In my The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery, Darcy’s cousin Major General Fitzwilliam (the former Colonel Fitzwilliam from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) suffers from what we would now call “PTSD.” During the Regency there was no such distinction. The most one might consider as a diagnosis for the effects of many years in war was “melancholia.” Yet, melancholia was also the diagnosis for the most severely deranged. Bethlem Royal Hospital was the destination for those considered mentally ill. BRH was the first hospital to specialize in the treatment of those “not in their right mind.” Historically, the hospital proved to represent the worst excesses of asylums in the realm of mental disorders and lunacy during its early years. Mental health reforms were slow coming. It is from this hospital’s name that we derive the word “bedlam.”
PTSD is not a new condition. It existed since the beginning of time. There are references to the “madness” in Shakespeare, Dickens, the Bible, Mahabharata, Aristotle, Homer, and the like. We are now more knowledgeable of the trauma that any life-changing event can cause a human (war, rape, natural disasters, etc.). But in the time of the Regency period in England, no one had a name for what surely must have claimed more than one man returning to “normalcy” after all the years of the Napoleonic War. Yet, it was 1980 before the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder entered the English vocabulary.
Over the years, the disorder with termed as nostalgia, melancholy, homesickness, soldier’s heart, hysteria, neurasthenia, ester root, railway spine, compensation sickness, combat exhaustion, shell shock, compensation sickness, and stress response syndrome. It was not until after World War II that psychologists classified the illness as a form of trauma. Unfortunately, early physicians thought of the illness as temporary in nature and returning home would solve the situation.
The National Center for PTSD says, “PTSD is unique among psychiatric diagnoses because of the great importance placed upon the etiological agent, the traumatic stressor. In fact, one cannot make a PTSD diagnosis unless the patient has actually met the “stressor criterion,” which means that he or she has been exposed to an event that is considered traumatic. Clinical experience with the PTSD diagnosis has shown, however, that there are individual differences regarding the capacity to cope with catastrophic stress. Therefore, while most people exposed to traumatic events do not develop PTSD, others go on to develop the full-blown syndrome. Such observations have prompted the recognition that trauma, like pain, is not an external phenomenon that can be completely objectified. Like pain, the traumatic experience is filtered through cognitive and emotional processes before it can be appraised as an extreme threat. Because of individual differences in this appraisal process, different people appear to have different trauma thresholds, some more protected from and some more vulnerable to developing clinical symptoms after exposure to extremely stressful situations. Although there is currently a renewed interest in subjective aspects of traumatic exposure, it must be emphasized that events such as rape, torture, genocide, and severe war zone stress are experienced as traumatic events by nearly everyone.”
The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery
Fitzwilliam Darcy is enjoying his marital bliss. His wife, the former Elizabeth Bennet, presented him two sons and a world of contentment. All is well until “aggravation” rears its head when Darcy receives a note of urgency from his sister Georgiana. In truth, Darcy never fully approved of Georgiana’s joining with their cousin, Major General Edward Fitzwilliam, for Darcy assumed the major general held Georgiana at arm’s length, dooming Darcy’s sister to a life of unhappiness.
Dutifully, Darcy and Elizabeth rush to Georgiana’s side when the major general leaves his wife and daughter behind, with no word of his whereabouts and no hopes of Edward’s return. Forced to seek his cousin in the slews of London’s underbelly, at length, Darcy discovers the major general and returns Fitzwilliam to his family.
Even so, the Darcys’ troubles are far from over. During the major general’s absence from home, witnesses note Fitzwilliam’s presence in the area of two horrific murders. When Edward Fitzwilliam is arrested for the crimes, Darcy must discover the real culprit before the authorities hanged his cousin and the Fitzwilliam name knew a lifetime of shame.
Barnes and Noble
Excerpt (Scene ~ Elizabeth observes Georgiana in the nursery at Yadkin Hall. Georgiana’s husband, Major General Fitzwilliam, abandoned his wife and child.)
Georgiana did not realize Elizabeth was in the nursery when the girl entered: Elizabeth came to sit on the floor beside Bennet’s bed to rest a comforting hand on her son after the child awakened with dreams of dragons. Elizabeth sat in the dark shadows and silently observed her sister-in-marriage.
Although in obvious turmoil, Georgiana closed her eyes to listen to the soft “snore” of her daughter. Earlier Darcy’s sister admitted to Elizabeth that since the major general’s exit, only quiet moments with their child brought Georgiana any harmony. During the day’s growing tension, Georgiana insisted they would receive word from Darcy in the late post, but Elizabeth reasoned Darcy was in the Capital less than a day.
“It is too soon,” Elizabeth insisted, despite the look of hope upon the girl’s countenance.
Poor Georgiana! Darcy’s sister convinced her foolish heart that if Edward meant to return, he would do so when Darcy confronted him.
Over the four years of Elizabeth’s dwelling at Pemberley, she learned something of the girl’s nature: Georgiana always professed to be a very practical woman, one who recognized how life’s troubles made a person stronger; however, Elizabeth knew at her core that the girl possessed a romantic heart. Lamentably, when Georgiana married the major general, Darcy’s sister assumed her husband possessed the same sensible nature, as did all the Fitzwilliam men. Needless to say, the girl erred. Elizabeth watched as Georgiana hugged herself tightly and stared down upon her sleeping child. Georgiana’s earlier tear-filled confession in a moment of weakness surprised Elizabeth. The girl spoke of a most troubling incident.
“I suppose I should not say this,” Georgiana whispered through a hiccuping sob and her painful admittance. “But I know you will forgive me for being so forward. I must tell someone.”
“I am as always your confidant,” Elizabeth assured.
With downcast eyes, Georgiana confessed.
“It is wanton of me to say, but I miss the exquisite feel of Edward’s hand upon my skin and the sound of his voice as he calls my name. I miss all the little things, Elizabeth: The gurgle of a snore when he sleeps, the way his eyes meet mine, even in a crowded room. With him, I knew the end of loneliness, a feeling, which haunted me my entire life. My mother’s early passing marked me as a single.”
Bitterness laced the girl’s tone.
“As you will recall from my girlish confessions in those early days of our acquaintance, I fell in love with my cousin when I was but fourteen, but Edward was seven and twenty at the time, and he had a life in Town. It was the pain of young love thwarted, which drove me to foster a relationship with George Wickham, an act that nearly ruined my chances of knowing my cousin’s tenderness. Lacking the sensibility of one more mature to recognize the foolishness of my choices, I sought the familiarity of Mr. Wickham’s acquaintance to replace the love I thought never to possess.”
At the time, Elizabeth wondered if the same could not be said of Georgiana’s choice of Edward: Neither Georgiana nor the major general was prepared to know a deep, trusting love.
With a shudder of dread, the girl continued.
“Elizabeth, I must speak of what occurred at Yadkin Hall or I shall go mad. However, you must promise me you will not share what I say with Darcy. My brother would act with honor, and one of us would wear widow weeds.”
“You have my word,” Elizabeth assured. “If I may be of service to you, speak from your heart.”
However, Elizabeth possessed no idea how far the situation at Yadkin Hall deteriorated.
As Georgiana’s tears increased, Darcy’s sister buried her forehead into Elizabeth’s shoulders.
“One day, perhaps a fortnight prior, I innocently strolled into the estate chapel to say my prayers; instead, I found Edward kneeling at the altar, a gun positioned beneath his chin.”
Her sister in marriage’s pronouncement shook Elizabeth’s customary resolve. How had things come to know such an end?
“I heard my husband cock the hammer, and pure terror filled me. Do you see? Edward thought to take his life. Here I was thinking we found happiness—that having me as his wife pleased him.”
Georgiana laced her fingers through Elizabeth’s, and Elizabeth held tight to both her growing anxiousness and the girl’s hand.
“I was afraid to call out–afraid my voice might jar Edward into action. I watched in interested horror, praying my husband would not pull the trigger. Unable to say anything, I backed from the vestibule, and then I pretended to approach again, this time, humming the lullaby I sing to our child at night. I meant the song to serve as a reminder of the good things in our life. It was all of which I could think to prevent Edward’s dudgeon claiming him. As I reentered the chapel, the major general returned the gun to a pocket and plastered a smile of greeting upon his lips; yet, I am no longer so naïve.”
“Have you also known the major general’s ire,” Elizabeth asked as Georgiana hid her face deeper in Elizabeth’s shoulder. Elizabeth prompted Georgiana’s response.
“I apologize for my impertinence, but I noticed earlier that you do not move with your customary grace, as if you suffered a fall, and there is the remnants of a bruise, which appears to be fingerprints, upon your arm, just above your sleeve.”
“Please tell me Darcy did not observe what you did!”
“Men are not so sharp-eyed as they would like to think,” Elizabeth assured.
“It was my fault,” Georgiana declared. “I wished to know whether Edward was happy in Oxfordshire or not, and my shrewish tongue was too much for my husband to bear. He did not strike me, Elizabeth. I swear it is true. I stepped into Edward’s path when he meant to quit the room, and he shoved me from his way. I hit the wall to the left of the hearth in his quarters. The look upon the major general’s countenance spoke of instant regret, and all I suffered were a few bruises. You must not speak to Darcy of this, but I believe the incident and the one earlier in the chapel precipitated Edward’s speedy exit. If Darcy knew of the incident, my brother would defend my honor against my husband, and I would lose one of the two men I love most dearly.”
Georgiana’s voice in the darkness brought Elizabeth to the present.
“I can tolerate the pain of knowing Edward’s displeasure.”
As Elizabeth looked on from the silent corner, Georgiana traced the curve of Colleen’s cheek.
“If your Papa will simply return to us, I can bear it all.”
Elizabeth never witnessed Darcy’s sister so distraught.
“There is room in my heart for one more private ache. All I wish is for you, my Sweet One, to know your father’s love. I can live without love if Edward would return for you. A child should never spend her life without knowing both her parents’ affections.”
Elizabeth felt tears forming in her eyes. Georgiana concealed her deepest pains, even from her brother. The girl suffered dearly from being the cause of her mother’s death. Quietly, Georgiana moved to where she could look out upon the night, and Elizabeth sank deeper into the shadows. In the moonlight, Elizabeth could observe how worry and pretense left its mark upon Georgiana’s features. Harsh lines appeared around her sister’s eyes. The girl shivered before resting her forehead against the glass.
“The major general thinks I do not know he reaches for me only when he wishes to silence my questions.”
Georgiana’s tone spoke of the heartache of unfulfilled dreams.
“All, which remains, is the hollowness I knew all my life.”
The girl sighed in acceptance.
“Sixteen months,” Georgiana admitted in chastising tones. “I had sixteen months of happiness. It is enough. I have Colleen and Darcy and Elizabeth and my nephews. It is foolish for me to think I could also claim Edward’s love. I must not covet what others possess. I must make myself act with Christian forgiveness and make my marriage as tolerable as possible.”