The Women at Home and the Men at Waterloo

Guest Blog by Jack Caldwell, author of The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men

“Ah!” cried Captain Harville, in a tone of strong feeling. “If I could but make you comprehend what a man suffers when he takes a last look at his wife and children, and watches the boat that he has sent them off in, as long as it is in sight, and then turns away and says, ‘God knows whether we ever meet again!’ And then, if I could convey to you the glow of his soul when he does see them again; when, coming back after a twelvemonth’s absence, perhaps, and obliged to put into another port, he calculates how soon it be possible to get them there, pretending to deceive himself, and saying, ‘They cannot be here till such a day,’ but all the while hoping for them twelve hours sooner, and seeing them arrive at last, as if Heaven had given them wings, by many hours sooner still! If I could explain to you all this, and all that a man can bear and do, and glories to do, for the sake of these treasures of his existence! I speak, you know, only of such men as have hearts!” pressing his own with emotion.

“Oh!” cried Anne eagerly, “I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures! I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as—if I may be allowed the expression—so long as you have an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex—it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it—is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!”

Persuasion, Chapter 23

Jack Caldwell here, the author of The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men, my latest novel from Sourcebooks Landmark. As you may know, this book is a sequel to two of Austen’s most beloved tales, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.

So why did I start this post with a quote from Persuasion?

Jane Austen was a genius, period. While she wrote about a very small part of English society—the English country gentry, the lowest rung of the aristocracy—her themes of love vs. practicality are universal. She also had a great insight into the differences between men and woman, remarkable for a woman who never married. She never mocked those differences; instead, she celebrated them. If she lived today, I have no doubt she would subscribe to the notion that men are from Mars and women are from Venus—heck, she may have wrote that book, instead of John Gray.

The quote from Persuasion perfectly illustrates Austen’s understanding of men and woman. When it comes to love, men and woman are equally capable of commitment and devotion. Never is this shown to greatest pathos than when soldiers and sailors must leave their homes to face battle.

She is not the first to observe this, of course. Indeed, the plot of Homer’s The Odyssey is Odysseus’ struggle to return home from the wars to his beloved Penelope. For her part, she remained remarkably faithful to his memory, even though her husband has been gone for twenty years.

The theme of warriors leaving their loved one behind as they face their destiny is found in countless books and movies. Just a short list: War and Peace. Cold Mountain. The Lord of the Rings. War and Remembrance.

Thus the theme of The Three Colonels.

Peace has finally come to England. Colonel Brandon enjoys his life at Delaford with Marianne and their daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam, while visiting Rosings Park, finds himself falling in love with a now-healthy Anne de Bourgh. And a chastised Caroline Bingley enters into a marriage of convenience with an aide to the Duke of Wellington, the notorious Colonel Sir John Buford. From idyllic Dorsetshire to troubled Kent to the intrigues at the Congress of Vienna, these three couples try to build their happily ever after.

All this is disrupted by Napoleon’s escape from his exile on Elba. An unprepared Britain is at war again and must call out all their reserves to defend king and country. The men march off to battle, while their women pray for their safe return, all while the majority of the country acts as if nothing of particular is happening.

The wars of eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain affected the populace remarkably like the American conflicts abroad after Korea. The battles are over there, not here, and therefore easy to ignore. Many of the military are volunteers, not conscripts, so unless your family had a soldier or sailor, you could choose not to think of the wars.

War is tough on the families left behind. In fact, it could be argued that it is tougher. Soldiers and sailors control their own fates, to a certain extent. They could at least fight back; they have swords or guns. The families back home cannot do anything but wait, pray, hoping and dreading news, and try to keep on living.

The story of Marianne, Anne, and Caroline trying to carry on at home while theirs loves, Brandon, Fitzwilliam, and Buford prepare to face Napoleon is timeless and relevant. Thousands of military families today face the same uncertainties as my Austen heroines. We don’t have to imagine how wives, mothers, and girlfriends would have felt during these conflicts, for we only have to talk to our neighbors.

I hope you enjoy The Three Colonels. Please remember of brave military and their familes.

Buy: The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men

About the Author – Jack Caldwell is an author, amateur historian, professional economic developer, playwright, and like many Cajuns, a darn good cook. Born and raised in the Bayou County of Louisiana, Jack and his wife, Barbara, are Hurricane Katrina victims who now make the upper Midwest their home.

His nickname—The Cajun Cheesehead—came from his devotion to his two favorite NFL teams: the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers. (Every now and then, Jack has to play the DVD again to make sure the Saints really won in 2010.)

Always a history buff, Jack found and fell in love with Jane Austen in his twenties, struck by her innate understanding of the human condition. Jack uses his work to share his knowledge of history. Through his characters, he hopes the reader gains a better understanding of what went on before, developing an appreciation for our ancestors’ trials and tribulations.

When not writing or traveling with Barbara, Jack attempts to play golf. A devout convert to Roman Catholicism, Jack is married with three grown sons.

Jack’s blog postings—The Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles—appear regularly at Austen Authors.

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