From the time I had daughters of my own, I wanted to find out more about my natural mother, but back then it was tortuous and difficult process. In 2000, I’d got together some basic research, and left a message on a ‘surname forum’ to see if anyone had more information. Eight years later, and when the big websites had made research so much easier, I could trace my family back to the early 1100s: they’d been crooks, pirates, married for money many times, fought bravely in the Civil War, received honours and rewards, and maintained a grand family ‘seat’.
The basic story of Marianne Fraser and the ‘crim.con.’ trial is a true one: Marianne was my five-times great aunt, and I discovered her story while searching the net in the early hours of the morning. The scandalous trial featured as a front-page story of The Times for all four days of the case – when I read it, I knew I’d found a story I wanted to develop.
Going through a 'crim.con' was the only way to get a divorce until the second half of the 19th century, and it was only the husband who could allege 'trespass' on his property, i.e. his wife's body! Many scandals were heard by the Court of Common Pleas. There was the famous case of Mrs Caroline Norton, for example, who was cited by her husband for an alleged affair with Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister. When she turned to writing as a way to earn a living, her husband successfully claimed possession of her earnings.
Of course, this is a work of fiction that simply draws on reality. The Victorian characters are based on how I imagine the real players in this drama might have behaved; there is no connection that I know of to a Canadian hotelier, and Ivan, Ellie and Great Aunt Beth are entirely fictional.
But Marianne and her sisters were left a great deal of money by their father, and wonderful jewellery by their mother...
And my present-day family? I discovered with delight that I have two half-sisters, who found me through complete serendipity and that surname forum. But that’s another story…
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