Sophronia & Her Sisters ~ Character Study

Here’s some fun insider trading information on the Finishing School books, Gentle Reader. In Waistcoats & Weaponry, you finally got to see how big Sophronia’s family really is. I myself come for a rather small family, so I ended up needing to do a bunch of research, interviews, and such to get a handle on what it means to have siblings.

The Temminnick Children

  • Nigella
  • Octavia
  • Ephraim
  • Gresham
  • Petunia
  • Sophronia
  • Humphrey
  • Hudibras

A large family was intentional. I always wanted Sophronia to come from a stable, if mildly disinterested, middle class background. In YA, removal of family ~ orphaning ~ is so common I wanted my main character to be the opposite. In Sophronia’s case I was thinking of the marvelous children’s book, Molly Moves Out but also books like Little Women and Pride & Prejudice.

One of the side effects of thinking about this, is that I started to collect images that reminded me of Sophronia and her sisters growing up together. I thought you might like a look at some of them, Gentle Reader…

Frederick Cayley Robinson, A Winter Evening, 1899 via British Paintings tumblr

There is something about the sense of boredom in this picture that I always imagine was endemic to young ladies of the Victorian Era. If you were a female born into a family that earned enough money you were obliged, frankly, to do very little. How hard this must have been on ladies of bright and vibrant minds or particularly sociable dispositions.

“Diffidence is very becoming to young people, and to those who are new to the world. But it is hardly credible that it should produce a painful taciturnity in persons who have passed from youth into maturity; and who have enjoyed the advantages of education and of living in good society.”
~ The Ladies’ Guide to True Politeness and Perfect Manners or, Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book
by Eliza Leslie (American 1864) 

In the image above, I see Sophronia as the youngest in the room, because you get that sense of sympathy mixed with observation that will become a hallmark of her character. The clothing and hair is appropriate to a slightly earlier time period, perhaps four or five years before Etiquette & Espionage. Note that only the one lying on the bed has her hair up? She is the only one out in society, the other two are still in the schoolroom as their hair is plaited (in a braid). The look about the face and the coloring is pretty near exactly how I imagined Sophronia and her family.

The Rain It Raineth Everyday – Leonard Campbell Taylor 1906

Here we have an image set a little later in time, perhaps the 1860s (or a very fashion forward 1850s), with the heightened wide skirt silhouettes. Again, this picture highlights the boredom of the time period, particularly on a rainy day when one can’t even go for a walk. I also adore the cat on the lap. That’s exactly how my cat sleeps in mine.

via the-garden-of-delights tumblr: “The Sisters” (1839) by Margaret Sarah Carpenter (1793-1872)

Perhaps not Sophronia herself, but two of her older sisters before Sophronia was born? These young girls have their hair already up, are they practicing or were they put out into society very young? Or perhaps they simply have young faces? The round, rosy-cheeked, child-like face was considered the height of beauty in the early Victorian Era, and is more how I imagined Dimity than Sophronia or her family.

Dressing in the Nursery

This was one of the first images I collected before I started writing the Finishing School series and I’m afraid I didn’t keep the source. There is a key scene in Waistcoats & Weaponry where Sophronia, Dimity, Petunia, and Petunia’s friends are all dressing together. This picture, I think, subconsciously informed that scene. It reminds me so much of my own youth, getting dressed up for various costume events with my friends.

Enchantment – James Elder Christie

A much later period painting. Perhaps of Sophronia and a little childhood friend? As I was conceiving Sophronia’s character, I found myself attracted to paintings of girls reading. Particularly reading outside: it represents a juxtaposition of her character, I think. She likes books but she also likes the adventure and activity in the wide world.

In the end, Sophronia doesn’t read all that much in my stories once she gets to Finishing School. So it’s likely I was more putting my childhood self into her past (as I was always to be found with my head down in a book but outside). I also used to adore reading out loud to my friends, a few of whom even put up with it. But my little friend Megan and I would spend hours on Choose Your Own Adventure stories. I would read, she would choose, both of us were happy.

Ada Thilen (Finnish painter, 1852-1933) Reading

Most of my youth was spent reading outdoors. I would pack a lunch and take to the hills, or the cliffs, or punt out in my little boat (Tersky) and find a quite space on the lagoon where my parents couldn’t disturb me and simply read all afternoon.

I know most readers are full of memories of indoors, curling up by the fire. But I was a California Coastal nerd child and my mother had an expat’s love of sun and sand, believing strongly in healthy outdoor living. She would chivy me outside every summer day, and the only way to guarantee I stayed there was with a library book (or ten). (Sadly this has also resulted in near constant mole removal in later life, I have over a dozen scars and near on 100 stitches at this point. Yes she made me wear sunscreen, no I wasn’t diligent about it.)

James Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917) The Embroiderer

This is more expected practice for young ladies of Sophronia’s time. I imagine this is one of her older sisters, one of the good biddable ones.


And here is a fashion plate of her sisters when they are older ~ all grown up and well dressed with pretty hair and pretty manners. You see what Sophronia has to contend with?

“Girls who did not need to go out to work had no break for mark their passing from childhood to adolescence: they were often children up until they married. Louise Creighton had barely been out for a walk alone until her marriage in her twenties – if she wanted to go anywhere she had to be accompanied by her governess; if the governess was not avialable she bribed her young brothers with sweets to go with her.”
~ Judith Flanders The Victorian House (pg. 52)

{Gail’s monthly read along for October is Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler}


Your Moment of Parasol . . .

Le Conseiller des Dames & des Demoiselles
Date-  Saturday, September 1, 1855 Item ID-  v. 37, plate 91

Your Infusion of Cute . . .
Tea and coffee set designed by Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co

Your Tisane of Smart . . .
A Multi-Function Clip That Hides a Toolbox in Your Hair

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .  
11 Ways to Make Your Life a Little More Like a Jane Austen Novel (Without All Arranged Marriages and Oppression of Women, Of Course)


  • Manners & Mutiny ~ The Finishing School Book the Last. Releases Nov. 3, 2015. Available for pre-order! In production.
  • Imprudence ~ Custard Protocol Book the Second. Working rough draft. I am so screwed. It just keeps going.

Gail Carriger’s Books! 

 The Finishing School Series (1850s ~ completed)
1 Etiquette & Espionage, 2 Curtsies & Conspiracies,
3 Waistcoats & Weaponry, 4 Manners & Mutiny

The Parasol Protectorate Series (1870s ~ completed)
1 Soulless, 2 Changeless, 3 Blameless, 4 Heartless, 5 Timeless

 The Custard Protocol Series (1890s ~ ongoing)
 1 Prudence, 2 Imprudence (forthcoming)

Parasol Protectorate Series manga graphic novels (1870s)
 $0.99 short stories (ebook only)
Marine Biology; My Sister’s Song; Fairy Debt;

Book News:
Christine of Cannonball Read 7 says of Etiquette & Espionage: “I thoroughly enjoyed my journey to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s with Sophronia. The writing is smooth, the characters intriguing, and the names ridiculous. (Lord Dingleproops, really?)”

Quote of the Day:
“You’re overmatched, Mistress.”
There was silence, and then a blaze of green light washed over the clearing.
“I’m still alive,” said Llannat’s voice. “You have to win this fight. I only need to keep from losing it too soon.”
~ Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, The Price of the Stars

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  1. Susan Pola Staples said:

    This was very informative as well. My favourite was the picture with the cat. I, too, when young had my nose in a book (still do now for that matter). However, as a redhead who lobstered when exposed to the sun, I read indoors. The Finnish picture reminds me of Carl Larsson's paintings. Will tweet you pictures of Sir Lawrence's children.

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