Character Profile: Lady Oliviera Vyrrington


FULL NAME: Lady Oliviera Vyrrington (née Isaacs), Countess of Vyrrington

BORN: 9th November 1756, Vellhampton Park, Dover, Kent (aged 36-37 in Lust & Liberty; 58-59 in Sin & Secrecy)


HAIR COLOUR: Dark (as a young woman); Silver-grey (as an older woman)

FAMILY: Lord Ensbury Isaacs (father); Lady Regina Isaacs (mother); Lavinia, Clementina, Diana, Georgiana (sisters); Lord Wilson Vyrrington (husband); Venetia, Minerva, Spencer, Edward (children); Abel Stirkwhistle, Rebecca Stirkwhistle, Lady Riva Bært-Styridge (cousins)

ALLIES: Abel Stirkwhistle, Elspeth Urmstone, Judith-Ann Haffisidge, Amethyst Whitlocke

ENEMIES: George Whitlocke, Rebecca Stirkwhistle

OCCUPATION: Socialite (semi-retired); Landowner

PERSONALITY: Cold, grief-stricken, passionate, stubborn, mercurial, defiant, confident

POLITICS: Liberal, later Conservative

FAITH: Catholic, later renounces all faith

Lady Vyrrington as an older woman Credit: Phoebe Freshwater

Who is Lady Vyrrington?

The heroine (or arguably the anti-heroine) of the first Berylford Scandal is Oliviera, the Countess of Vyrrington. It is the downfall of her character described in the events of Lust & Liberty. And in the upcoming sequel, Sin & Secrecy, we see her living in the shell of her former life. In this second story, where we see her approaching her sixties, I decided to make Lady Vyrrington an almost ghostly character. I thought it suitable; she is a ghost in the sense that the woman we read about in the first book is all but gone.

While still a major character and mentioned before this (particularly when her cousin Rebecca Stirkwhistle asks her brother Abel, “…how is the old slut?” she does not appear in Sin & Secrecy until the fifth chapter. See if you can get the feeling of how much she has changed from the description below:

from Chapter V of The Berylford Scandals: Sin & Secrecy

“…She was a shimmering and spectral display of silver and black. From her face, powdered almost ghostly white, the towering grey coiffure of hair still streaked with their former ebony shades, to her long hands and slender fingers, gloved in black kidskin. She was clad in a dark, billowing gown and thick black pelts that glinted in the lamplight were astride her shoulders. A white lace collar and a silver medallion were clasped at her throat, in danger of strangling. The great lady was Oliviera, the Countess of Vyrrington. She was the Stirkwhistles’ second cousin and the Lady of Beryl Court. All rents, taxes and yields from the properties and businesses in Berylford were reported directly to her, in the absence of a definitive Lord Vyrrington.

The rhythmic and steadfast clack of her high-heeled boots and walking cane announced her presence, as did her once beauteous countenance, now rendered hollow, bitter and frozen after decades of grief, woe and misery. For now she was encumbered by neither love, mercy, warmth or affection, save for a very small number of individuals. The Countess had lost her children: five were dead and her two sons, who were in the army, had long since relinquished any contact or acquaintance. She had a granddaughter; the one person for whom her heart still beat warm and loving, though she saw her very seldom while she was at school abroad. She had also lost her husband, and more besides.

All her anguish and despair had manacled her to a permanent state of lamentation, mixed with ill-tempered and ironclad Conservatism and religiosity. Her regard and love for humanity, in which she had held no account for class or financial status, were all but spent. Now she cloistered her attentions on the few who remained dear to her. For the rest, her duty she had long deemed irrelevant…”

Origins and Basis

Lady Vyrrington was originally envisaged as a selfish and snobbish old woman back in 2008, as one of the original 40 characters I created. Her maiden name was always Isaacs, but her surname underwent several changes. Barrington, Berrington and Verrington were earlier versions. It was never going to be a run-of-the-mill surname — where is the memorability in that?

Even ten years ago in the original story, she didn’t care very much for her butler Whitlocke. But it was an issue I felt I needed to address — why did this mistress and butler hate each other so openly? That was one of the catalysts for writing Lust & Liberty – to answer this question, along with many others. And it was necessary therefore to show Lady Vyrrington as a much younger woman. The events that turned her into this icy, bitter, miserable woman followed.

Literary Inspiration

While her younger self isn’t really inspired by any other literary characters, the older Lady Vyrrington, however, is a different story! Primarily, she was based on the invalid Mrs. Clennam from Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. Not just in terms of the cold demeanour, either. Her ambivalent relationship with Whitlocke is comparable to Mrs. Clennam’s with her manservant and business partner Jeremiah Flintwinch. In addition to Mrs Clennam, Lady Dedlock from Bleak House and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Lady Ludlow also played their parts in fleshing out Lady Vyrrington’s character.

Are there any other characters you think she’s similar to? Whether in her personality or in her relationships with the other characters? Let me know in the comments!