As an author, I struggle to be certain that the work rings with a truth, an authenticity, that creates a story which offers readers an engaging experience rooted in a believable reality. Even if that world is entire made of fairy-dust, employs time travel, and sees other fictional characters traversing its pages. Consider that Tolkien created an entire world with a comprehendible mythology in order to act as the setting through which dwarves, elves, hobbits, wizards, and men moved.
As I bring #Austenesque stories to light, I search for ways to allow readers to be able to look up from the page and recognize the characters, or at least their kindred spirits, walking through the real world. I am convinced that means that they need to have convincing backstories and to endure life just as a living, breathing person would. Like Austen and other authors to whom I look for examples, that means that both protagonists and antagonists must pass through crises which will test them, task them, break them, and then remake them.
This process of breaking and then healing makes the character stronger, I believe, across the scar. In Pride and Prejudice, one could comfortably argue that both Elizabeth and Darcy are somewhat adolescent in their fixed beliefs…the prejudices reinforced by unchallenged pride…before Hunsford. It is in the immediate aftermath where both discover just how broken they had been by the encounter…Elizabeth in her realization that she had been utterly mislead by Wickham who took advantage of her pique and Darcy in his epiphany that just because he admired his own restraint and hyper-regulation did not mean that others perceived it in the same manner. Each then had to pass through a veil of anguish.
In the most recent entry into the Bennet Wardrobe story, The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion, I use the idea of breaking and reassembling into a more meaningful vessel throughout my treatment of Lydia. And, as with most of my work, I use visually-stimulating metaphors to enable the reader to grasp the underlying concepts.
That is when I found my earlier awareness of Zen and Taoism useful.
I became impressed with the idea of kintsugi as being a worthy metaphor for how people grow from their initial firing into that which we would imagine ourselves to be.
I would ask you to consider Lydia Bennet—or yourself—to be a cup into which a liquid will be served. Yet, you must see this cup not just look at it.
Your Guide would say <ask>
When is a cup more than a cup? Consider serving tea to a guest. True, you could pull out an old stoneware mug which would serve as a vessel for the hot liquid: not much more meaning to it than something against which to clank your spoon.
However, what if you chose to serve the beverage in one of your mother’s Wedgewood teacups…you know, the ones you have been moving from house-to-house in the years since she died? What recollections would they inspire in you? What stories would you tell your guests?
And, what would those reminiscences inspire within your guest?
Suddenly a simple cup of tea becomes so much more.
In the modern-day world, we readily dispose of cracked or damaged items. How often have we swept up the remnants of a victim of the law of gravity? Now imagine yourself in Kyoto. The cherished pieces of your family porcelain would be collected and taken to a kintsugi potter.
This master would reassemble the pieces of the cup, but rather than using invisible glue to hide the cracks to the best of his ability, he would highlight each fissure with golden resin. Attention, thus, would be called to its altered state. This cup would assume a place of honor, to be the first one offered to a guest rather than relegated to the back of the cupboard to be used only if there is no other available.
Because the cup has, through its worldly experience, assumed greater meaning. Users would calm themselves and contemplate the significance of the repairs, the cracks, the shape of the mended pieces, and the emotions the meditation engenders in their breasts.
As I formulated characters throughout the Wardrobe Series, I always looked at where they had been left by Jane Austen and then considered where I wished them to travel in their development: so, too, with Wickham and Lydia. Yet, with both, and particularly Lydia, I felt that they needed to find their lives to be a greater force upon them. Truthfully, they did have a greater distance to overcome.
“Love does not creep in upon cat’s feet. Nor does it storm about like an early cyclone. Love washes over you, leaving you in wonder and holding the hope of the world in your hands. Love steals your heart, breaks it, and then returns that organ back to you, glorious in its scars as if a kintsugi master has mended every crack with a golden resin. ‘Tis different, but no less beautiful than the unwounded original. Rather ‘tis something to be celebrated for the depth of its lived-in context.”
Captain George P. Wickham, GCB[i]
Wickham articulated much of what I had contemplated: that the scars of a lived life make that existence more meaningful.
Eventually, Lydia came to understand this process, painful as it was, with the Stoicism that she had absorbed from Richter. Young Mrs. Wickham began to see that pleasure and pain were necessary parts of life to be experienced instead of avoided. Is that not a radical alteration of the Lydia Bennet who frolicked across the pages of Pride and Prejudice? She looked at her soul and considered the scars lacing across that entity and knew that, like a kintsugi teacup, she had been transformed from her commonly understood meaning as established by Austen (do not ask her opinion of Austen’s biography of the Bennet family) into something more profound.
She had been broken. Her fractured pieces had been bonded back together to create a great lady worthy of her role in the upcoming adventure that is the story of the Bennets in the Wardrobe’s Universe.
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This excerpt is from a copyrighted work, “The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion.” Any reproduction of this in whole or in part without the expressed written consent of the copyright holder is prohibited.
The Beach House at Deauville, August 26, 1943
As readers of the Bennet Wardrobe stories are aware, only those of the true Bennet bloodline may travel through time using the Wardrobe. However, once they have traveled to the future, the next time they use the Wardrobe will see them transported back to their original where/when. This scene alludes to the fact that Lydia is expected to complete her cycle by returning to Darcy House in 1815, something that Lydia has tried several times since 1940.
Another Grandes Vacances had ended. Another holiday passed without visits from her children or grandchildren. With the rate that her illness was ravaging her body, Kitty faced the idea that she would not survive to see any of her loved ones—with Lydia’s exception, of course—gamboling through the House’s precincts ever again.
That would be the greater sadness, the Countess considered, than her sure demise regularly predicted by Campbell since he had first diagnosed her. Of course, her iron constitution had continually defied the doctor’s dire outlook. However, even she had to accept his forecast of no more than twelve months. The forces flowing from the Wardrobe tended to confirm this. She had asked.
On this afternoon, ruminations about her mortality found form in a brown study dragging her deeper inside herself. As she mulled, she sat beside Lydia on the veranda silently watching the sandpipers scurry around in their dance with the frothy combers. As they were doing so now, Kitty and Lydia had taken to holding hands more frequently. The skin-to-skin contact delivered comfort and affirmed the sisterly bond: obviating what the eyes beheld and replacing it with that which never had vanished throughout the years of separation. The burden of … death was lessened through the sharing.
So, too, for Kitty, was the sadness rising from her contemplations.
What a reversal this is…after all, was it not me as a young lady of but seven-and-ten who sat next to a wrinkled and wizened Lydia in 1886. Now, in an oddly bent mirror, here is my beloved sister, all of twenty-two holding the hand of her seventy-four-year-old sister.
Musing upon the vagaries of living as a Bennet in the Wardrobe’s Universe brought Kitty to the point, her mind doing that which it had done for decades: processing seemingly disconnected information to arrive at a greater whole.
And, like a single card dropping into a tray at the far end of an IBM sorter, a conclusion pushed to the surface of the capacious mind of Lady Fitzwilliam. The more she looked at it, the more she appreciated it in its simplistic elegance.
Clearing her throat, Kitty reopened a topic which she and Lydia had ignored for more than a year.
“Lydia, love, I realize that this may be breaking open a scab that you might wish untouched; however, have you considered trying to touch the Wardrobe? To see if what happened in May…was the trial through which you had to pass to learn that which you needed to discover?”
Lydia said nothing, but rather sat there, her jaw working as she tried to come to terms with the implications […that death needed to be the vehicle for her education].
Kitty made to speak again, but Lydia squeezed her hand in a signal that prevented a well-meant utterance.
The clock began to whir again as neither sister spoke, although one was undergoing her own assessment of possibilities while the other waited, her bolt having been spent.
After a few minutes during which the water in front of them had covered another foot of sand, Lydia offered, “I would not presume to disagree with you. This was the type of event that I would imagine would supply the type of lesson the Wardrobe would want to deliver.
“Yet, Kitty, …[I have been here three years in the midst of a horrific war]. The Wardrobe surely could have schooled me before if t’was a tragedy that had to be the catalyst. …
“I can agree that the nature of death from a fever, as opposed to a bomb, is naturally different from the horror of the latter. However, Kitty, a dead child rips at a mother’s entrails whether he died in a fire or from typhus.
“No, I think ‘tis to be more. I do not believe it is the truth about sadness. I have been sad before: Wickham, Papa, even old Mr. Wheatley.
“I have the sense that the Wardrobe is up to something that will be quieter, less of a grand gesture.
“I think, and I can tell you that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, I am viewing it through a glass darkly. If that fey cabinet is seeking to remake Lydia Wickham, Hans has a role to play in my education. How I cannot imagine. Perhaps t’will toy with my fascination for men in uniform.
“And that, sister, has yet to happen in a way which would represent a profound shift in my perspective.
“However, I would satisfy your curiosity. Allow me a moment to prepare.”
Kitty tried to demur, begging Lydia not to make the attempt. The Countess regretted ever speaking for there was a chance, in her mind a distinct chance, that she would lose Lydia to time. She could not bear that loneliness, especially a solitude rising from her own suggestion.
Lydia had reached under her chaise and pulled out a lap desk. Laying her Waterman to the creamy laid bond, she penned a quick note. Folding it and sliding the missive into an envelope, she wrote a single line of direction.
She said, “I shall not bid you farewell, dearest Kitty, for I am certain I will be back with you shortly. However, against the other eventuality, please be sure to give this message to Hans if I do not return.
“I have no doubt we will be seeing each other again: if not in a few minutes, then perhaps in a different place and time.”
Handing the note to Kitty, Lydia stood and bent at the waist to plant a gentle loving kiss on her sister’s brow.
Then she tripped lightly down the piazza and passed through the opened French doors.
Kitty strained to hear any sounds from the library, expecting in her certitude, the angry noise of 1,000 bees buzzing. Perhaps the surf was too loud…or her ears too weak. In any event, the Countess heard nothing.
The pain had yet to cut through the warm fuzziness she felt all over her body. T’was reminiscent of when she was a little girl and had dozed away a Hertfordshire afternoon as she lay on the soft lamb’s wool throw after she played tea party with Mary, Lydie, and their dolls. Mary usually drifted away in search of Jane and Lizzy, but Kitty and her Irish twin tended to be found, curled up together, gently slumbering in the summer sunshine. The two small girls would lay there at the adults’ feet until Papa would pick up one and Mama the other to deliver them to the nursery to finish their naps.
The murmur of voices drew her closer to the surface as she swam through the comforting mists. At some point, a zephyr caressed her face and tickled her nose.
Kitty awakened with a start. Her sharp intake of breath was as much in recognition of her surprise over having dozed as it was the admission that all her senses were once again engaged. Her eyes fluttered open. The sun was lower than when Lydia had left her side: its reflected rays dazzling off the wind-scalloped water stretching away from the House.
Her stomach sank as she realized that many more than Lydia’s promised “a few minutes” had passed without her sister’s return.
She was gone.
The voices that had supplied the pleasant backtone to her reverie were passing through the gauzy drapes guarding the library’s confines. While she could not discern individual words, she did recognize the vocal properties of the speakers.
Lydia was yet with her!
Jacques had returned from his passage through the countryside.
The third voice that rumbled from time-to-time caused Kitty to check her watch.
T’was barely teatime!
Richter had joined the confab discussing, the Countess had to believe, matters of the highest importance if the young captain had broken from his daily work at the Graf’s right hand.
She smiled softly, knowing in her heart-of-hearts that the only reason the three of them were engaged in a spirited give-and-take was that Jacques’ search had borne fruit. Those connards had been found.
Lady Kate further mused that Lydia remained because her role was yet to be significant as the Wardrobe managed the events about Deauville.
[i] Unpublished mss, The Journals of the Hon. Captain George Percival Wickham, edited and annotated by his Widow. The Bennet Family Trust, London. Entry of February 21, 1815. Vol VI, p. 10-11.