Pleasure and Pain are important parts of life and must be understood in reference to each other. No life is unremittingly happy. And, as the trials of Job showed, pain is a vale through which, if we remain steadfast, we will pass.
Pain and pleasure are balanced. No life is without pain. No life is without joy.
I will admit to idealizing the joy (see the beach scene in Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess (Volume 3) where the boys terrorize the girls with lobsters while the mothers watch).
However, the deepest truth in my writing comes from my pain. That is what drives me to explore the biographies of Mary, Kitty, Thomas, and Lydia Bennet in the Wardrobe’s Universe. Pain, and how we respond to it, what we learn from it, molds the persons we become.
Austen knew this. Look at her development of the Darcy character. Even Lady Catherine’s behavior was to be found in her pain at being born the eldest child of the Earl of Matlock. Even though she would have inherited all if she had been a man, as it was she got nothing but marriage to a minor aristocrat. Is it any wonder that she was bitter at her lack of agency?
As I noted in an earlier blog (Author’s Confessional), my own pain informs my writing…as does my pleasure. For instance, while my body never suffered a miscarriage, my personal experience with it informed my treatment of Thomas Bennet in The Avenger. Likewise, there are central events in The Pilgrim which forced me to reach into the darkest places of my being to inform the characters’ behavior.
And, as I construct the stories within the arc, every element should ring true.
Thus, Mary’s character was most fully formed early on as she was well-established, albeit as a caricature, by Miss Austen. However, as a writer, I had to answer some very essential questions as to why Mary Bennet acted as she did before Lizzy and Jane married. I had to consider what her life had to have been for her to have acted as she did. I also had to find a way to have her evolve without becoming another caricature.
Hence, her early sense of liberation the day her older sisters married followed by her discovery of love in the ashes of The Great Meryton Fire.
Thus, while it may have been tempting to have Mary remain a moralizing shrew, I decided that she would discover the root of her own pain and grow beyond it to become the best person she could be. While the former might have been a useful plot device, the truth of Mary’s character would have, thus, remained fixed from the age of thirteen. That seemed utterly unrealistic to me. Convenience in character development is not a virtue. I chose the latter path to allow readers to look at he grain which shaped the sapling that grew into the Great Keeper.
This is my first articulation of the Fifth Love…the love (in Mary’s case…first of herself) that is redemptive and allows a person to become the best version of herself. What I found interesting when I was composing The Avenger in 2018 where I expressed the Fifth Love as an extension of C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves was that I was already toying with the idea two years previously in The Keeper (2016).
One other point: was George Wickham without redemption? Or, could he have grown when inspired by love to make himself into the best man he could become?
In The Keeper, we learned that he had been the true hero of Waterloo, driving the French forces back in Hougoumont Woods until the Old Guard broke its back on the British infantry squares atop Mount St. Jean.
Wickham’s heroism is a recurring theme. T’was used in The Keeper. However, t’was not until The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn (Volume 5) that the roots of his earlier behavior were explained (a conversation with his Inner Guide) and how his manner moving forward was shaped by his encounters with Captain Richard Sharpe and the Countess.
This treatment answered the core question about much of #Austenesque fiction that seemed to defy John Locke’s Tabula Rasa idea of the empty cabinet waiting to be furnished. Locke destroyed the idea that behavior was innate and in-born. Essentially a butcher’s son and a young viscount, given the same experiences and opportunities, should turn out remarkably similar.
I asked myself, “How could Darcy and Wickham, essentially raised and educated together, become such different people?”
Certainly, Wickham was disillusioned by the fact that he had to return to his father’s house after a day with young Fitzwilliam. But, the steward of a great estate would not be wearing rags or living in a hovel. Yes, there were social distinctions that Wickham could not overcome.
But, what was it that gave us the damaged, hateful Wickham who led Georgiana to nearly eloping…and Lydia to actually do so?
I went inside his head and considered what shaped Wickham and Darcy. Questions of id, ego, and superego were examined. The role of Lady Anne Darcy and her understandable inability to love George Wickham as a son also played a major role.
I had gained an understanding of my own personality after many years of analysis where I dealt with grandiosity arising from a window of my life (ages 4-1/2 to 7) where my own mother battled with post-partum depression and was utterly incapable of offering any love whatsoever as she lay on a chaise in our dining room staring out a window.
Another blog, another time, will be required for a discussion of how and why Kitty, Lydia, Thomas, and Fanny are shaped into the monuments of the Wardrobe’s Universe. The arc continues toward its inescapable conclusion. The Pilgrim is nearly complete. Please enjoy the excerpt.
Also, please comment to be eligible for either of two sets of #Audible Codes (US or UK versions) covering the first five books of the Bennet Wardrobe stories. The giveaway ends at midnight EDST on July 23. Here is a sample from “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.”
This excerpt from “The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion” is ©2019 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any reproduction without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.
Lydia’s toilette fell somewhere between her own estimations—brief—and the Elizabeth-level preparations she assumed were being undertaken by her sister. After about 45-minutes beneath the hand of her maid, Mrs. Wickham, modestly clad —she did not seek to detract from the attention that would be paid to her two eldest sisters or the aristocrats of varying stripes—in a simple muslin gown patterned in blue and yellow came down the stairs and approached the Great Drawing Room’s double doors.
A woman knowing her own mind, Lydia had forgone the cap favored by married ladies and widows. Her short-cut blonde tresses, accepted now by her family and friends as being her own fashion statement as an original, glinted in the late afternoon sunlight. A blue-silk shawl, fringed in gold tassels, was her one concession to finery. Her only jewelry was a gilded locket inside of which rested miniature photographs of Richter and Georges Henri rested atop her lace fichu.
Her left arm rested in its sling, hidden by her shawl.
Pausing by the richly-stained oak panels, she inhaled deeply to settle the butterflies batting about beneath her ribcage.
Then she smiled and breathed five words to the waiting under-butler, “No introduction if you please.”
One door opened on well-oiled, silent hinges, and Lydia slipped into the room, hoping to blend in along the figurative chair rail hoping to escape notice and complicated social interaction.
Sidling into one of the far corners she cast her gaze around the room seeking to strategize her movements over the next few minutes. While she may have pretended invisibility, Selkirk’s vaunted staff did not play along. One footman whisper-walked to her side and offered her a coupe of champagne. He then stationed himself to slightly obscure her presence.
Hill’s masking…for he was of the Longbourn Hills, many of whom had followed Lizzy and Jane to Pemberley and Thornhill…gave her the opportunity to assay the guests who had already arrived for the house party.
To her great joy she sighted family—Jane and Charles, Lizzy and Darcy, Edward and Mary—and near-family—Henry and Laura Wilson, Annie and James Tomkins, Marty Smithvale and Angus Campbell. There, too, was Georgie, returned from her Paris residency under M. Pleyel’s aegis, at the pianoforte weaving classical airs as background for the Countess’ reception.
Lydia heard Fitzwilliam’s rolling baritone filling the chamber but could not see him amidst the crowd in the center of the room. The Earl seemed to be holding court somewhere below treeline in that grove of quality. The Countess floated from lady to lady doing her duty as hostess to this glittering multitude. Lydia recognized a smattering of the others arrayed around the parlor: one or two lesser viscounts, a few naval barons, and several of Edward’s brethren, all of whom had been part of his social justice ministry. Each of these men had the safety of a secure living in the Five Families gift. Father John Newman of St. Titus in Kympton quaffed from a tumbler of amber liquid, his own living secure in the knowledge of his prodigious intellectual capabilities that had him half a step away from Monseigneur at his tender age.
The rest of the multitude were thoroughly unfamiliar to her. Lydia did apprehend that tailoring establishments from London up through the Midlands had been tasked to turn these individuals’ products into new raiment. She smiled to herself thinking that if she approached more than one of these newly-minted gentlemen, she would discover more than one loose thread in a new topcoat that somehow had escaped an equally novice valet.
As the champagne warmed her insides, Lydia began to consider what she would seek to do now that the entry of fresh guests had been reduced to a trickle. A clear resolve began to form as she saw her three sisters move together, their elegant necks bowed to dip their locks into close concert.
Hah! One more could join that gaggle and be well disguised beneath their plumage. All I need to do is put Jane between me and the rest of the crowd!
She giggled and then downed the rest of her champagne. Tapping Hill’s elbow, she raised an eyebrow and nodded toward where her sisters stood. As she began to move toward them, the young man kept pace until he suddenly veered off toward the seating area grouped in the center of the room.
No! What are you doing? Traitor!
There the footman bowed his way into the company and lowered his head. Suddenly, Fitzwilliam stopped talking, and his head shot up above the massed shoulders.
His storm-grey eyes enveloped her shrinking figure. Lydia accelerated trying to reach Jane’s protective shadow.
She had taken but two steps when a deeper voice, clearly of another who was used to bellowing commands that needed to be heard across a battlefield, froze her where she stood.
“What is that you say, Fitzwilliam? Is she here? Why has she not been presented to me?”
Richard’s equally loud and clear reply resonated throughout the room stopping conversation in its tracks.
He drawled, “I am terribly sorry, My Lord. Mrs. Wickham is of a peculiar nature. She travels in disguise better than most, choosing to hide her virtues beneath a wicker basket.”
The aristocratic owner of the potent voice was having none of it.
“This will simply not do. I insist that she be brought before me immediately.”
This demand was punctuated by the sound of a cane’s ferrule rapping firmly on the wide boards stretching from wall-to-wall.
Lydia, although she knew better because the witch had been shredded six weeks ago, imagined that she was hearing Darcy’s aunt lording over her sister’s party. However, this exemplar of British aristocratic hauteur had a tincture of humor coloring his call for her presence. She resolved not to wilt beneath whatever censure she, the deformed widow who had nearly eloped, would bear.
Beneath the stares of her sisters and their husbands, Lydia thought,
I am a Bennet of Longbourn! My family can trace its gentle roots back over a century. While this man may be grand, my heritage has been a proud one. My grandfather fought with Braddock! My great-grandsire with King George himself!
Every eye followed the Countess as she glided toward the solitary lady standing on the room’s outer reaches.
Lydia squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, not really challenging Lady Eleanor, but rather clearly stating that she would not be intimidated.
“Relax, my child,” the Countess said, “He really is a sweetheart despite all his gruffness. I think you find that he and Richard are peas-in-a-pod.”
She took Lydia’s arm and led her toward the gathering at the room’s center, the crowds parting like the sea beneath Moses’ staff. At the end of the void of humanity rested a pair of chairs. In one sat Richard’s father, the Earl. In the other, though, reposed a man who, even sans regalia was clearly one of the leading men of the entire realm.
As the two ladies approached he fixed Lydia with a hard stare and planted his cane vertically between his feet before clasping his hands atop its head to lever himself up to a standing position. The cane then flowed smoothly to rest adjacent to his right leg where it subtly bore his weight.
Lady Fitzwilliam at his nod initiated the British tradition, “My Lord, may I present to you Mrs. Lydia Wickham of Longbourn and Pemberley. Mrs. Wickham, may I present to you the Marquess of Anglesey, Lord Henry Paget. You may know of him, by his ancient title, as the Earl of Uxbridge.[i]
“My Lord, Mrs. Wickham is the widow of Captain George Wickham of the 33rd.”
Anglesey nodded, “My condolences on your loss, madam. As the Duke said, Wickham saved us all.”
Lydia felt Richard arrive by her side. His presence comforted her, although she was quite taken with the handsome, if older, lord standing before her.
Then the Master of Uxbridge snapped, genially, but ordered, none-the-less, “I fear that I am still uncomfortable on my feet for too long.
“Matlock, get yourself off. I would speak with Mrs. Wickham, but I need to sit. As yours is the only other seat up for bids, I declare the auction closed! Mrs. Wickham will join me. Only those of us who have marched to the drum need be here right now for a bit of private conversation. General…you may stay.
“The rest of you: begone.
“Maybe Miss Darcy might turn her mind to some lighter Scottish airs.”
Lydia smiled her thanks at the Earl of Matlock who grinned back at her as if he was in possession of some great secret.
The Marquess pointed his stick at Fitzwilliam and added another command, “Have your giant of a sergeant bring two chairs over. He should be here as well.
“Unless you object, Mrs. Wickham.”
Lydia moved to the chair to the left of Lord Paget and gracefully lowered herself onto the front edge of the lower cushion before replying, “Oh, my Lord, I could not object to my Wilson coming to my side. He and I have been fast friends ever since the Year Twelve when he joined Mr. Wickham’s family. I am godmother to his and Mrs. Wilson’s daughter.”
The older warrior, now in his fifty-second year, chuckled. He sat silent watching as Wilson flowed across the chamber bearing two side chairs. The impossibly large man, his head adorned with short-cut white-blond hair, towered above those who studiously turned away to disguise ears attentive to any scraps of conversation that might drift their way. Even if these notables could be counted as friendly, they were none-the-less either creatures of the ton who survived on gossip or were acting under strict orders from uninvited co-conspirators for the latest on dit that affected the great and the good.
As the Sergeant came into the circle, placing one chair for his General and one for himself, the Marquess looked up and speared him much as many a French lancer tried in the late festivities, only this time with a long look rather than a length of polished steel. Then he offered rhetorically, “Someday, Sergeant Major…and if you did not retire as one, you have just been made; sew on your new stripes or have your lady wife save your tender fingers…you must regale me with the tale of just how you managed to escape Prinny’s grenadier recruiting sergeants.
“I would have thought your broad shoulders would have been perfectly suited to hold up Carlton House’s decrepit walls. I imagine our rotund Regent is ready to promote his accommodations to something with a bit more room.”
The Marquess adjusted his seat, grimacing as he was forced to reach down to slide his right boot into alignment with his missing knee. Four years after that June afternoon and his stump was still bothering him. Lingering pain aside, he was proud of his fully-articulated prosthetic limb. With the knee joint unlocked and pantaloons—the modern styles were much to his taste—outside of his boots, he could sit in company without anyone being forced to notice his amputation.
Three pairs of eyes were riveted by his bluff yet comfortable demeanor, awaiting whatever pronouncement he would make.
He supported his left forearm on the cushioned rest and considered Lydia who demonstrated her perfect posture as she gracefully inhabited half of the bubble of universe that had formed. All other persons had vanished from their ken, so enveloping was the Marquess’ examination.
“You know, Mrs. Wickham,” the great man intoned, “I have made it a study of mine to explore what makes men behave bravely. Those musings also, I am convinced, allow me to comprehend what turns their bowels to water.
“You have offered up an interesting conundrum. You see, men would have it that they are the sole repositories of courage, ignoring, of course, Queens Judith and Boadicea. All too often, these self-same deep thinkers seek to ascribe the success of our greatest monarch, Elizabeth, to Drake or Exeter or Salisbury rather than her political genius and her ability to make the people believe in her cause.
“You, my good woman, have reminded me, no all of us, through your selfless act of saving General Fitzwilliam that resolve is neither defined by the color of uniform nor even if a uniform is worn at all.
“Brave acts may be committed by the young or the very old. Here you are, a lady of but…what is it?…three-and-twenty, yet you acted without fear and comported yourself in a manner akin to Sergeant Wilson on that awful June day.
“Yet, you have also shown that one can do one’s duty without reference to the body within which the bravest of hearts resides.
“You have destroyed the myth that only men can commit daring acts and reverse the flow of history.”
By this point Lydia was blushing fiercely, and she averted her eyes as Paget’s praise flowed deeply around her.
She made to demur, saying, “My Lord, I would wish that you would temper your compliments. T’is undeserved by me. I acted without thinking, not heroically, like you who sat in the line of fire all afternoon. I honestly can remember little of what happened on St. Peter’s Field.”
The Marquess stopped her by grasping her right hand.
“Enough of that, Mrs. Wickham.
“I am no hero. Oh, perhaps an argument can be made that I behaved like one because I did not flee the moment the Tyrant’s le brutal opened up. But, remember that young Fitzwilliam along with the Duke was equally exposed. Both stayed in their place.
“However, I repeat…I am no hero because I sat on my horse and watched my cavalry troopers get ground up between the lines. That image of all those beautiful men vanishing into the smoke and never returning will haunt me to the end of my life.
“I am no hero. I sat and watched…watched men like your husband…long may his name rest upon the lips of Britons far and wide…put down that French dog once and for all.
“T’was hot work at Hougoumont, madam, and George Wickham did his duty without flinching, knowing that t’was his portion to hold that end of the line. He moved into the mêlée, crossed it, and drove his files of men deep into the crappauds’ guts, fully aware that there was little likelihood of returning home to you.
“Me? At Waterloo, I was unmoving, atop my beast, when the ball took my leg.
“You, in Manchester, showed that you were a queen defending her realm: regnant and glorious, shaped by Lord knows what forces.
“You say you acted without thinking. The greatest of champions act without thinking and, in those unconscious moments, show the depths of their character.
“But, whether reasoned or not, your actions saved my comrade-in-arms, my dearest warrior friend and brother, Richard Fitzwilliam.
“Your modesty does you credit, but do not debase your achievement. Like your sister, you have scars honorably earned.
“Just as King Harry said before Agincourt
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day:[ii]
“And you, Mrs. Wickham will quietly bear up under the scrutiny of those who have no idea what it means to feel the ground tremble beneath the hooves of heavy cavalry. Yet, every year on the anniversary of Peterloo, you will nod to Mrs. Benton and then take a moment to reflect on all that you gained, not lost, on that August day in your youth.”
The Marquess ceased his speech and lifted his head to include everyone in the room grouped in front of him. Throughout the past few minutes, he had been raising his voice until no other was speaking. He quaffed his brandy and affectionately patted her arm.
Scanning the chamber, Lord Anglesey pronounced what was the equivalent of a Red Judge’s decision in the ton, “I would have it be known that I heartily approve of Mrs. Wickham. Her late husband saved the nation. His widow saved one of our greatest paladins.”
The Marquess stood, leaning heavily upon his Malacca cane. After bending to lock his knee, he extended his left hand to Lydia to help her gain her feet gracefully. Paget, still one of the most handsome men in the kingdom, rapped his wooden leg with his stick, the drum-like sound echoing across the parlor.
He continued, “Just as you ignore my leg, I would have you look at the whole woman standing beside me. She should be held up as an example to your daughters…and your sons…for she has shown that the willingness to sacrifice is not limited to one sex.
“Here is a promise made before all of you assembled here.
“P’on my honor, Mrs. Lydia Wickham will be welcome at any Paget home anywhere in the realm. Our bed and board shall be her bed and board. If she were not already honored by His Royal Highness with a widow’s annuity, I would enhance her dowery.
“If Mrs. Wickham so wishes it, and if the Countess of Matlock and Mesdames Bingley and Darcy countenance this next, my wife, the Marchioness, will sponsor her when she makes her curtsey before the Queen.
“In all of this, I will not be gainsaid.
“Oh, and Mrs. Wickham,” at this he speared Fitzwilliam with an icy stare that bespoke of get on with this, man, “our hospitality is not contingent upon the presence of any slow-witted, addlepated man in your party.”
Richard looked astonished at the Marquess’ outspoken declaration.
Lydia blushed again.
[i] Henry William Paget (1768-1854) was Earl of Uxbridge when a bounding French cannonball struck his right leg near the end of the Battle of Waterloo. He had been in command of Wellington’s cavalry, much as Major General Richard Fitzwilliam was leading the Allies’ massed infantry squares. Uxbridge was elevated to Marquess of Anglesey (1st) upon his survival and served a long career in the Army (ultimately as Field Marshall) and the Government. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Paget,_1st_Marquess_of_Anglesey