Character Profile: Abel Stirkwhistle
FULL NAME: Abel Stirkwhistle
BORN: 1st October 1756, Iverleigh Warren, Kensington, London (aged 36-37 in Lust & Liberty; 58-59 in Sin & Secrecy)
EYE COLOUR: Hazel
HAIR COLOUR: Brown, later grey
FAMILY: The Hon. Tobias Stirkwhistle (father); Esther Stirkwhistle (mother); Rebecca (sister); Liza Stirkwhistle (née Rowlands) (wife); Josiah, Obadiah, Priscilla, Cecilia, Septimus, Octavius, Decimus, Lady Irwina Stirkwhistle-Ziegler (paternal cousins); Lady Oliviera Vyrrington, Lady Riva Bært-Styridge, Lady Lavinia Isaacs, Lady Clementina Isaacs, Lady Diana Isaacs, Lady Georgiana Isaacs (maternal cousins)
ALLIES: Priscilla Stirkwhistle, Lady Oliviera Vyrrington, George Whitlocke
ENEMIES: Rebecca Stirkwhistle, all children
OCCUPATION: Socialite, politician (formerly), school caretaker
PERSONALITY: Sadistic, mischievous, roguish, secretive, irritable, severe, violent
Who is Abel Stirkwhistle?
Abel is the main anti-hero of The Berylford Scandals: Sin & Secrecy. He appears in the prequel, Lust & Liberty, though nowhere near as often and much later than I first wanted. In the final version of the novel, he doesn't physically appear until halfway through the story. When we meet him, he is recovering from a stroke, cared for by his sister Rebecca and his wife Liza. Once he recovers, he quickly becomes established as both a bit of a wind-up merchant and a force to be reckoned with. Probably one of the only people his cousin Lady Vyrrington fears to some extent.
While he is only a major player in the first book towards its end, Abel is the main character of the second. He, like Lady Vyrrington, is nearing his sixties. He is tired with his life, marriage and job, in which he makes many an enemy. But the main thorn in his side is still his sister, as you'll discover. In the opening chapter of the first book, I give quite a detailed description of his appearance and personality:
from Chapter I of The Berylford Scandals: Sin & Secrecy
"...Tall and dark as his Italian heritage permitted, he had once been handsome too in his youth. But a sudden stroke in his middle-age had stolen all that from him and warped his body into that formidable and fearsome mass of flesh which Berylford had come to know and dread. He was all but entirely sunken on the one side; he did not walk or even limp but ambled spikily as a crab would. His neck and head were permanently askew, his lips would often spasm, bearing fangs intermittently – whether they were merely expressions of pain and frustration, or curses to the God who had visited this affliction on him, no one could say.
Either way, it had done as badly for Abel’s mind and temper as it had his body. While politically he remained liberal, sympathetic and even at times generous to those of classes beneath those of his own aristocratic roots, he paradoxically had an unforgiving nature and was capable of great cruelty, regarding little the lives of lesser Earthly creatures. For example, if a simple snail were to be slithering along the pavement, it would be the feet of some children of the town to kick it about the pavement in its shell. However, it would be the cruel foot of Abel Stirkwhistle – the steel–studded boot with the iron heel brought down with such malevolence that would crush the snail in its shell. And a brutal and sadistic socialite was he, and he relished his cruelty grandly..."
Origins & Basis
Abel Stirkwhistle is probably one of the only characters whose name has stuck from day one. I don't know what it is about the surname Stirkwhistle. It just suggested to me something nasty and malevolent that went with Abel's character, along with that of his sister. And I always intended him to be a villain to some degree. He started out as the sadistic and cruel caretaker of the school where four of the other main characters, collectively known as The Four Scallywags, study. That part of his character remains.
He was not supposed to be related to Lady Vyrrington in the beginning; originally they were just friends. But I could not justify the lady of the manor being friends with a school caretaker unless they were actually related. With this in mind, Abel couldn't have the job for the love of it. He had to take it on to keep an eye on his sister -- that's how it developed.
I personally love writing dialogue for Abel -- his character is so multi-faceted. That's whether he's talking to Lady Vyrrington or his sister Rebecca. He can be roguish and charming one minute, austere and threatening the next. It gives me an opportunity to write both light-hearted and black humour, but also drama that shows off his straight-up violent and evil side. When he exchanges threats with Rebecca -- I find that so unlike any other sibling relationship, both in real life and in fiction.
Abel, like Lady Vyrrington, originated in his older form. He is a combination of two Dickens characters. Mr. Tulkinghorn from Bleak House for the personality, and Jeremiah Flintwinch from Little Dorrit for the appearance and movement. The surname Stirkwhistle is also deliberately Dickensian. I injected the mischievous side of him myself to give him a redeeming quality. Despite his malice, I wanted to make him somewhat likeable, or at least relatable.
What's your opinion of Abel? Likeable anti-hero or straight-up villain? Let us know in the comments!