Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Liberty, Equality and Me: A Guest Post by B.N. Peacock

It’s so easy to take things for granted. The right to vote, ho hum. A government accountable to its citizens, likewise, I’m sure. And of course, we’re all as good as anyone else. These are cozy clichés that have been around for two centuries or so in the United States, yawn.

Not so during the late eighteenth century, the time period in which A Tainted Dawn is set. Such concepts were, well, revolutionary. The American Revolution, which espoused these ideals, set the passion for freedom afire in other hearts in other lands. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — Now, instead rights for the few, liberty and equality were declared to belong to all.

Yet how would these “truths” be interpreted by people of different national and socio-economic backgrounds? Not only that, how would they deal with it?  Instead of creating a new worldview, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, from which these words are quoted, merely summarized existing English and French political sentiments. In England, the Whig party had been the champion of freedom, ever since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Stuart dynasty was expelled. 

Edward Deveare, fictional grandson of a fictional Whig aristocrat, personifies the English upper class. Insofar as he’s concerned, he’s apolitical. Yet, there’s no denying he’s a product of his Whig background. Humane by nature, he still doesn’t consider “the people,” meaning anyone not of his social class or naval rank, as an equal.  When he defends a common sailor and accidently refers to him as a “man,” he regrets his blunder. Yet it’s circumstances and pride, not personal conviction, which make him unable and unwilling to recant. By calling the sailor a “man,” he’s raising him to his own level. In terms of the ongoing upheaval in France, this aligns Edward with the radical Charles James Fox part of the party rather than the more conservative Edmund Burke.

Then, there’s Louis Saulnier, a fictional French law student. Unlike Edward, he’s an ardent proponent of liberty and equality. As one who wishes the overthrow of the monarchy and establishment of a French Republic from the outset of the revolution, Louis truly is a radical. Ironically, he has no particular reason to hate the ancien régime. His father is a prosperous court tailor, whose source of wealth is the aristocracy he clothes.  Louis likes the comfy life that trade brings, but being an ideologue, despises its source. He considers those with opinions similar to his own as his true equals, those belonging to social classes below him his theoretical brothers, and those above him  his enemies. For Louis, the distribution of inalienable rights and truths naturally follow his definition of equality. Whether spreading the gospel of his particular type of revolution in Paris or the Caribbean, Louis never, ever questions his beliefs. He is right, and the world is, if not wrong, decidedly misled.

At the bottom of the socio-economic heap is Jemmy Sweetman. Son of a sometime employed carpenter, he’s truly a common man. The enclosure laws which were then spreading throughout England not only have reshaped his Surrey countryside, but he and his family’s lives. They are driven to London and its poverty, where he meets Edward and Louis. From Louis, Jemmy first hears the incomprehensible word, “Oppressors,” referring to Edward and his class. Initially, Jemmy doesn’t understand. As he serves with Edward aboard ship, he continues to see him as a benefactor.  However, when Jemmy deserts, his feelings about Edward change. From American sailors he hears volumes about liberty and equality. Even then, Jemmy doesn’t connect them to himself. His concern is to save his father from an unknown threat. Only when his mission fails and Jemmy’s father is wrongfully convicted and hanged for murder--with aid from Edward’s family and family friends-- does Jemmy piece together what he thinks Louis and the Americans were trying to say. The nobility are not his betters. He is just as good as they are. Seeing no place for him and his younger sister in England, Jemmy swears he will immigrate to the United States, where they can be free.

Although my characters are mostly fictional, the ideals and the dilemmas they present are not. The Whig party was torn between supporting the freedoms they claimed those espoused by the American and French Revolutions. As events in France became bloodier, English Whigs divided along radical and conservative lines. Likewise, in 1789 few in France wanted to overthrow the monarchy. Two years later, it was a different story. As for the United States, it applauded its former ally’s espousal of liberty and equality, while continuing to grapple with their meaning at home. And that is precisely what my characters do, both in this book and the ones to come.   

About the Author

B. N. Peacock’s love of history started in childhood, hearing stories of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire from her immigrant grandparents.  They related accounts handed down from their grandparents about battlefields so drenched in blood that grass cut there afterwards oozed red liquid. Such tales entranced her. These references probably dated to the time of the Napoleonic Wars. No wonder she was drawn to this time period. 
In addition to history, she showed an equally early proclivity for writing, winning an honorable mention in a national READ magazine contest for short stories. The story was about history, of course, namely the battle of Bunker Hill as seen from the perspective of a British war correspondent.

The passion for writing and history continued throughout high school and undergraduate studies. She was active in her high school newspaper, eventually becoming its editor-in-chief. After graduation, she majored in Classical Studies (Greek and Latin) at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. In her junior year, life took one of those peculiar turns which sidetrack one.  A year abroad studying at Queen Mary College, University of London in England led to the discovery of another passion, travel. She returned and finished her degree at F&M, but now was lured from her previous interests in history and writing.

Her work continues on Book Two in The Great War series, tentatively to be called Army of Citizens, with new trips planned to England, France and Belgium.