In Undoing, I wrote a cameo character from a donation made to one of Austen Variations’s fund raisers, which brought Lady Laura Vranes into Elizabeth’s life. The real Laura was kind enough to send me two videos about herself and her impressive modern art collection, giving me a great deal of inspiration for not only her character, but also another small character, Miss Geddes. I loved writing these characters into Darcy and Elizabeth’s story.
In Chapter 1, Lady Vranes approaches Elizabeth to tell her of a female artist she wants to sponsor. After a Women in Art and Culture class, I know how hard it was for women to be recognized as legitimate artists due to the obstacles in their paths. I’ve always enjoyed including noted female artists in my book by making them dressmakers in my books (Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Rosa Bonheur), but this time I wanted a portraitist to recognize as an actual painter, so I searched female artists until I found Margaret Sarah Carpenter.
The real Margaret Sarah Carpenter was born Margaret Sarah Geddes in Salisbury, England in 1793. Her first art instruction was from a local drawing master but was later supported by Lord and Lady Radnor, moving to London and living independently in 1812. In 1812, she was also awarded a medal by the Royal Society of Arts. She was also awarded another medal in 1813 and a gold medal in 1814.
During her lifetime, she exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy as well as the British Institution—quite the accomplishments for a lady during that time period. In 1823, one reviewer said of her work, “It very rarely happens that a specimen of art like this is produced from the hand of a lady: Here are colour, light, strength and effect, and anatomical drawing.” Her incredible work is often compared to that of Sir Thomas Lawrence.
In 1817, she married William Hookham Carpenter, who was the Keeper of Prints at the British Museum. They had two children who were also noted artists. Upon her husband’s death, Queen Victoria provided her an annual pension of one hundred pounds in recognition of her husband’s service as well as her own artistic merit.
While these dates are after the timeline of my story, I liked that Carpenter was still rather young at the time of Undoing, allowing Lady Vranes to help her be recognized much as Lord and Lady Radnor did in her actual life.
I hope you enjoyed this peek into the workings of my mind and my inspiration for some of my story. I thank the real Lady Vranes for the amazing inspiration she provided and sending me down the research rabbit hole to learn about another wonderful female artist who, despite the time and restrictions on women, persevered.
There is certainly more inspiration, particularly Thomas’s character, but that will have to be revealed in time. I don’t want to give too much away too early 😉
Whitley, W.T, Art in England 1821-1837, Cambridge, 1930