Today we talk with Lynn Bryant about the inspiration behind a gripping tale, An Unquiet Dream, featured in the recently published Hauntings anthology.
Q: Your protagonist suffers from what we now know as PTSD. What was the common term and treatment, if any, for this condition in that time period?
A: The short answer is none and none. No attention was paid to the mental health of the soldiers. PTSD wasn’t understood at this time, and it’s entirely likely that a man who was physically able to fight would be seen as a coward if he was unable to cope with returning to duty.
There may have been a little more leeway for an officer in this situation, but probably not much. Unlike the men, who signed up initially for life and later for a specific period of time, an officer could theoretically sell his commission and go home at any time. In practice, it wasn’t considered the ‘done thing’ in wartime unless there was a valid reason such as illness or family difficulties. Officers at this period were required to behave like gentlemen and there was a strict code of honour.
Rob Griffiths gives an excellent summary of the situation in his fabulous book about the 5th battalion of the 60th rifles, which is entitled Riflemen (Helion & Co, 2019).
“The intense stress of combat must have had similar impacts as it did in later wars and still does, but the only indication we have of the mental state of the men of the battalion are perhaps the suicides which occurred with some regularity.”
Q: The protagonist makes sure a few rapists are held accountable, and they seem surprised by his actions. Can you tell us a little about how rape was typically treated by the law/military law during this time?
A: This is a subject that I did a lot of research on for one or two of the books in the Peninsular War Saga. At this time in England, rape was a capital crime. Most rape accusations never made it to a courtroom but were dismissed due to lack of evidence. A successful prosecution for rape required graphic details, with evidence of penetration and male ejaculation. Women and children were not allowed into the courtroom to hear this evidence so a rape survivor would have to tell her story to an exclusively male audience. Cross-examination was usual and was brutal, and the woman’s personal life could be attacked without any limits. If she knew her attacker and had been seen with him, if she had put herself in a vulnerable position such as walking home alone, then a conviction was unlikely. A man’s life was on the line, so juries tended to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Moving on to the military, rape was not a capital crime. There were virtually no prosecutions for rape in Wellington’s army in the Peninsular. The punishment, even if convicted, was flogging rather than death. Very few women were willing to come forward and put themselves through the misery of a trial, while their families may well have wanted to conceal what they saw as their wives or daughters’ shame. There are one or two well-attested accounts of rape, particularly at the storming of Badajoz where the troops ran wild for several days. That, of course, is where Captain Sean O’Connor was wounded in An Unquiet Dream.
In the story, Sean knows perfectly well he’s not going to get a rape conviction, but he’s determined to get them for looting at the very least.
Q: What was your favorite part about researching this story?
A: I love all my research but on this occasion, I enjoyed digging a bit more deeply into the structure of the Army Medical Service and looking at how they functioned at this time. I have several characters in the main series who work with the army surgeons, and I’ve sent off a fair few characters in wagons to the general hospitals, but this is the first time I’ve followed up to see what happened next.
It was also great to meet up with Dr Adam Norris again. He features very regularly in the first few books of the Peninsular War Saga, but we’ve not seen him for a while, so it’s nice to update my readers with what’s happened to him.
Q: What surprising info did you find out when researching this story?
A: I don’t think there were any huge surprises, apart from discovering the original story which inspired me to write it. I’ve been writing this period for a number of years now, and although I do still come up with new fun facts, I’m not sure there were any in this one.
The discovery of the story was amazing though. I live on the Isle of Man, and there’s a Facebook group for sharing and exchanging books which I belong to. When I published the updated paperback version of An Unconventional Officer earlier this year, I ordered several author copies. When they arrived, I found that there was a small printing error on one page. I sorted it out with the publisher, but the faulty books were no use to me, so I offered them for free on the Facebook page. Several people took me up on it, and one lady asked for a copy for her husband. He was interested in the period because one of his ancestors had fought in the war and had managed to create a scandal by eloping with a well-born Portuguese girl. At that point I recognised the story as one I’d read in Charles Esdaile’s Women in the Peninsular War. I couldn’t believe I was on my doorstep talking to the descendent of a man I’d read about in my research.
Q: Your author note tells the inspiration for this short story, but would you mind telling us a short version to draw out our appetites?
A: I’d love to. I first read this story, as I said, in Charles Esdaile’s Women in the Peninsular War (University of Oklahoma Press, 2014 ) and then later met the couple’s descendent here on the island.
In 1813 Lieutenant Waldron Kelly of the 40th Foot eloped with and married Ana Ludovina Teixeira de Aguilar. Ana was the youngest daughter of a Portuguese nobleman whom he met at Mass in her family’s private chapel. Her family were furious and given their rank and station in life, they complained to Lord Wellington. I’d give a lot to have seen his face. Wellington dealt with it in typical Wellington fashion. He told the girl’s mother that he would happily hand the girl over, but he couldn’t interfere as the couple were legally married. The enraged mother threatened to have Kelly transported for life and to murder her daughter. It was decided that it would be best to find Kelly duties away from the Peninsula and he and his wife went home to Ireland.
I’d love to say that was the happy ending, but sadly not. Kelly was clearly a bit of a bounder. Prior to meeting Ana, he’d got himself court-martialled for seducing the wife of Private Noah Cooper and then using violence against Cooper when he tried to reclaim her. Once home in Ireland, Kelly got posted to Jamaica. He left Ana with their children back in Ireland, and then contracted a bigamous marriage, had further children, and never went home. Ana never went back to Portugal, but her daughter did, and it is from her that my acquaintance is descended.
When I was looking for an idea for a ghost story, I thought of Ana, and her family’s threat to kill her. For a high-born Portuguese or Spanish family at this time, honour was considered very important, and it occurred to me that it might be even worse if the suitor were French and a hated invader.
Q: This story ties into another of your written works. What is that one about?
A: The story is part of the Peninsular War Saga which is a series of six books so far, following a fictional infantry regiment through the Peninsular War. There’s also a linked series called the Manxman, which is only two books in, and then there are two Regency romances which follow some of the characters into peacetime.
The main characters in the Peninsular War Saga are Paul van Daan, who starts out as a junior officer and rises to command the regiment, and his wife Anne who travels with him. In addition to the main books, I generally write three or four short stories a year which are free on my website. These are all part of the Peninsular War Saga and often tell parts of the story that didn’t make it into the main books.
An Unquiet Dream is part of the Peninsular War story, and it does make mention of several characters from the series, but it’s a standalone ghost story.
I’m currently working on An Indomitable Brigade which is book seven in the series
Where can we find/follow you on social media?
These are all the links. I love talking to readers on social media and my lot are VERY interactive there.
Lynn Bryant was born and raised in London’s East End. She studied History at University and had dreams of being a writer from a young age. Since this was clearly not something a working class girl made good could aspire to, she had a variety of careers including a librarian, NHS administrator, relationship counsellor and manager of an art gallery before realising that most of these were just as unlikely as being a writer and took the step of publishing her first book.
She now lives in the Isle of Man and is married to a man who understands technology, which saves her a job, and has two adult offspring and two labradors. History is still a passion, with a particular enthusiasm for the Napoleonic era and the sixteenth century. When not writing she teaches history and creative writing, reads anything that’s put in front of her and makes periodic and unsuccessful attempts to keep a tidy house.
Follow the blog hop page for more interviews with the authors, or visit their blogs when their posts go live:
Sharon Bennett Connolly https://historytheinterestingbits.com/2021/10/03/book-launch-hauntings/
Judith Arnopp and Simon Turney https://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.com/2021/10/s-j-turney-joins-me-on-hwf-hauntings.html
Jennifer C Wilson
Sharon Bennett Connolly