Don is sharing an excerpt and talking about home and a homecoming. Welcome Don. I am thrilled to have you visit.
The word pilgrimage is freighted with more significance than the much simpler journey or trek. There is a depth of semantic loading in the word which is redolent of self-discovery. And, the pilgrimage is a theme which is deep in European tradition. The Way or the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is one of the most famous.
At the far end of the journey, once all has been discovered, is Home for is it not the pilgrim’s final goal to apply that which has been uncovered to alter the life yet to be lived?
The concept of Home and Homecoming is another constant (along with learning, growth, change, and love) that runs through the Wardrobe.
The three daughters, Thomas, and Fanny are all, in their own ways, looking to find their way to the Home that sustains them.
The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion is the story of multiple homecomings. Some returns are for those who are meaningful in the Fifth Daughter’s life. Others are reserved for Lydia herself.
An essential framework must first be an understanding of the word itself. We often consider homecoming to embody a journey followed by a welcome to our childhood manse. This is, of course, the most basic Earl Hamner (Spencer’s Mountain, The Waltons) formulation; the soil from which we sprang still clings to us. The climes in which we prospered first as children and then, later, as departing young adults. That Home shapes our first iteration as persons.
Jane Austen offered us in either detail (Elizabeth and Jane) of in sketch (Mary, Kitty, Thomas, Fanny, and Lydia) that first order of personality in Pride and Prejudice. The Wardrobe books consider the forces that come to play upon the characters after the Canonical close of the original book.
The next expression of homecoming and home rises from the old saw, Home is where the heart is. This does not necessarily mean love for another person.
For Fitzwilliam Darcy, the common theme was that Pemberley was Home. Even after he and Elizabeth fell in love, one of her roles was to become Mistress of Pemberley. We can infer, in Elizabeth’s case, that this would necessarily also mean Mistress of Darcy’s Heart. However, we learned from his romantic struggles that abiding love (at least at the outset of the book) was not a requirement for the lady of the house. His heart was Pemberley which defined him.
In the Canon, Mrs. Bennet only saw Longbourn as a house, a place that was not the hedgerows. However, in the Wardrobe’s universe, Mrs. Bennet did see Longbourn as her Home, her refuge. Mr. Bennet further amplified that sentiment when he opined that Longbourn’s ancient sedimentary loams served as a source of some mystical powers including Jane’s peace-making and Lizzy’s sense of direction. The parents mutually rediscovered the power of Longbourn as Home in The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament.
Yet, adult perspectives and land aside, what does Home translate to for a woman who is not exactly following the sound of the drum, but close to it?
Her heart is packed up every morning as camp is broken and revitalized when the tents are raised. In Lydia’s case, though, as a young gentlewoman, whether she is at Longbourn, Deauville, or Pemberley, so is forced to wait for her soldier’s homecoming.
The idea of homecoming liberally seasons The Pilgrim. In each of the books, departures and returns are layered to build the narrative.
Consider Lydia’s arrival in Deauville in the opening pages of Book 2. While it is clearly an appearance, I see it as a homecoming for it is at the Beach House where her heart rests in the form of her sister, the Dowager Countess, Lady Kate. Yet, when the residence is no longer Lydia’s Home at the end of the action in Book Two, she leaves it behind much as she had previously done with her cottage in Newcastle and Longbourn Manor.
She necessarily had to continue her pilgrimage, her steps in the dusty roads that made up her camino.
The Wardrobe is a harsh taskmaster and demands much of its Bennet subjects. Lydia, like Mary and Kitty before her, had to travel great distances around the universal circle to return to the point where they were the best versions of themselves. Lydia’s story is difficult, to be sure. Her path is arduous and fraught with more than her measure of pain. However, Lydia, I believe, also reveled in the completion of the painting which had been begun by Jane Austen all those years ago.
Please enjoy this excerpt from “The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion.”
Kympton Vicarage, August 21-26, 1819
Lydia and her sister Mary were injured in Manchester at the Peterloo Massacre on August 19, 1819. They were removed to the Vicarage where the Benton family lived. Both women had been in comas since their injuries. Here we see General Fitzwilliam wrestling with his feelings for the Widow Wickham…and Lydia, after she awakens, encountering life-altering news.
If their concern about Lydia’s condition had not been so acute, Lizzy and Jane would have collapsed in gales of matronly giggles at General Fitzwilliam’s distress. Even Darcy, normally stone-faced as two of his sisters lay insensible in their beds at Kympton Vicarage, could not avoid a snort and a snicker when his cousin burst from Mrs. Wickham’s chambers to throw himself into the armchair placed in the hallway especially for this purpose.
On this day, Wellington’s right arm was sweating through his fine lawn shirt having just been shooed from Mrs. Wickham’s side while the ladies tended to Lydia’s personal hygiene. Despite himself, he imagined how the Bennet girls, at first just Lizzy and Jane, but later Mary and Lydia, would have rolled their eyes at him acting like their late mother amidst a bout of her famous nerves.
[Richard’s mother] had been summoned by Darcy who feared that questions of compromise would be engendered by Richard’s hovering above the widow’s bed. Lady Eleanor had arrived posthaste—on August 24th—, less concerned by her son’s behavior and more by the implications of fixing his attentions upon a woman most recently involved in violent anti-monarchical demonstrations.
The little bantam of a woman bustled up to the soldier as he slumped in the chair [outside of Lydia’s chamber]. A slippered foot nudged him out of his reverie.
“Richard George Edward Fitzwilliam,” using all his names when opening her barrage never presaged anything good, mused the General, “Just who do you think you are to be consorting with a rebel?”
His mother had stolen a march on him and had the advantage of taking the high ground, to fire downslope into his position.
Looking up at the lady who had given him life and was currently helping raise his daughter, Fitzwilliam tried to make the best of a bad rhetorical situation figuring a defensive volley might still strike home. The adjustments for the rising nature of the rhetorical slug would have to be precise.
“Mother, how wonderful to see you.
“By rebel, do you mean Mrs. Wickham or Mrs. Benton? Both were on the field last week when those idiots of the Yeomanry charged thousands of defenseless people waiting to hear Hunt speak.
“Or, perhaps, you are speaking of my father’s sister, whose name I will no longer deign to mention, who was killed by an infernal machine…one, I suspect, that was made at her behest? She carried her malevolent disgust with this island’s citizens to the extreme. And, I wonder how much she paid to spring that maniac of a former parson from Bedlam, you know, the one who violated little children.
“Oh, lest you take umbrage, Mother, you do know that it was that cretin who shot Mrs. Benton. I have no doubt that once my boys in Jermyn Street have untangled this mess, we will find that these two gentle ladies will be counted as innocent victims. Mrs. Wickham and Mrs. Benton were luckier than another dozen who perished because rich men feared giving working men a voice in their own affairs.”
Her shocked countenance told him that he had hit his mark. While the Countess of Matlock was not an arrogant woman, she was comfortable in her estimation of the general correctness of her class notions about the social contract. There were those who led and those who obeyed as dictated by God. For her son to offer painfully clear arguments to the contrary shook her world.
Her eyes sparkled with unshed tears.
Damn, Fitzwilliam thought, I have made her cry.
He struggled to his feet, war-wounded muscles stiff from sitting while awaiting word from Lydia’s chamber. Then General Fitzwilliam enveloped his mother in his arms as he whispered comforting sounds into her expertly coifed hair. Her arms snaked around his waist.
Eventually, her gentle sobbing subsided, and she pushed away from her son’s embrace.
Fitzwilliam penitentially said, “I am sorry, Máman, you did not deserve that. I have been overwrought worrying about Ly…Mrs. Wickham.”
Lady Eleanor smiled and shook her head saying beneath her breath, “What is it about Bennet women and Fitzwilliam men?
“No, Richard, you were right to speak to me in this manner. I may not be like your dear Anne’s late mother—see how carefully I navigated that shoal—but I fear that I have held many of her prejudices.
“T’was wrong for me to have impugned Mrs. Wickham’s character without knowing her side of the story. I attacked her when she was unable to defend herself.
“I will offer my apologies to her when she wakes.
“I also will have to make amends for I do believe that I will often be in her company in the coming years.
“Darcy sent up a rocket this morning so concerned was he with your behavior toward the lady in question.
“My nephew worried that some would question the propriety of a man of your stature dashing in—and out—of her room like a colt seeing a bridle in the hands of his groom for the first time.
“I think you have caught the disease for which there is, Richard, but one cure. You must know that. Or am I mistaken in my belief that you plan to offer for her?”
“Only if she will have me. Only if she will have me,” the General gruffly replied.
Now, two days later, Elaine Fitzwilliam had eschewed her modiste-cut gowns for one of Mary Benton’s more serviceable summer-weight muslins. Akin to Mesdames Darcy and Bingley, she had wrapped herself in an apron. Her hair was tied back in a serviceable chignon. Even so, her regal bearing told anyone transiting Kympton’s halls that she was a woman of quality.
The three ladies carefully lifted Lydia, removing her stained undergarments and night rail. Warm water gently washed away any residue. The large bandage covering the lower half of her left arm complicated their efforts. All three were nervous about further injuring the young woman. Once they stripped off the dirty linens, they remade the bed, rolling Lydia first to one side then the other
Heaving a sigh of relief, the Countess looked at the other two, “I do not know about you, but I could do with a large glass of Mrs. Reynold’s lemonade into which a healthy dose of Prince Lieven’s favorite potage has been added.”
A voice croaked from the bed, “Lose the lemons…be like Papa…chilled with a touch of vermouth, shaken not stirred.”
‘Tis Elizabeth’s duty to break the news.
The dreamworld cobwebs cleared, and Lydia sought to begin the proceedings, of such consequence, she guessed, that her normally imperturbable sister could not find the words, “I learned much in the time I was away after George, Lizzy.”
Lydia continued, “I encountered a great lady who repeated words that I am sure you will find familiar in their flavor. They reminded me of nothing less than what our Papa counseled us to do when we were faced with a particularly unpleasant task.
“T’will taste no better tomorrow than today, child. Best to swallow it quickly, make a face, and get on with the rest of your day.
“So, I say to you, Lizzy, please just tell me what you will. Do not spare me.”
At the mention of their beloved father, Lizzy’s deep chocolate-brown eyes softened, and diamonds appeared on her lashes as she blinked furiously.
Calming, Lizzy said, “Dearest, I must talk with you about something which happened in Manchester.”
A long pause ensued as she wrestled with her own rising demons. Pushing them back into their dungeon, Lizzy realized that Lydia had so recently risen from her stupor that nobody knew just how much she remembered—or had forgotten—of the events that had laid her low.
She interrogated, “How much do you recall of what led up to you being injured?”
Lydia sorted through the cards that made up her memory’s hoard.
Then she gasped, “We were all there on St. Peter’s Field. The cavalry came onto the field and Richard herded us into a…a square like the infantry used to do under Wellington.
“They charged us. There were thousands on the grounds. None were looking behind them. They were all looking forward. Oh, the humanity.[i]
“I think I saw Mary fall? T’was so confusing as the horses raced toward us. Was she wounded? Is that what has you upset? Is it worse than that?
“Oh…Please tell me. You must!”
Lydia’s agitation about Mary allowed Lizzy’s stomach to unclench. She permitted herself a tiny upward twitch of her lips. A bit of sugar before the salt would not be amiss.
“Yes, we have been worried about Mary. She was injured. How that came about is a subject for another day.
“If my husband reported his actions accurately, Doctor Campbell smiled when he examined her earlier. You know Campbell. His natural expression is as if he had bitten a lemon. If that man did something besides glower it can only mean that Mary, like you, is on the mend.
“Mary’s recovery is not the reason I am concerned. There were others of our little family who fared poorly.”
Memory slowly lit Mrs. Wickham’s features and tears began to flow. When she tried to lift her left arm to cuff them away, Lizzy prevented that violated limb from moving.
Through her tears, Lydia cried, “Oh no…not Richard. I saw him go down right in front of me. No, the General cannot be dead!”
Elizabeth Darcy summoned all her years as the Mistress of Pemberley as she delivered her next devastating salvo.
“No, Lydia, not Richard, he is well. Uninjured, in fact.
“T’was you,” she said barely above a whisper, “You dove between the blade and Richard. They could not save your hand.”
Realization dawned, and Lydia Wickham replied in a small voice, “Oh.”
[i] Herbert Morrison, Transcription of WLS, Chicago, radio broadcast describing the Hindenburg disaster, May 6, 1937.
So what do you think of the excerpt? That last bit of news had to be a bit of a shock for Lydia. What about Lydia and Richard? Interesting, huh! I loved Lady Eleanor's comment, "What is it about Bennet women and Fitzwilliam men?" Isn't that delightful! It makes me smile.
I hope you enjoyed today's post. If you have missed any of the stops, the schedule with links is below. Be sure to enter the giveaway, too. We would love to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts on the excerpt. If you have read the book, what did you think? What is home to you? When you hear the word "home" or "homecoming", do either bring anything besides where you live or lived to mind? I liked Don's thoughts on Darcy, Pemberley, and Elizabeth. What about you?
Thank you again, Don. Best wishes with Lydia's story. Now I'm eagerly waiting for the last book in The Bennet Wardrobe.
If you haven't yet started this wonderful series, below are the titles of the books and the order in which to read them.
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