Frequently Asked Questions - A Sense of Duty

WARNING: These are questions asked by readers of A Sense of Duty. These answers contain spoilers! Make sure that you have read A Sense of Duty before reading this page, so that the plot is not revealed to you prematurely :)

Barnard is so grumpy - why did Constance marry him?
In medieval times, marriage was often not about love. Instead, it was about ensuring that land - and the people and objects on that land - were protected. Marriages were ways to ensure troops would be present to protect a keep, or to ensure that enough money was available to fund an army. In this case, Constance was only ten years old when her marriage was arranged. Her parents contracted with Barnard in a legal arrangement. Barnard would get access to the land and therefore to the proceeds from the work done there. In return, her family would have the assurance that the land would stay "in the family" (through Constance's children) and also that the land would be protected from bandits and other problems. This was a logical transaction and many medieval marriages worked this way. Love was considered secondary to practical considerations.

Constance, like many women of the medieval time period, was raised to believe that this was normal and proper.

Why was Barnard so wholly self absorbed / almost without any good aspect?
There are two answers to this question. The first is the "in book" answer. Barnard went through a trauma in his childhood. He watched his mother wither and die before his eyes, and he knew it had to do with her being forced to have children. He felt strongly that he was partly to blame for her death. If only he could have been a healthier child, she might have loved him more and stayed with him. Growing up with this guilt, and with a sickly father who also was both angry and guilt-ridden, he turned his mind inward to trying to soothe himself with a variety of pleasures. None ever filled the ache in his heart. There is a glimpse of this later in the book.

The second answer to this question comes from the impact-on-the-reader side of things. That is, I felt very much on the edge of my moral limits in writing a story about a woman who was pledged to one man but who in essence cheated - even if only emotionally - with another man. If Barnard was only "mildly ignoring her" and a generally decent man, I would have felt little justification in having Constance so strongly want to be with Gabriel. I would imagine that many of the readers would have felt the same way. If Barnard had been loving and gentle, for example, would readers still be so thrilled that Gabriel was coming into her life and stirring up her emotions? Barnard *had* to be a strongly indecent man in order to allow the thought that she wanted to be away from him.

That being said, I am also strongly against abuse, either physical or emotional. If Barnard had actually been beating her or screaming at her non stop, I would not have wanted Constance to have stayed. I would have wanted her to contact her brother and find another solution. I would never want to show a woman staying in abusive conditions and trying to justify it. So therefore there had to be a very delicate balance with Barnard. One which made him bad enough that she *would* leave him once Gabriel was fully back in her life - but not one which was so bad that she *should* have left him before that point.

In the Beadnell carving, you mention squash. Wasn't that a Native American vegetable?
There are different kinds of squash on our planet. Yes, one kind is the kind that Native Americans grew, and that was unknown in medieval England. However, there is also a squash group from Asia, which the Romans were very fond of. They then brought this with them to Britain, and in short order it was a typical dish served in this area. The veggies remained long after the invaders left.

Aren't mallard ducklings brown, not yellow?
When mallard ducklings are first born, depending on the exact genetics of the parents, they can be bright yellow, or mostly yellow. Many mallards cross-breed with other similar ducks. The yellow coloration in ducklings is so their parents can find them. The most important thing to their survival at that point is their parents being there to protect them. As the ducklings get older and become independent, and more likely to stray from their protective parents, they begin to turn more brown, to be camoflagued. The ducklings lose that yellow. Their main concern now is to stay hidden from predators. So the coloring of a mallard duckling (yellow or not) can help you know how old it is.

The roses Constance plants for her miscarried children - based on The Help?
I wrote A Sense of Duty back in the early 1990s. I wanted a gentle way to introduce the idea that Constance had suffered miscarriages and that she mourned the children. The idea of her having beauty in her garden to commemerate them appealled to me. "The Help" was written in 2009 by Kathryn Stockett, so over ten years later. I suppose the idea must be one that occurs to many authors. I still haven't read or seen The Help (I know, I should) so I'm not quite sure how it is portrayed there, but I did hear from one reader that the scene was similar.

Let me know if you have any other questions about this book!

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