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Tori Harding: A Victorian Heroine

While writers strive for a dramatic plot, stories are always about people and their relationships to each other. Here’s a character sketch from my notebook on the protagonist of A Thousand Perfect Things. Available in paper and the eBook at $5.99.


In 1857 Tori Harding is eighteen years old. She lives in world where magic has lately invaded her country, escaping from a mystical continent called Bharata.

Tori is a devoted student of her grandfather, Sir Charles Littlewood/ She has a passionate love of science and especially botany, a discipline learned from Sir Charles. She suffers from a club foot, and this infirmity has oddly made it acceptable for her to train in science, since she has little hope of marriage.

Far too used to expressing her opinions, Tori can be brash in social settings, something she tries (a little) to control for the sake of her sister (Jessa’s) need for a suitable match and in light of her mother’s relentless social agenda to brighten Jessa’s hopes.

Although she has formerly been content with her apprentice status, her grandfather’s approaching death raises the issue of her future in botany. She is aware this may be an unsupportable dream. But Sir Charles’s theory of extra-ordinary mental states and the lines of scientific inquiry they open galvanizes her. If no one else will credit the theory, perhaps this is her opportunity to make her mark.

Her desire is so strong she fends off reality: her grandfather is losing his stature through age and infirmity

and, not least, through his growing obsession with theories of magical paths of knowledge. (In this story, an alternate England called Anglica is relentlessly scientific, dismissing spiritualism, religion and intuitive states.) Further dimming her prospects, the scientific societies of the day, which control access to publication and professional endorsement, do not accept women in their precincts.

Despite her scientific ambitions, Tori is not without doubts. Deeply suppressed is a yearning for a love relationship. While she doesn’t want a conventional marriage with its strictures, she does yearn for a great love in her life. Meeting Edmond Muir-Smith (a suitor to Jessa) heightens this internal conflict.

When she reaches the magical continent (Bharata, an alternate India) with her father’s regiment, she will enter a journey  into both the dark reaches of the jungle and her own heart to learn how narrow are her old Victorian principals and how wide the world–and her reach–can be.


A Thousand Perfect Things. A Victorian woman takes on magical beasts, ghosts and the British Raj.


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