The Inspiration behind the Women of The Vintner’s Daughter
The mother, daughters, midwife, wine maven, and the harlot of The Vintner’s Daughter were inspired by the real women of the time, and in some cases, shaped by the constraints of the late-nineteenth century societies in which they lived.
Marguerite Thibault (Sara’s “Maman”), and Sara’s sister Lydia, serve as able foils to Sara. Maman lived through the German occupation of nearby Tours in 1870, and waited anxiously for her new husband to return from fighting the Prussians in 1871—she has endured her share of uncertainty. Her failure to protect her daughters after their father’s death is rooted in fear: her fear of being alone, and her fear of having to start over with nothing.
Although Lydia is the eldest of the two sisters, she is vain and flirtatious, and more concerned about her marriage to the village rogue than the preservation of her father’s beloved vineyard. Despite their differences, Sara and Lydia have shared their childhood and care for each other deeply—they are “two sides of the same coin, one minted for practicality, the other for pageantry.” Maman and Lydia are essential to moving the plot forward. If Lydia had not blindly given herself to Bastien Lemieux, or Maman had ensured her daughters’ safety early on, Sara’s life would not have taken such drastic turns.
Marie Chevreau, the Manhattan midwife and single mother—cast aside by the same man who married and mistreated Sara’s sister—is a go-getter. Her character, in this novel and in its sequel—The California Wife—was inspired by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree from an American school (in 1849), and who later founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, the school Marie attends. For Marie, a life free of romantic entanglement is the key to her success as a midwife, until the sequel, when her involvement with one of her medical college professors threatens to derail her ambitions.
|author Kristen Harnisch|
(credit: Alix Martinez Photography)
Aurora Thierry, I have to admit, is my favorite secondary character. When I was researching the story of Josephine Tyschon, I learned that she enjoyed driving her carriage at top speed, just for the thrill of it (and perhaps to irritate her many critics). Aurora Thierry would absolutely do the same. Aurora is a widow, and a self-made expert in winegrowing, herbal remedies, and husbandry, and she quickly becomes Sara’s surrogate mother when our heroine arrives in Napa. Everyone needs a friend when they come to a new town and who better than a Winchester rifle-toting, straight-talking, fiery, redheaded suffragette?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the women in my own life—my mother, sister, aunts, cousins and friends—who also inspire my characters’ personalities and the way they handle the obstacles they face. The most joyful part of being a writer, for me, is breathing life into my creations, dwelling in their company, learning their idiosyncrasies, and testing their mettle in new and exciting ways.
The Vintner's Daughter is published this month in the US in trade pb by She Writes Press ($16.95) and in Canada by HarperCollins Canada ($22.95). Visit her website at www.kristenharnisch.com.