The arc of the Bennet Wardrobe is long. Book One of The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey raises the curtain in 1691. We last saw Mary and her husband Edward Benton in 2013…322 years later. Other principals also have moved about the timeline: Kitty to 1886 while her parents, Thomas and Fanny, translated to 1947. All found what they needed to learn in those futures.
Lydia Bennet, as Miss Austen suggested, was a larger and more complicated problem. And, I found her to be just that as I began the process of recording her life as it appeared in the Wardrobe’s Universe.
The conundrum of Lydia Bennet, the young lady who loved anything in a red coat (Lieutenant Will Rochet of the Royal Navy was safe from her!), was but one-of-three character problems I initially faced when developing the Wardrobe Series. My mind had begun to tackle the interesting futures of Mary, Kitty, and Lydia beyond the two weddings…and beyond the considerations of Jane Austen. Later, though, Thomas pushed himself to top-of-mind. Thomas could not have been who he was without Mrs. Bennet (Fanny in the Wardrobe’s Universe) and, thus, she was added.
Most of what you have been reading began to rise in the early autumn of 2015. I know this because—in preparation for this column—I looked back into my files (are not date and time stamps the most wonderful creation?) for the pictures I dug up to portray Lydia Bennet. You see, I frequently use visual art to help me express my thoughts in written form.
Miss Austen left us with the impression that Lydia Wickham would be quite surprised by her life after her dispatch to Newcastle. We had no idea what her life would be like…just that it would be different. Her shenanigans with Wickham had served their purpose and Lydia was moved off-stage.
However, the one solid insight into Lydia’s character is her simplistic notion of a soldier’s life. Austen beautifully offers us this view into the mind of a fifteen-year-old country girl: balls, parties, and so forth. Of course, her only exposure was to the militia. The regulars were different…and that is where Wickham ends up.
The point that I grasped onto was that Lydia saw the world of the soldier as the epitome of romantic existence.
And, that limited comprehension was what the Wardrobe needed to change so that it could employ her to its deeper purpose. This Bennet needed to learn about life both in the future and her proximate present.
Thus, Lydia’s lesson (much like that of Henry Fitzwilliam in Henry Fitzwilliam’s War) had to come from the battlefield and from the soldiers who enter those environments.
Back to 2015.
For some reason, I felt that Lydia would do best in World War II. Not sure why…maybe the Wardrobe and the Old One were nudging me toward inserting her into the Kitty story as the one who is taught by her sister who was going to be the one who led. In any event, by the Fall of 2015 I had settled on a story arc of three books: Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. Deauville had been established as the “new” Longbourn so that my characters were not limited to either Meryton or Pemberley.
In my mind, I saw the young girl bussing the Colonel as Lydia. This seemed like something she would do. The problem was that this is exactly what an unreformed Lydia would do. So, this would not serve as my muse.
Over the next three years, Lydia appeared and passed through The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque (briefly), and The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn. At each stage we catch glimpses of this interesting young woman. However, the most recent Bennet Wardrobe book now pulls together the disparate threads into a complete (I hope) tapestry.
As such, I needed a new visual muse. No real big search, but rather casual glances from 2017 into 2018.
Somewhere in the midst of writing The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament, I found an interesting portrait (Mrs. Luke Ionides). However, the sultry temptress—and a redhead—was not the woman that either the Wardrobe or I imagined. She needed more power…and not sexual…especially as a woman who had finally understood that a soldier’s portion was his wife’s as well.
She needed to have experienced the world and all its joys and sorrows.
She needed to comprehend that life was not a collection of galas, but rather of tiny moments…the cry of a child, that same wee one giggling, the ache of love found and also love lost.
Passing through these veils would create a confident, caring person whose heart led her rather than her libido.
That is when I found Franz Winterhalter’s 1859 painting of Princess Elizabeth Esperovna Belosky.
This was my Lydia—even if she is wearing a crinoline!
The date of publication of this blog post is the date of the release of the penultimate book in the Bennet Wardrobe Series. The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion examines the remarkable life of the Fifth Daughter after Elizabeth and Jane are wed. Her mission as determined by the Wardrobe will become clearer as it refines her through the fires of a lengthy life.
In celebration of the release of The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion those commenting will be entered into a drawing for either 1 copy of the e-book (US, UK, Canada, AU Amazon sites) or (US Only) 1 copy of the print book. Deadline for comments will be Wednesday, September 18.
Please enjoy the following excerpt which should offer some insight without spoiling the story.
This excerpt from The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion is ©2019 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any reproduction—either electronic or print—without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.
The Beach House at Deauville, July 1943
T’was not pain. No, not pain, for the concept of pain implied that such would be an extraordinary circumstance: something outside the realm of normal existence. This agony, this chasm of despair into which she continued to tumble, day-after-day, week-after-week, was not exceptional, but rather the regular currency of her life. Awake or asleep, the lifeblood she poured into the vessel of her soul seeped out between seams rent asunder by ineffable loss.
Lydia Wickham was caught in a netherworld between cherished memories, perhaps delusions, and a reality that worried the edges of her very being like a flint etching tender skin long sheltered beneath a lady of leisure’s satin slippers.
Long days curled up on the library’s sofa gazing at nothing but the great marquetry doors of the Wardrobe merged into equally wakeful nights staring into the featureless plane of matte white that arced above her bower. Alone even when her sister or old Jacques would sit beside her in their own cloud of bereavement, Mrs. Wickham, followed a different but kindred path. As Gaia moved in an elliptical orbit, so, too, did Lydia as she trekked from her chamber to the bookroom and back again. Neither pole exerted a dominant pull over her. She slid through her own private cosmos like a rogue asteroid, unseeing, uncaring, awaiting that inevitable moment when the universe would interpose a greater body that would shatter her into smithereens.
Whether she would re-coalesce into something recognizable remained a question of small concern to her.
A void of indescribable potency yawned in the core of her being. T’was beyond the actual event itself, the fact of which she had come to accept if only to maintain a tenuous grip on sanity. There were so many ancillary losses arising from the original.
Her previous identity, itself expanded from an earlier iteration by the split that began in the time of one Tyrant and ended during the reign of another, had been erased in an instant.
That which she had become was no longer and never again could be.
Then there had been the instinctive camaraderie shared by all women of her situation…and the equally awful revulsion evidenced by those same females the moment they recognized that which had been. Unsure of how to respond, they chose to glance up and away, literally anywhere but into her eyes. Conversations were hushed. Head bobs and shoulder-points cautioned all that a dead woman walked through their midst.
She needed to reset her life but was unable to do so as nothing had yet been resolved. Scenarios played out behind her emerald green eyes. Yet, no clear explanation could ever be understood as she turned the problem over-and-over in metaphorical hands. No matter what variable Lydia changed, no matter which what if she applied like Herr Einstein twiddling with its building blocks, the Universe, the Old One, always brought her to the same terrifying finish line.
She would die: she would if only to bring surcease from the clawing ennui.
Except that she had not the energy nor, ultimately, the inclination, to destroy herself.
Even in her less-than-half-a-life reality, she comprehended that she was bound by the remarkable energies flowing above, around, and through her.
Her trail was far from over, her curse yet unrelieved, and she despised the Wardrobe that demanded her to be its Galahad.