Character Profile: Amethyst Whitlocke
FULL NAME: Amethyst Judith Hazel Whitlocke (née Cheshill)
BORN: 20 August 1769, Maidstone, Kent (aged 24-25 in Lust & Liberty; 45-46 in Sin & Secrecy)
EYE COLOUR: Brown
HAIR COLOUR: Brown
FAMILY: Judith Cheshill (mother, deceased); George Whitlocke (husband)
ALLIES: Lady Oliviera Vyrrington, George Whitlocke, Judith-Ann Haffisidge
ENEMIES: Luke Warwick
OCCUPATION: Lady's maid, housekeeper and cook
PERSONALITY: Timid, subservient, kind, unconfident; inferiority complex sufferer
Who is Amethyst Whitlocke?
Amethyst is probably the purest member of the Vyrrington household. But that's only because she would be too frightened to be anything more or less. As a character, I set her up to show redeeming qualities of both her mistress Lady Vyrrington and her husband George Whitlocke. Both have an affection for her that they do not display to any other characters.
But by characterising Amethyst like this, I have allowed her to be an unlikely suspect in a few of the mysteries involved in the Berylford Scandals. Pushing Lady Vyrrington down the stairs was one. It showed a depth to Amethyst's personality - while she fears almost everyone, she is still also capable of anger, even towards someone like the Countess. And when Lady Vyrrington threatens to kill any hope of her marrying Whitlocke in Lust & Liberty, that's a step too far. In Sin & Secrecy, I have had a chance to show a newfound confidence and calm in Amethyst, in a conversation between her and her husband after Abel Stirkwhistle gives him an awkward task...
from Chapter XVI of The Berylford Scandals: Sin & Secrecy
“What did Mr Stirkwhistle want?” she changed the subject as the butler finally seated himself on the edge of their bed and began to remove his livery. He did not respond immediately. If there was one person Whitlocke felt he could confide in, it was his wife, but his protectiveness over her was fierce. And from the conversation he had just had with Abel – a scenario drowning in secrets and, for all Whitlocke knew, far worse – it was imperative that Amethyst be spared any association. Not just for her own sake, but for that of Lady Vyrrington. Her lady’s maid was as good as a little sister to the Countess, having been in her service since she was an emaciated, frightened ward of the workhouse. Under the tutelage and hitherto unfamiliar kindness of Lady Oliviera, Amethyst’s sense of total inferiority was gradually eroded and, now in her mid-forties, she was confidently in charge of the upkeep of Beryl Court alongside her husband. While the numerous losses she had suffered had rendered the Countess a frigid and loveless shell, that sororal affection had lasted. In that familial vein, any scandal associated with the Whitlockes extended to Her Ladyship. And that would never be acceptable.
“Nothing of consequence,” at length the butler to his wife replied, cursing himself mentally for deceiving her.
“Thought it might have had to do with that boy brought to the house,” returned Amethyst, resuming her book. Whitlocke at once wheeled around.
“Yes; as a matter of fact, Lady Vyrrington’s appetite only seemed to change after that little episode. It might be bothering her.”
“I doubt that.”
“You never know, George – there may yet be the slightest maternal feeling left in her.”
“Hardly the sort of child to rekindle that, though!”
“No, I suppose not.”
As he loosened his cravat, a synapse fired in Whitlocke’s shrewd mind that gave him an idea. An idea to fulfil the task Abel had put upon him, while not lying to his wife any further.
“She was interested in the boy, come to think of it,” he observed. To himself, Amethyst thought.
“Yes, she mentioned him to me as well while I was helping her retire,” she replied, not looking up from her book.
“Perhaps it does do her good. To have young people in the house again. Now it’s only us two, Mr Stirkwhistle, Mrs Urmstone and Mrs Haffisidge who are ever here with her.”
“Lamplighter boys don’t make good companions to ladies of rank, George.”
“I’m not saying he’d be her companion. A junior servant, nothing more. But a young face she’d see in a daily capacity.”
“You actually sound serious,” she said.
“I am serious.”
Her mouth hung open.
“And just how, pray, are you planning to persuade Lady Vyrrington to approve this? More to it – since when did you care so much how she feels?”
Whitlocke had not thought that far. Fortunately for him, he was a skilled improviser – a trait that made him all the more efficient as a butler – the ability to expect the unexpected – and so his answer came swiftly. He disguised the moments it took to think about it with more grumbling of begrudging concern for his mistress’ welfare.
“Well, we’re neither of us getting any younger, my love. And, if Lady Vyrrington dies, and Master Spencer or Master Edward don’t come back from the wars-”
“Oh George, don’t say things like that!” Amethyst interrupted in a moment of uncharacteristic exasperation, “Those dear boys – of course they will come back!”
“But suppose they don’t, dear. Lady Amelia cannot inherit until she comes of age or until she marries. And if she does marry, control of the estate passes to her husband. He’ll probably have his own staff.”
“So… what? You want to stay in Her Ladyship’s favour? And pray that she leaves us a stipend in her will? I think you know the money for that kind of thing has long been spent.”
Whitlocke, at last undressed for bed, laid back next to his wife. He had no further words – she had thwarted him in a rare instance of confidence on her part. But in the moments of silence that followed as she continued on with her book, the butler remembered that there had been two questions she had put to him, and he had only answered the second.
“I was thinking you might put the suggestion to her, Amethyst,” he broke the silence.
“That we hire that boy as a servant. It may do Lady Vyrrington good, as I say. Will you do it as a favour to me?”
Closing her book, for she knew she would be in receipt of no peace now, Amethyst sighed a heavy sigh.
“Of course I can’t deny you, George,” she murmured, taking his hand in hers, “Though you must know the outcome you want is far from likely.”
“I know that. Just want you to ask her. Mind you – if she were to say ‘yes’ to anyone, it’s you!”
“She has said ‘no’ plenty of times as well! But very well – I’ll mention it to her when I’m delivering her breakfast tomorrow.”
Origins & Basis
Amethyst went through a lot of changes from her inception back in 2008. She was one of the original 40 characters that went into the first Berylford story, but her name was actually Imelda Burgess (her husband also had this surname). Imelda was deliberately after Imelda Staunton, one of my favourite actresses. I can't actually remember why I changed her forename at all. Amethyst is my sister's birthstone, so it's something of a homage to her, while Whitlocke is a manipulation of one of my great-grandparents' surnames.
Over the course of writing, the only thing to change about Amethyst's character is the nature of her relationships with her husband and her mistress. Whitlocke was originally quite abusive (albeit not physically so, just verbally threatening), while Lady Vyrrington was as cold with her as with everyone else. I refer back to what I said earlier in the article - I ultimately decided Amethyst was to show off these two characters' redeeming qualities. Her backstory, involving near-starvation in a workhouse and being rescued by Lady Vyrrington's father, came in the early drafts of Lust & Liberty, when trying to justify why Amethyst was so timid and easily frightened
Whitlocke is something of a sympathetic version of Jeremiah Flintwinch from Dickens' Little Dorrit. With this in mind, Amethyst is loosely based on Affery, Flintwinch's wife. The meek little maidservant who lives in mortal fear of everyone and everything. But with the changes I put into Amethyst over the years, she became less and less like that original model.