Lydia Bennet is a problem character for both the reader and the writer. Because of her troublesome and immature ways, readers just don’t like her. For the most parts, writers ignore her or allow her to remain an antagonist in most tales. After all, who really wants to spend too much time in Lydia’s head?
I certainly didn’t. Nope, no thank you. Would much rather hang out with characters I actually liked, especially considering writing a novel about would require at least a year’s commitment to spend much quality time with these story-people.
Definitely not going to write about Lydia Bennet.
The only way I could write about her would be to find a way to see her genuinely reformed. Hmmm, I wonder what that would take? What kind of people, what kind of environment would it take to make a character like that really change from the inside out? Probably a residential setting of some sort…a school probably. And some strong female role models to demonstrate what true ladylike behavior looked like…
Oh, shoot, that sounds an awful lot like a plot bunny.
A big, bad plot bunny with teeth that insisted on settling into my office and sitting on my desk with the cats. Stupid thing even made friends with the cats! The cats taught it to purr. Enough! I’ll write the story already!
And thus, I have taken The Trouble to Check Her.
Read an excerpt
Lydia staggered off the public coach in front of Summerseat’s coaching station and drew a deep breath. So many people crammed into the coach! Had she breathed since their last stop?
What a horrid way to travel—packed in with the fetid odors of her unwashed companions. Mr. Darcy might have transported her in his private carriage. He had more than one, after all.
She pulled herself up straight and retied her bonnet strings. Her back might not ever be right again.
How glimflashy Darcy had been—a perfect match for Lizzy with her back up—ordering her this way and that, deciding where she should go and what she should do. What did either of them know about anything? What right did they have to ruin her life?
And nosy Aunt Gardiner, with all her intrusive and personal questions. Why did she need to know what transpired between her and Wickham in the privacy of their room?
A sharp breeze whistled past. Lydia pulled her shawl tighter over her shoulders.
Why had they made her leave anyway? Lady Catherine’s opinion hardly counted for anything now, since Papa was moving the family back to London.
She dodged the huffy old woman who had been crowding her the entire journey. The fussock snorted and glared down her nose as she passed.
Papa had a new patron now, the Earl of Matlock. How wonderful it would be to rub shoulders with an earl! An earl with unmarried sons was even better.
But now, because of Mr. Darcy, she would never meet any of them. She stomped. Papa declared he would take no chances with an unruly daughter jeopardizing his new position.
Oh, this was so unfair!
She wove through the stale-smelling crowd, elbowing several young men out of her way, so she could climb up on a bench to scan the crowd. No one seemed to be looking for her.
Why did they make her travel alone? Mama would be appalled that she traveled without a chaperone. But Papa would not pay for a maid to accompany her. Neither would Mr. Darcy, though he might have easily afforded it.
It was all so cruel! Everything she had known was lost to her—Wickham, her home, her friends, her sisters—and it was all Lizzy and Darcy’s fault.
She jumped down from the bench. Had she ever been so alone?
She rubbed away prickles on the back of her neck. A rainstorm must be on the way. Might as well wait more comfortably. She sank down on the rickety looking bench, whipping her head this way and that.
Oh, this was so very, very vexing! Someone was supposed to meet her and take her to the school—where were they?
Perhaps the coach driver knew. She hurried back to the coach.
“Sir, excuse me, can you—”
The driver and another man untied the ropes that held the trunks to the coach.
“Out of the way girl.” The driver grunted and shouldered her out of his path.
“But I need—”
“What you need is not my concern.” He heaved a trunk to his shoulder.
How rude! He stank like a farmhand. Perhaps the other—
“You’re gonna get hurt, girl. Outta the way.” He trudged past, arms laden with luggage.
Oh! How could they ignore a lady? Did they not recognize she was a gentlewoman?
She looked around. No one noticed her, no one cared. Her hands trembled and her insides knotted beneath a welling scream.
She whirled so fast the world spun.
A girl, slightly older than herself, in a plain, drab gown stood just behind her.
“Yes … that is me.” Lydia gulped air to force the world to stop moving.
“I am Miss Annabella Fitzgilbert, from Mrs. Drummond's school. There is a chaise waiting for us.”
“What took you so long? I have been waiting simply for ages. You should have been on time. I will inform your mistress.”
The girl shook her head and smiled the same sort of smile Jane used to: lips pressed tight into a firm line, eyes narrow with lots of creases beside. She was not nearly as pretty as Jane though—quite a plain thing really. And she had freckles on her nose.
“My trunks. I do not know where they are. See to them.” Lydia waved her hand toward the coach and scanned the street for an elegant chaise and handsome driver to carry her away from this nightmare.
“My name is Miss Fitzgilbert, not ‘abigail’. I am neither your maid nor any servant at all. If you want your trunks, you best see to them yourself.”
Lydia stomped. “You cannot talk to me like that.”
“I can and I did. What is more, I suggest you become accustomed to it soon. You will find whomever you think you are matters little here.”
Miss High-and-Mighty Fitzgilbert lifted an open hand. “Stop it. I do not wish to hear. I do not care. Now attend to your things before they are stolen.” She pointed toward the baggage piled near the public coach.
Lydia swished her skirts and hurried to the pile of luggage. She wrestled her three trunks into an awkward stack.
“Is that everything?” Miss Fitzgilbert crossed her arms and tapped her foot.
“Oh, I left my bag on the coach!”
She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Well, you best hope you can find it. I shall watch your trunks. Go, now. Quickly!”
Lydia scurried back to the coach. Miss Fitzgilbert was horrible. Who was she? What if she were one of the school mistresses? Oh, that would be dreadful indeed. What kind of awful place was this school?
There—tucked under the seat she had occupied. She snatched her bag and jumped down, almost atop Miss Fitzgilbert.
“Hurry along now. Our driver has loaded your things. We must not keep him waiting.” She grabbed Lydia’s elbow and propelled her through the crowd.
She pulled her arm away.
Miss Fitzgilbert stomped off.
Would the chaise leave without her? It just might.
The hack waited near the street corner, dusty and plain and obviously worn, just like the driver. He grunted at them. Miss Fitzgilbert pushed her into a seat and climbed in after her. The chaise lurched into motion before Lydia was even settled.
Soon the coaching inn was out of sight, replaced by the dingy, dreary buildings of Summerseat. This place was nothing to London. It was not even much compared to Kent. Did it even have assembly rooms?
Not that she would get to see much of them. Regular balls and parties were probably not going to be part of Mrs. Drummond’s curriculum of improvement.
She fell into the hard seat. “Is it far … to the school, I mean?”
“Not very, the house is on the edge of town. We would walk except for the trunks, of course.”
“Of course,” Lydia murmured.
“You are arriving from London, but are recently from Kent, I understand.” The freckles on her nose twitched when she smiled that Jane-ish smile.
Jane had sense enough not to have freckles.
“Yes, my father—”
Miss Fitzgilbert turned her face away. “Mrs. Drummond requires that we do not speak of our previous stations.”
“Why ever not? That must be the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”
How dare Miss High-and-Mighty roll her eyes!
Had they not been in a moving coach, Lydia would have stormed away.
“You know why you have been sent here, do you not?”
“Because my sister is high-handed and her husband very cruel indeed.”
“And your loss of virtue and reputation is their fault, I imagine?”
What did she know of that?
“Indeed it is. I would be married now apart from their interference.”
Who would have expected such an unladylike snort to explode from such a prim little thing?
“If you are as the rest of us, you should count your good fortune not to be married right now. He was probably a scoundrel—a blackguard of the worst sort.”
“How would you know?”
“You regard yourself unique? Let me assure you, you are not. Every one of us shares a similar tale of virtue lost. Not one of the men in question has been worthy of the moniker ‘gentleman’.”
“You do not know—”
“I do not need to. Every girl who comes to this school has virtually the same story. Any man who would put you in the position to be sent here is no gentleman.”
Lydia tossed her head and sniffed. “Well, you are wrong. I am not like any of the others.”
“I have heard that, too.” Miss Fitzgilbert squeezed her temples.
Now she looked like Lizzy.
“Some of us have come to appreciate our own folly and are grateful for Mrs. Drummond’s intervention and that our future is much improved by our attendance here. But there are those who do not see it that way. I think you might be that sort. You should know those of us she has helped have no patience with those too proud to recognize their good fortune.”
What a dreadful sort of superiority she displayed. Who did she think she was?
The carriage turned down a short drive leading to a large quaint house set off the road. The sign in front read: Summerseat Abbey, and in smaller letters, Girl’s Seminary.
So this was Mrs. Drummond’s school for girls.
Running off with Mr. Wickham was a great joke—until everything turned arsey-varsey. That spoilsport Mr. Darcy caught them and packed Lydia off to a hideous boarding school for girls who had lost their virtue.
It would improve her character, he said.
Ridiculous, she said.
Mrs. Drummond, the school’s headmistress, has shocking expectations for the girls. They must share rooms, do chores, attend lessons, and engage in charitable work, no matter how well born they might be. She even forces them to wear mobcaps! Refusal could lead to finding themselves at the receiving end of Mrs. Drummond's cane—if they were lucky. The unlucky ones could be dismissed and found a position … as a menial servant.
Everything and everyone at the school is uniformly horrid. Lydia hates them all, except possibly the music master, Mr. Amberson, who seems to have the oddest ideas about her. He might just understand her better than she understands herself.
Can she find a way to live up to his strange expectations, or will she spend the rest of her life as a scullery maid?
Maria Grace has her PhD in Educational Psychology and is a 16 year veteran of the university classroom where she taught courses in human growth and development, learning, test development and counseling. None of which have anything to do with her undergraduate studies in economics/sociology/managerial studies/behavior sciences.
She blogs at Random Bits of Fascination, mainly about her fascination with Regency era history and its role in her fiction. Her newest novel, The Troble to Check Her, was released in March, 2016. Both Science Fiction and Fantasy projects are currently in the works. Her books, fiction and nonfiction, are available at all major online booksellers.