Character of the Month: July: Camille Whittaker

SOMEONE WAITING

Image is Someone is Waiting, an oil painting by David Hettinger, Creative Commons licensed for commercial reproduction and originally from booksdirect.tumblr.com

“But can he [Gabriel Bruce] ever forgive me? All these years I’ve been away? I hope he forgives me for being such a coward!” she cried suddenly, smacking the wheel again with frustration…

…[Rowan]looked at Camille, and saw pain and regret etched on her face. Her heart panged for her.

“How can you be a coward when you’ve already saved my life twice?” Rowan said.  –Excerpt from The Breathing Ghosts, copyright Eleanor Keane.

July’s Character of the Month is Camille Whittaker. Camille is a free-thinking academic, working at Rowan Oakwood’s University as one of her English Literature tutors. She’s widely read, articulate, passionate about women’s rights and very loving. She is also, perhaps most importantly, Rowan’s godmother, and her link to a creative, organized and feminine world- one that she can’t really find in Bruce’s dusty, book-strewn flat.

In many respects, Camille is both a suitable mother-figure for Rowan, and the perfect companion for Bruce, who is lost, lonely and wrapped in an old and bitter grief. In YA (Young Adult) fiction, orphaned characters like Rowan often have mother and father figures who, whilst well-meaning, are not really there- leaving the said orphan to pursue whatever fraught love interest they want, or get tangled up in any ludicrous love triangle they desire. Examples include Charlie, Bella’s woefully useless dad in Twilight, Ever’s aunt in Alyson Noel’s Immortals series, and Jenna in the TV adaptation of The Vampire Diaries. The best (and possibly most hilarious) example I’ve ever seen is the mystical/mythical figure of ‘the dad’ in the recent Beautiful Creatures film- he’s also apparently suffering from grief, and completely reclusive, yet to not even see or him from him once in a whole film seems a little extreme. Of course, these shows and books may have their good points, and I really don’t want to offend whole legions of fans, but from the aspect of the parent/parent-figure I don’t think they measure up. (And that’s just my opinion, folks!)

In creating Camille Whittaker I wanted to tackle that head-on. Like many of the other female characters within the (deliberately gynocentric) novel, Camille is feisty, headstrong, opinionated and unusual. She is also something of a role model for Rowan. From the moment she talks to Rowan after a class, she practically barrels into her life like a runaway steam train, bringing with her life, warmth, activity and human compassion.

Unlike other similar YA characters, Camille is not just there as a token mother figure, or as a pawn for the ‘baddie’ to hold hostage and in doing so pull at the heart strings of the ‘goodie.’ She has her own value system, her own deeply-entrenched beliefs about women’s rights, and her own personality. She’s been committed to feminism from an early age- so much so that she’s changed her name from Claire (which she despised) to Camille, after Camille Paglia, feminist author of the influential book Sexual Personae.  In one (hopefully) memorable chapter, she also throws a copy of Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics at the vampire Bert Wintergrave- who was also June’s Character of the Month. I included this because I think Sexual Politics is a fabulous book, and because I liked the metaphor of  ‘sexual politics’ being both a figurative and literal weapon!

In appearance, Camille has long, thick curly hair that she hates, (but Bruce secretly loves) and she has a wide range of academic interests, including the role of women in the 1920s. She likes fresh flowers, lots of chocolate, pastel colours and soft simple clothes.

Importantly, Camille also makes mistakes– she is wracked with guilt for following her academic dreams in America, thereby leaving Bruce and her friends, May and Thomas Oakwood, who were also Rowan’s parents. When May and Thomas were brutally murdered, Camille retreated further into academia, away from Bruce, whilst Bruce fell quickly and painfully apart, like a loose thread spooling into nothingness. She feels guilty and ashamed for her selfish conduct, but (hopefully) makes up for it by returning to be Rowan’s tutor and reclaiming her role as godmother.

Camille becomes fiercely protective of Rowan, and provides a stable and maternal influence that Rowan desperately needs. She also comes to realize that, even through all their years apart, she has always been in love with Bruce, her oldest friend from her own University days. The question is whether she will ever be able to let go of the past and follow her present desires and hopes into the future. When her fledgling romance with Bruce is threatened, does she have the strength and the courage to fight for what she loves? Or will memories of the past threaten to overwhelm her?

It may be a man’s world, but when it comes to vampires, it is the women who have to take control…

Suggested Reading:

Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia (warning: her chapter on the Marquis de Sade is NOT for the faint-hearted!)

SEXUALPERSONAE

Image via Wikipedia

Sexual Politics by Kate Millett- a stylish and thoughtful one-woman decimation of Norman Mailer, Freud, Henry Miller and patriarchy in general. Kate Millett is one of my own personal heroes, too- so much so that I call her ‘Kate the Great.’ Check her out at www.katemillett.com. Her 1970 portrait (by Alice Neel) was even on the cover of Time magazine (see below.) And, oh yeah, she’s a lesbian.

KATEMILLETT

Image Creative Commons licensed from Flickr. (All bow to the powerful glare of Kate the Great….)

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