Over the time I have been #InspiredByAusten to write an Austenesque series, I have searched for the essential kernel which makes the Canon evergreen. As with most readers, the love story between Elizabeth and Darcy resonated loudly, possessing all of the characteristics I found compelling…boiled down in the epigram Boy Meets Girl…Boy Gets Girl…Boy Loses Girl…Boy and Girl get Back Together. There was a simple reason for this attraction: I lived it.
As Rod Serling said: May I present for your consideration two students at Northwestern University.
December 1971: Boy Meets Girl, Attracted by her fine eyes
December 1971 to February 1972: Boy stalks the edge of the dance floor
February 1972 to October 1972: Springtime at Rosings, First Blooms
October 1972: Hunsford Proposal, Boy loses Girl
November 1972 to August 1976: The Long Season of the Marriage Mart
August 1976: Reconnecting at Pemberley
September 1976: Feelings materially changed. Second Proposal and Acceptance
December 1976: The two become one
Obviously, ODC only had to agonize for about a year. However long the arc, though, the complicated dance that most of us undertake to find our life partners has been distilled (more prettily, I will admit) by Jane Austen.
Please now loop back to my earlier blog post where I explored how C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves could be used to consider the interactions between characters peppered throughout the Austen Universe. And, having said that, I now assert that not only do the Four Loves govern Austen’s Universe, but also that of the Bennet Wardrobe.
Except that where Lewis identified four types (not stages, although some may lead to others) of love—storge, philia, eros, and agape—there is clear evidence of a Fifth Love flowing through everything written by Jane Austen. This love is much more dynamic, demanding a conscious commitment on the part of one, and usually both, of the actors. This love has become so obvious to me that I am compelled to label it. While Lewis easily reached back into the Greek of the Classical Age, I must lean upon Google Translator to offer a Greek (and compound) name for this multifaceted emotional attraction.
Exagoras agapis translates to Redemptive Love. I see exagoras agapis as essentially different from Lewis’ Four Loves in that the latter describes relationships between two persons. Exagoras agapis is uniquely individual, centered within in one person. The term describes that love which drives people to become better versions of themselves. Exagoras agapis informs the growing awareness of the need to evolve beyond that which had been satisfactory before worlds had been shaken by the entrance of another.
And, why are they motivated to do that? Because they have discovered that they need to change to become worthy of the object of their affections. In a deeper sense, if the goal is agape—the deepest binding of two souls—then exagoras agapis is that internalized love which understands that the jointure can only exist in the truest spiritual sense if both parts of the ‘destined to be fitted together’ are indubitably the best they can be.
Thus, as we move through Pride and Prejudice, we see the faults that lie deep in the original Elizabeth and Darcy personalities. Elizabeth is so convinced of her discerning eye that she makes snap judgments of people, pigeonholing them into inescapable compartments informed by her own biases. Darcy, too, assigns people into rather pejorative categories…equally informed by his own prejudices that grow out of a complex mix of shyness and pride. Not only that, ODC are cast against the complicated social strictures of propriety which makes their deep sense of the third love—eros—impossible upon which to act.
They are caught in a web of their lesser selves.
What makes this story—and the others of the Canon—so darn readable is that we want to know how the two move past their initial disastrous interaction. That is what makes the novel resonate with the reality within which we all live. Darcy and Elizabeth must reach agape, however, in order to find that nirvana, they need to pass through the deep and painful reflection that is driven by exagoras agapis. (The story of Jane and Bingley’s passage to their better selves offers another fruitful opportunity for a conversation about exagoras agapis.)
That is what I see as underlying the Bennet Wardrobe Universe—the opportunity to achieve agape for every character rising from Pride and Prejudice: Mary, Kitty, Lydia, George, Richard, Thomas, and Fanny. However, as has been shown in the first two great chronicles—The Keeper and The Exile—the process of self-reflection guided by exagoras agapis is neither easy nor is it uncomplicated. How exagoras agapis will play out in subsequent volumes will be revealed in the coming months and years.
The complicated relationship between Lydia and George is explored in the second act of the recently published The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn. We see both Wickham and his child bride being driven in their own manner by exagoras agapis. Each engages in a deeper consideration of their personalities, in the process uncovering the faults that are preventing them from achieving agape.
Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter XXXIV when that marvelous fourth love explodes because of the fifth, exagoras agapis.
This excerpt is ©2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. Publication or other use without the expressed written consent of the creator is expressly prohibited. Published in the United States.
A month after all of the excitement of Wilson and Miss J’s betrothal and wedding had waned, the Second Battalion prepared to depart to relieve the First in the Peninsula in advance of the spring campaigning season. For four days drovers had been at their teams dragging fully loaded carts, wagons and sledges down to the dockyards surrounding the Tynemouth. Laura Wilson had already bid the Sergeant farewell as the common soldiers and subalterns had been aboard the transports for the past two days. Now it was the officers’ turn.
Lydia was bustling around her marital bedchamber trying to locate George’s third pair of woolen gloves. She and the other officers’ wives—particularly the younger ones—were terribly frightened at the tales told by the survivors of the horrible winter retreat to Coruna in the Year Nine. All Sergeant Wilson would say when quizzed by Laura was that he had been convinced that if he made it home alive he would never be warm again. That set Laura and Lydia to organizing the other wives into knitting circles. The sound of needles bending yarn into scarves, stockings, uhlan hats, and gloves had led more than one commissioned man to volunteer for extra duty at the fort, if only to be able to lower his head onto a counter in the officer’s mess for an hour of blessed repose.
Rising up from her hands and knees after her second reconnoiter under the bedstead, she pulled open the drawer in George’s nightstand hoping to discover the wayward hand warmers. What she found instead caused her to collapse back on her haunches as she carefully lifted a hemmed blush silk net square from its hiding place: her handkerchief. Tears began to course down her cheeks as the awareness that her husband had kept a token of a woman of unknown antecedents—but assuredly one he believed to not be his spouse—as a treasure next to the billowing expanse he shared with Lydia.
A complicated blend of emotions slammed through her young breast. She felt first anger at his betrayal. That fury was immediately cooled by her own reflection that she, too, had lusted after a stranger.
Yet, in the end, he had come home to her; leaving his fantasy behind in the fairies’ garden! Thus her sadness was countered by a towering joy at the realization that George had been, in the end, if not entranced by her, at least loyal to her! His wife!
She brought the rose-colored square to her cheek recalling the sheerness and softness of her gown. All tightness and fear seeped from her. A powerful resolve began to form in her mind, recalling the dialogue of the Inner Guides.
>no pain. only joy in discovery.
The Guides were so correct! Once Lydia had reconciled herself to the idea that her husband and the King were the same man, she determined to place her final stamp on their love. She stood, almost too quickly as she nearly fainted, and set her concern for her husband’s hands aside in place of the need to ensure her place in his dreams.
Swiftly leaving the room and moving to her sewing area down the short hallway, Lydia set about her task. First she pulled a remnant of fine white lawn from her sewing basket, left over after she had made one last shirt for George, silk[i] being too dear. This she carefully trimmed to the size of the rose square. Then she basted the two pieces together to provide a more substantial backing for the silky net. Finally she employed a skill that Laura Wilson recently had taught her: she embroidered her initials LBW on the corner. That task accomplished, she awaited her husband.
Sitting quietly, she did not have long to worry over what might be his reaction to her little theft. Shortly thereafter, George loped up the stairs in search of both his wife and his traveling trunk. He did not bother to look over at the small seating area near the window down the passage from their bedchamber into which he dashed. Lydia could hear him rattling around, throwing a few final items in his case.
Then the scraping sound of the poorly trimmed nightstand drawer could be heard. Then silence. Then a scrabbling sound as George rifled through the drawer. Then more silence; longer now. She could imagine him casting desperate eyes around the room, searching for his talisman. She did not disdain his confusion and concern, but rather recognized that just as she had found her joy in discovery, so, too, would Lieutenant Wickham.
Then the doors of her wardrobe clanked back against their stops. More silence. Then the door to the bedroom slowly opened, and her husband stepped through and saw Mrs. Wickham seated at the other end of the hall. He clasped something to his chest as he slowly made his way toward her.
When he entered the pool of golden candlelight, she saw the bliss suffusing his features. Dampened cheeks glittered in diamond’s softness. In his arms he cradled her gown.
He approached until his shins touched hers. Wickham’s eyes shifted in response to the movement of her left hand, softly stroking the rose handkerchief.
Understanding everything, husband dropped to his knees in worship of his wife; folding at his waist to bury his face in her lap, the rose frock filling every space between their bodies, making them one.
Then Lydia mirrored his movement bowing over him with the grace of the swan queen to kiss the back of his hair sealing their happiness.
[i] Gentlemen duelists and well-to-do officers would not face lead balls fired in anger in anything less than silk which would tend to part when a telling shot was landed rather than shredding and being punched deep into a wound which would often lead to fatal infections, Dr. Campbell or not.