This week’s assessment comes from Susie (by the way, you should check out her new collaborative blog over at Inkwell Inspirations). She writes historicals, so we’re in 1816 England with 25-year-old Trent*, an earl with a tragic family history.
* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.
Trent’s mother and father didn't marry for love, and it shows in his upbringing. His father had numerous affairs and gambled recklessly. His mother was shrewish and revengeful toward her husband. Trent’s father died when he was 19, putting Trent in line for the earldom. The current earl took Trent under his wing, preparing him for the title and leading him to Christ. The earl dies two years later, and Trent steps up as earl and begins a happy and fulfilling role serving in parliament and taking up good causes. His mother, before she dies of some ailment, tells Trent that his natural father wasn’t her husband, leaving Trent to believe he’s not in the bloodline for the title he holds. He feels he’s a usurper, and that were he to marry and have an heir, then the true heir, an infant son to a deceased cousin, would never come to the title Trent thinks rightfully belongs to the infant. So Trent determines to never marry and to tell no one this secret about his paternity.
Due to the guilt he feels, Trent wants to “make up to society” the ill he feels he’s caused by being in a role he doesn’t think he deserves. On top of this, he wants to be loved, but is afraid of it, due to the example he had from his parents. He remembers the example of Christian marriage from the earl, and knows this is something he wants for himself. He’s dealing with anger against both his parents and wants to know who his real father could be. When he falls in love with the heroine, he’s torn between her and his resolve to stay a bachelor.
Susie wants to know:
Does this sound legitimate? How do you think my hero would feel about his paternity and his role?
First, great internal motivation for Trent, Susie! You’ve hit Trent at the core of his identity. I know that back then, honor was a big deal. And if he feels he’s in a position that isn’t rightfully his, then this would provide the exact kind of motivation you want for him to remain single and produce no heir. I don’t think a single reader would doubt the feasibility of this. You’ve portrayed him as a man of integrity, so kudos on taking his internal conflict off the charts when he meets a woman he falls in love with! Ooooh. The tension would just sizzle inside of him. Seriously.
As for how he would feel about his paternity, everyone’s reaction would be different, but there could be some similarities. I’ll dish out a few possibilities and you can pick and choose what you might like to incorporate.
First off, you’ve got a relatively young man (assuming he found out sometime between 21 and 25) and the younger a person is, the more emotional a reaction could be. On the flip side, since he is so young, perhaps he’s still defining his sense of self. Even though a new Christian, he would remember the awful things his father did (the open carousing, blatant overspending, etc) and might feel some relief that that man wasn’t his father. Of course, this might be accompanied with feelings of guilt, as well. But I think this would make for an interesting plot twist. Maybe he had no real affinity for who he thought was his dad. Maybe his dad never treated him with any respect. Certainly sounds like the dad never showed him affection. Instead, Trent might feel more loss at being removed from the bloodline. Since he’s made such a great connection with the earl (who I assume to be his grandfather), when he learns his dad isn’t his dad, then that would make the earl not his grandfather. See where you could go with the internal angst over this? His feelings of unworthiness for the position would even be greater, because he highly esteemed the earl.
Regardless of where you go with the above, I think he’ll definitely want to know who his father is. There’s something inherent in all people to just know who they are, where they come from, where there home is (and consequently, who’s waiting there for them—i.e., parents). In essence, he’ll find out from an angry mother that the life he’s always known wasn’t the truth. He lived a lie and is still living a lie in a position that he’ll think doesn’t rightfully belong to him.
If he feels so strongly about his deceased cousin’s baby being the heir, he might try to set up some sort of trust for the baby, or do something else tangible. I’d think this would make him feel like he was doing something proactive to provide for that baby and his cousin’s family. It could be done on the down low, but this would appear to be a reasonable thing to do on his part to try to right the wrong, so to speak. When it all comes out in the wash (as I assume it will), then he might still want to provide for the young baby.
One idea for how he would feel about his role is that he might treat it like the temporary role it is. You know how when a person thinks they’re going to die, they start to make provisions? Well, he’d make provisions for when the role was no longer his, say, when the baby turns 18 or whatever. This would drive the plot forward for him externally. Even as he falls in love with the heroine, he’d still be making these “provisions” (whatever these might be during that time—you’d know better than me) for when he’s not earl, which might confuse her or contradict her thoughts about him. Maybe he grows more lackadaisical in his attitude toward the position? (That might not fit with the hero’s character, though.) For instance, why go to parliament? Or maybe he’ll start to take on all those causes anonymously, still feeling the need to do good, but yet not to use the name of a title that’s not really his? And perhaps the heroine could find out about his generosity later? Just some suggestions…
Oh. One more thing. His sense of betrayal from his mother would be high. I would think he’d even feel some anger towards her for how she told him. (Brings to mind a book I just read called The Duchess and the Dragon. It’s a historical, too, and I did a review on it here. But Drake, the Duke, finds out at the very beginning of the book while his father is on his death bed that he’s not in line to inherit the title, that he was illegitimate. Drake is ticked, to say the least, even after his dad dies.) So depending on the relationship you’ve developed between Trent and his shrewish mom (I know you mentioned he tries to witness to her, but it doesn’t seem that was received well), then this is an angle you might want to explore.
Drop me any questions or further comments you want me to consider in the comments section. I LOVE brainstorming! Sounds like a terrific premise, though.
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