In chapter 51 of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen gives the account of Lydia’s return to her family at Longbourn after her belated wedding to Wickham. Austen shows us how all the awkwardness and embarrassment of the situation is felt, not by the two who should be ashamed, but by the others. Lydia is blissfully oblivious, and blindly infatuated with her new husband. I thought it might be fun to glimpse this moment in time through her eyes as she tells the story to her friend, Mrs. Forster, in a letter.
My Dearest Harriet,
What adventures I have had since I saw you! I write to you now from Longbourn, where Wickham and I have just come to visit after our wedding in London. Yes, London! Are you not surprised? Or perhaps you have already heard that our plans changed after I left you in Brighton. My dear husband (for so he now is!) knew I should prefer London to Gretna Green, and I said I did not care where we went so long as we were to be married in the end.
There was a little delay of the wedding itself, and some horrid unpleasantness with my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, but I will not take the space for such tediousness here. Only I must say that they were very ungenerous in their attentions to me in all respects. They could not be bothered to give one single party in my honor, to show me about the town, or even to see to it that the church was tolerably filled with well-wishers and flowers for the wedding. My aunt only gave me some lilies from her garden to carry, and are not lilies more appropriate for funerals? Then there was some last minute business my uncle said he had to attend to, which vexed me greatly.
But at last we were at St. Clement’s and there was Wickham waiting for me at the altar, looking vastly handsome. La! I thought I should have fainted for happiness, and what a good joke that would have been. However, I did not faint (for I have a very sturdy constitution), and my uncle gave me away. Then the rector talked on and on – about what, I have no idea, for I was thinking only of my dear Wickham.
Now I will tell you a great secret, for I would not hide any thing from you, my dear, and I know you are quite capable of keeping a confidence. Mr. Darcy was at my wedding! He came to stand up beside Wickham. What do you say to that? I never had any idea before that they were on such friendly terms, but my husband has since explained it, saying that Mr. Darcy has always had the greatest admiration for him. Now that is the kind of friend whom it is very well worth having, for Mr. Darcy is exceedingly rich and no doubt has many favours in his gift.
I could only wish that my sisters had been at St. Clement’s to see me married. Since returning to Longbourn, however, I have at least had the satisfaction of observing how they all envy me. They try to hide it, of course, (excepting Kitty who freely admits it), looking grave and self-conscious, but I see that they are really embarrassed for having been outdone by myself, the youngest of them all. Jane had to give up her place to me, you know, since I am now a married woman. And Mary is sure to have noticed how hopeless her own situation is by comparison. But it is Elizabeth who suffers most acutely, I believe, for I daresay she wanted Wickham for herself. I did not mean to be cruel. I was just telling the story of shewing off my ring to a neighbor I chanced to come across, when in fact Lizzy got so upset as to run out of the room!
Do not you think it a certain proof that she envies me? Well, I was as kind as I could be to her after that. But it is no wonder she and all the others are jealous, for my dear Wickham is the greatest catch in the world! He truly is the handsomest man that ever was seen, as well as being the boldest rider. Did not your own husband once say that he had the finest seat in the regiment? And tomorrow, when the shooting starts, I daresay Wickham will kill more birds than any body else in the county. So I have told my sisters. They would be fortunate to have half my good luck in finding husbands. I have promised to help in that regard by putting them in the way of meeting some very smart officers when they come to visit me in Newcastle.
Poor Mama! She regrets my going so far away more than any body else, but it cannot be helped. I am wife to a military man now, and I must follow by dear Wickham’s side wherever his duty takes him. You understand these things, Harriet, as my other friends cannot.
I hope that we may all meet again one day, but I hardly know when that may be – perhaps not these two or three years. In the meantime, you must write to me often. Wickham and I send our love to you and to Colonel Forster, and we shall remember to drink to your health, as I hope you may on occasion drink to ours.
Your most affectionate friend,