites the girl to stand up to him. This marriage is a threat to her right to rule if it bears a son, and also a dishonour to her mother who died but a year before. Fianna will not stand by and see that woman in her mother’s place and a baby boy in her own, so she abandons the kingdom.

The marriage is the catalyst of Fianna’s suppressed anger and frustration throughout her story. She believes herself to be cruelly and callously ejected from her birthright and is haunted by this throughout most of the series. Her own aunt, bitter and deceitful, tries to manipulate her. The young pig farmer Fianna meets offers her a pure and simple friendship, then love. The royal colonel, Pealla, gives support as a kind of surrogate mother for Fianna’s necessary growth into womanhood and knighthood, taking her on as squire. Fianna is moulded by not only her own beliefs and strengths, but by the others around her, be they good or bad voices, and she is on a rollercoaster of imbalance, relying on the strength of her already courageous stomach to guide her way.

“The Prancer stepped back and studied her for a moment. Then, with a gleam in his eye, he said, ‘All unicorns know the Land. Few humans do. But no unicorn knows how to brew ale.’

‘I’m glad humans have some use.’

‘Only those who can brew ale.”

When she meets the Prancer – a unicorn whose own mother died and unicorn twhose father is the leader of their herd – is when her life is turned upside down, and her natural loyalties (dragons, not unicorns) are shredded and challenged in equal measure. Some of the sweetest and most endearing moments – not to mention some of the funniest – of Fianna’s journey are the ones with the Prancer, and they’re the ones that convince the reader she is the right one for the job, it’s only herself holding her back.

Fianna is a brilliant onion of a character. You could easily despise her entitlement, extreme stubbornness and refusal to see reason, but absolutely understand how these things have come to be in her life, how much of a diamond in the rough she is and why she makes the choices she does. She acts from the good of her heart, and though her flaws sometimes override the good she accomplishes, you know she has that spark in her, you know she understands morality, and all she needs is that push to find the true greatness her potential hints at. You see her lose her way time and time again, but it makes her recovery all the more poignant.

‘I learned tonight that there are many things more important than pride. I’ve also learned that we can never assume that there will be time, enough time. That which must be said, that which must be done, cannot be allowed to wait for a right moment. That moment might never come.’


Read the Author Spotlight interview with indie author Chrys Cymri!

Lyra Belacqua: A Practical Heroine

Lyra1

Character: Lyra Belacqua (also known as Silvertongue)

Text: His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.

 

 

 

In many ways Lyra was a barbarian. What she liked best was clambering over the College roofs with Roger, the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of passing Scholars or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples from the market, or waging war.

When the series begins Lyra Belacqua is a precocious and mischievous twelve-year-old girl, unconcerned with appearances or doing what is “proper”.

Orphaned when she was young, Lyra has been raised by the Scholars of Jordan College and as such has had a rather scattered upbringing. She is well versed in a range of subject areas, yet exhibits no real desire to apply any of this knowledge to anything productive. She has no formal schooling as such and instead spends most of her time roaming around the College and the surrounding grounds causing mischief.

Roger_and_Lyra_on_the_roof_of_Jordan_College

Lyra and Roger on the roofs of Jordan College

Lyra’s carefree existence is shattered when her friend Roger is taken by the “Gobblers” and Lyra finds herself catapulted into a world of mystery and danger.

Part of Lyra’s appeal is that she is such a refreshingly normal protagonist. As a twelve-year-old she is occasionally bratty, quick tempered and sneaky; she doesn’t like acting like a young lady and is a bit rough around the edges. She gets her clothes dirty, she slouches and grumbles, talks back to her elders and speaks like a gypsy child. She is curious about events around her, but doesn’t give much though to them until they have some direct impact on her life.

What Lyra does not know, is that she in fact the prophecised saviour of mankind. This knowledge is hidden from her as in order for her to fulfil this destiny she must do so in ignorance of what she is doing. This makes Lyra’s determination and bravery even more significant as she acts purely based upon what she believes is right.

When faced with danger, Lyra is without fail, completely practical. She is not by any means immune to feelings of fear, but she is, however equipped with a sharp and rationale mind that allows her to quickly deduce the best possible scenario.

It wasn’t Lyra’s way to brood; she was a sanguine and practical child, and besides, she wasn’t imaginative. No one with much imagination would have thought seriously that it was possible to come all this way and rescue her friend Roger; or, having thought it, an imaginative child would immediately have come up with several ways in which iy was impossible.

As the series progresses and we see Lyra grow, those qualities that made her so unique remain. She is still unflinchingly brave, loyal to her friends and determined to do the right thing. Even if she is occasionally prone to displays of childish selfishness, she will always apologise and always endeavour to do better, next time.

 

 

 

Art Showcase – Avatar Korra: The Legend

TV Spotlight Character – Avatar Korra

Show: The Legend of Korra – Book 1: Air (c) by Nickelodeon

(all characters belong to Nickelodeon)

For our first Art Showcase let me introduce you to Black-pantheress who digitally penned our Korra (twice!) below- visit her DeviantArt page for more amazing work!

 

So, I love this show. I started it recently, and it’s almost impossible to turn off. It hits pretty much every spot in terms of fantasy and character, and has some of the most badass women in it ever. This is a post for Korra, but if you decide to watch it keep an eye on Lin Beifong and Asami Sato (who starts out cliché, subsequently swiping that aside).

Anyway, Korra. In Book 1: Air, she’s seventeen, has been known as the Avatar for almost her entire life, and is a reincarnation of the previous Avatar Aang (from The Last Airbender). She must master all four elements – which is called ‘bending’ and looks like the above amazeballs pic – to bring balance to the world. Problem is, Korra’s only mastered three abilities – her native tribe’s water (she’s from the Southern Water Tribe near the South Pole), and fire & earth. With the oncoming visit of Tenzin, the last Airbender mentor in the world and son of Aang (though his children are also airbenders) she’s excited for the chance to complete the set. But Tenzin has to go back to the city to quell some disputes and can’t stay in the south. So Korra, determined to master her destiny, heads off in pursuit on her polar bear-dog without his knowledge. Yep. Polar bear-dog.

Mako: You’re the Avatar. And I’m an idiot.

Korra: Both true.

The animators never shy away from making sure she has all the humour and silliness of expression in a girl her age. They also dress her appropriately; no weird, skimpy bikini things that fall off as soon as someone breathes, but actual clothes. I know, right? They put her in situations that girls who are determined to be ‘cool’ would never venture into, get her messed up and muddied and bloodied (as far as a family friendly animation can). She’s impatient and passionate, excitable and enthusiastic, but she has a sharpness when necessary and makes plenty of teenage mistakes, still learning about who she is in a new culture. In her friendships she is fiercely loyal and brave, and the romantic relationship in Book 1 is stubborn and entirely sweet.

Jinora: Ooh! I just read a historical saga where the heroine fell in love with the enemy general’s son, who was supposed to marry the princess. You should do what she did!

Korra: Tell me!

Jinora: She rode a dragon into battle and burned down the entire country. Then she jumped into a volcano. It was so romantic.

Ikki: No, no, no! The best way to win a boy’s heart is to brew a magic potion out of rainbows and sunsets, that makes two lovers sprout wings and fly to a magical castle in the sky, where they get married and eat clouds with spoons and use stars as ice cubes in their moonlight punch, forever and ever and ever!

Korra: The volcano is starting to make more sense to me now.dddd

Incredibly complex for an animated character, Korra is utterly compelling and instantly likeable. She’s a good person, and she surrounds herself with good people, which is a strong quality of the show.

Sure it’s animation, sure it’s family friendly, but it doesn’t retract from the fact it knows what’s a good message and what isn’t. It knows how to represent people from all walks of life, cultures and ethnicities and finds a way to expose the good in most of them (obvs. some are baddies…), and in this Korra is far away from the churned out rubbish that lazily attempts to represent female characters, or, any characters at all who are meant to be realistic.

One of the most important aspects for me is that sex and/or gender is never used as subjugation. Never does someone tell Korra she, or anyone else for that matter, can’t do something because of her age, sex, gender or colour or any other invented barrier. It is accepted as fact she can, and for me that is one of the most enjoyable aspects of stories like this, and incredibly important for the younger generations watching. Plus she’d probably tell them where to stick it. She might be animated, but I would go with what this series teaches over much else I see in the world or on the box.

Tenzen: “Please Korra, look at Menzen. He’s able to meditate peacefully.”

Korra: “Actually, I think he’s asleep.”

 

Don’t forget to visit Black-pantheress at DeviantArt, for lending us these stunning digital artworks!