Surely, a book set in the Eighteenth Century should be a safe haven from today’s social and political concerns?
Certainly, race was not a subject most British people were as conscious of in the Eighteenth Century as they are today. In particular, most people had never seen a black person or had any knowledge of other continents. Even so, attitudes among many do not seem to have been so different from today.
- A sense of the superiority of your own class or social group.
- Suspicion of anyone different.
- The need to blame someone for all wrongs: preferably someone distant, if not physically, at least psychologically.
Billy and Bethan encounter some of these attitudes on their travels but Billy does not hate the French or the Jacobites, not even when he has to kill them in battle. His feelings are similar to those expressed by Rudyard Kipling:
I do not love my Empire’s foes,
Nor call them angels, still
I don’t see why I should hate
The man I’m paid to kill.
Prejudice is not always racial. The assumption that a girl from a lower-class background was illiterate was one that Bethan turned to her advantage at times.
All that is in the first Highwaypersons novel, Debts and Duties. In the sequel, The King’s Justice, Billy and Bethan have several encounters with the slave trade, something of which they were totally ignorant at first. They see it from several angles. What they learn will surprise them, as it surprised me when I looked into it, and it is likely to surprise you too. For some, race was a serious issue in the Eighteenth Century.