Freud and Austen
Die Weltanshaung and World Building
Consider any of the Canonical books. Miss Austen does not always offer much data about the social environment present in the Regency. She rarely addresses the great questions of the day: except for offering evidence that Tom Bertram’s time in the West Indies left him scarred and damaged.
The same holds for settings. She does not expend great energy describing the bucolic life around Longbourn or Pemberley. She offers enough description to allow her readers to understand that Longbourn was not the grandest house in the area while Pemberley was considered by many (especially Caroline Bingley) to be one of the greatest in all the land. Beyond that, she needn’t go as her readers (after all she was writing for the 10% of the population who could read) intimately knew the world about which she wrote.
Miss Austen, on the other hand, does make a particular effort to offer her readers enough data and information to explain why her characters acted as they did. We can recite by rote Darcy’s behavioral construct and what drove him to act in general and in specific. The same would hold for Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine. Consider Elinor Dashwood who, as the eldest daughter, had to act as the serious, sedate helpmate for her much set-upon mother, a woman both grief-stricken and financially prostrate. Would Marianne ever have been allowed to engage in her romantic fantasies if Elinor had not been the rock upon which the family was built?
However, modern Austenesque authors seeking to create work that is not yet another tale told against a well-understood background are faced with the same problem authors in other genres have had to address (albeit with the advantage of having many personality drivers already in place). They must offer stories driven not only by plot and character, but they also must create entire worlds in which their characters and actions of the same can logically exist. I use the phrase ‘logically exist’ with intent. Our environments shape us and those who influence us by providing causal relationships that inform the Weberian webs of significance that help one-and-all explain the world.
The greatest authors (see O’Brien, Woolf, Parker, Clancy, Silva, Asimov, Heinlein to name a few in addition to Austen and Gaskell) not only offer compelling stories populated by interesting characters, but they also imbue their plots and the persons moving through them with a lifeforce that rises from (one of my favorite words) a unique weltanschauung—a world view. Weltanschaung is the software that programs our brains.
The idea of how the mind processes experiences was articulated in the late years of World War I (1918) by Sigmund Freud in Civilization and ‘Die Weltanshaung?’ He was not the first to use the term ‘worldview.’ He had been predated by Spinoza and Schweitzer, each of whom explored the nature of human thought.
Those techniques which humans use to adjust, filter, and construct their worldviews to are, according to Freud, Religion, Philosophy, and Science. Whichever methodology was used, the purpose of building such a lens was, according to Freud “[to give] a unified solution of all the problems of our existence in virtue of a comprehensive hypothesis, a construction, therefore, in which no question is left open and in which everything in which we are interested finds a place.” Simply put, a weltanshaung makes the world relevant and, thus, believable.
As should Austenesque stories.
The environments within which my characters exist have to be relatable to the reader, even if it is positioned in the Regency. How many #InspiredByAusten readers fully understand the forces driving not only Regency Britain, but also the other players on the world stage at the time…Russia, Prussia, France, and the United States? Why do those nations matter?
Because what went on at the county level in Regency Britain was influenced by greater national interests. Derbyshire was not divorced from Manchester’s growth or the concomitant social pressures brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Hertfordshire was but twenty-four miles from the largest city in the Western world. Caroline Bingley may have imagined it stultifying and rustic, but there is no doubt that fictional Meryton heard of the prime minister’s assassination (Spencer Percival in 1812) within a few hours.
In Volume One of the Bennet Wardrobe series—The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey—there is a cataclysmic fire that began in a textile mill on the Mimram River in Meryton. The mill and half the town are destroyed. Dozens die.
Yet, within a few weeks of the December 1811 disaster, two regiments of militia are dispatched to Meryton to assist in the rebuilding of the mill…not the town. Why? See the passage from about four weeks after the fire was extinguished:
True to the promises made to Mr. Darcy, the Government had sent two regiments of militia to provide security and labor as rebuilding began. Mary was astonished to observe that the site of Watson’s factory had been completely cleared and the skeleton of a new facility was already taking shape with an army of red-coated and buff-jerseyed ants manhandling timbers and stone. Textile mills were a vital national resource needed to clothe the Peninsular Army (and weave the canvas used to power the Royal Navy).
Admittedly, the primary motive for the militia appearing in the story was not to offer readers a history lesson. Miss Bennet (as Mary was after the double wedding) needed to protect Maria Lucas and Georgiana Darcy from a particularly noxious militia lieutenant and his cronies. Wickham’s regiment had long since moved on. I needed another not only to illustrate the change in Mary but also to lead to an interesting encounter with an older lady of distinctive carriage in Rochet’s Maison au Chocolat.
As I build the stories, I must sit back and understand the motivations not only of the characters, but also the invisible forces acting upon those characters. That means that I need to utilize my own weltanshaung to create believable worlds for readers and listeners to employ their own weltanschaungs to understand, appreciate, and ultimately enjoy the characters.
I fear that this brief essay may not adequately explain the process through which I go to create my work. I pray you ask questions so that we may engage in a conversation.
Please enjoy this excerpt from the sixth volume of the Bennet Wardrobe series, The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and A Father’s Lament.
A note…by this point in the book, readers have already been introduced to the former Special Operations Executive agent, Eileen Nearne (Agent Rose). Now, Mrs. Bennet meets her and arrives at an astonishing realization.
The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament is Volume Six of the Bennet Wardrobe series. A caution: the series is not stand-alone. The volumes do interlock. The Avenger is available in #KindleUnlimited, #Kindle, #Audible, and #Paperback. The universal link to your Amazon storefront is mybook.to/MPAvengerWardrobe
This excerpt from the new (2021) Meryton Press edition of “The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament” is ©2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. Reproduction in any manner is not permitted without the expressed written consent of the author.
Deauville was a study in contrasts.
The August sun bore down and beat through the cotton dress that Fanny had added to her wardrobe at the behest of the countesses, Georgiana and Anne. While she had conceded on the thinness of the pretty printed fabric, her Regency reticence to exhibit any skin and expose it to freckle-making sunlight saw long sleeves descending in place of the more expected sundress nil or, at most, abbreviated maniche corte. Her husband, though, snorted when she complained about the impropriety of the summer daywear now popular in the mid-twentieth century scorching the immodesty of naked arms and legs. Most likely, he was recalling her efforts to reduce the lace bodice trims on both Jane and Lydia’s gowns before the Netherfield ball.,
She did concede that the only persons in a position to observe her on this stretch of sand, over a hundred yards in length, were the children of the Five Families in attendance at the Beach House. A few of their mothers or governesses kept a watchful eye on their young charges. The children were much more interested in frolicking in the shallow water and finding treasures in the tidal boundary. Nobody paid Fanny any attention—a woman of middle years strolling barefoot in the low surf swooshing across the packed white fronting the House.
Yet, the afternoon breeze blowing in from the Channel cooled her enough that she folded her multi-hued parasol and settled into a canvas chair strategically placed in about six inches of water, shallow enough to avoid wetting her bottom as the tide withdrew into the Atlantic. She thrilled to feel the low surf foam around her ankles as it laved her feet with the gentlest of pressures, swirling coarse grains of bottom sand, tickling her toes.
This is what Brighton or Ramsgate must be like. How I longed to show our gentility by escaping to the seaside. I would have even accepted Sanditon, although its denizens are a bit too nouveau. ’Tis tragicomedy that we needed to fly over 130 years into the future for my husband to offer me a waterfront vacation!
Her musings matched the sound of the waves making their way to the French shore. Fanny closed her eyes—not tightly but instead just barely so that she could sketch the scrim of delicate vessels traversing the rose petal softness of her lids.
How long she rested in this manner, she knew not. Perhaps she dozed.
Was it the increasing warmth of the sun on her arches left exposed as the water receded from her half-buried feet that disturbed her repose? Or was it the sudden shadow that darkened her dreamtime as the sun was blotted out? Did that darkling umbra cast her into eclipse? Or was it the sparkling tingle that flashed along the edges of her awareness that played a greater role in her awakening?
Her rising into consciousness left her with the sense that her world would tip and the rivers of her life would flow in different channels when, inevitably, she opened her eyes.
And so she did.
She peered up past her bonnet’s brim to see a tall, slender figure—a woman—silhouetted against the brilliant orb, still passing through its zenith. Unlike Fanny, this lady eschewed the broad-brimmed headgear that would have disguised the wheat-colored halo of her crowning glory, highlighted as it was from above.
Her face, however, remained obscured as the matron’s eyes were bedazzled by the rays refracting around the other’s shape.
Then the lady spoke in a pleasant soprano that fractured Fanny’s heart. “Mrs. Bennet? Have I disturbed you?”
“Jane?” was all that the mistress of Longbourn could utter.
If Fanny’s one-word rejoinder disquieted the lady, she did not betray such emotions. “Oh no, ma’am. You must have been dreaming of your family. I am Miss Nearne…Eileen Nearne. I arrived this morning with Mr. Fitzwilliam and the Schillers.”
Fanny took a moment to re-orient herself. “Miss Nearne, forgive me. Perhaps I was back in the halls of my home. You sound remarkably like my eldest daughter, Jane—Mrs. Bingley as she is now known.”
“Bingley?” Miss Nearne now became the inquisitor.
Before she replied, Mrs. Bennet lifted her hand to the other, requesting assistance to stand. Eileen’s grasp was warm and firm as she helped Fanny out of the sling chair.
Once the sun left her eyes, Fanny nearly collapsed back into the seat so great was her shock.
For there before her stood her Jane…or at least as near a perfect duplicate as could be formed for the gentle blonde matron Fanny knew to be living at Thornhill with her husband, two youngsters, and a third babe on the way.
Miss Nearne steadied the older woman and then repeated her query, this time offering more information. “Bingley? I seem to recall my mother mentioning that name many years ago before she died.” Her hand left Fanny’s then moved of its own volition to her neckline. There it grasped a locket suspended from a simple gold chain.
Eileen’s voice bore more than a smoky trace of heather and peat, betraying her Glaswegian origins and denying any from further south. Her countenance seemed much like the senior Bennet daughter. Yet, as Fanny looked past the sheaf of grain-colored tresses and the sky-blue, near-purple eyes, subtle differences became apparent.
Jane’s nose, a delightful aquiline prominence descending from her even brow, now was marred by a scar and an uneven jog. This recalled to Fanny the time she had encountered Mr. Hill’s cousin, Ezra, in the Longbourn kitchens. That worthy, as ’twas explained to her by Mrs. Hill, was a bare-knuckle bruiser, known as the Hertfordshire Hammer. She had shrunk from his cauliflower ears and battered brows. But ’twas his flattened nose that appeared in her mind’s eye as she assayed Miss Nearne’s face.
The woman before her, while of Jane’s height, was not of her weight. Where Jane had been pleasantly curved, Miss Nearne was lean, still clearly feminine, but ‘whip-like’ would be a better term to describe her. Not that Miss Nearne was malnourished, but her physique hearkened to that of Miss Bingley. Even then, Eileen tended more to firmness than the somewhat sticklike—no, stork-like—redhead who, from what Jane had told her, now resided in Bath ‘for her health.’[i]
Her carriage, however, also was different from the angelic Jane Bingley. As Miss Nearne stood before Mrs. Bennet, she appeared to be slightly twisted as if her shoulders—the left one slightly higher to Fanny’s motherly eye, always alert for errors in posture requiring correction—and hips had been rotated in opposite directions. The variance was modest though and, to Mrs. Bennet’s mind, something that could be cured by a few exercises along the hall stretching between Longbourn’s front portico and rear service areas.
As Fanny scanned downward, she realized that the young woman towered head-and-shoulders above her own diminutive frame. Miss Nearne had likewise removed her shoes, all the better to stride through the alabaster grit between the water and the dunes. That was not unusual; in fact, she would have exposed herself to questions about her sanity if she had not removed her footwear. And, truth be told, despite her protestations, a part of Mrs. Bennet embraced the idea of modern shorter skirts that offered a view of a lady’s leg from below her knee to ankle.
However, the expanse of skin thus exposed on Miss Nearne revealed a livid white scar blazing diagonally across her right calf.
No, she may have begun like my Jane, but life has molded her into someone who is Jane-like. I would imagine that this Miss Nearne has been shaped by similar forces that turned my Kitty into the Countess. I would know this young lady more.
Much of the time Eileen Nearne had spent with Anna Freud had been used to find ways to reintegrate the healthier fragments of the Rose personality back into the now-dominant Eileen. As she had discovered in her conversations with the psychiatrist, the trauma in the bunker had forced the protective hibernation of much of who she had been. Since her captor only desired her to be a weapon, the parts of her psyche best suited to the darker aspects of wartime duties jumped to the forefront. The rest had been shielded behind powerful barriers to protect against the violence that naturally grew from the plot against Richard Fitzwilliam.
Without the Fitzwilliam mission as the overwhelming stimuli, Rose could not survive on her own. When she comprehended her failure in the moments before Richard’s fist had slammed into her jaw, Rose had unshackled Eileen. As Dr. Wilson weaned her from the potent drug cocktail that had kept her somnolent and calm, Eileen asserted her dominance even more.
However, the memories formed when Rose was in control did not disappear. Eileen had been a discreet observer during the journey from Swabia to the Orkneys. Although segregated, Eileen was always on the edge of consciousness and thus aware of everything, although not necessarily influenced by all that transpired. Now complete, Eileen had begun to absorb anew the impact of the events that had formed those recollections. During her sessions in Miss Freud’s consulting room at the Institute, she had spoken of the deep regret and guilt that she had been experiencing as she reemerged.
Then came the arduous work, always five days a week and sometimes six, of rifling through the pieces of her mind and, like a Japanese master potter repairing a damaged bowl, piecing her self back together. However, like delicate lacquerware subjected to kintsugi, the cracks and wear spots were highlighted with gold and celebrated. The Eileen who stepped out of the Hampstead offices in the spring of 1947, after she and Miss Freud had agreed to suspend her intensive therapy, was thoroughly different from the young woman who had been bundled into the Nursery, utterly insensible, during those dark days in late 1945.[ii]
In fact, the vale through which she had passed, the way she had been broken, and the methods used to recreate her had brought Eileen into a new appreciation of that which she had been before, during, and after the war. Where before the SOE had given her a purpose and had focused her energies, now she discerned that her inner well-being opened new vistas beyond any she had previously imagined. She came to understand that her new beauty and strength reposed in the deep understanding that she had been shattered and lovingly reassembled by her own hand!
Yet, there was a loss, an awareness that she was bereft. No kin had visited her during those long months when she had been reminded that she lacked the freedom of the city. Throughout the seasons of waiting, she marked time with the periodic arrival of gray-faced men in gray suits with their clipboards and questions. No, they never accused her; instead, they found ways to ask the same question three—or ten—different ways.
She had assumed that her debriefs had met their measure and somehow provided the essential breadcrumbs that proved her fidelity. Eventually they stopped calling on her, and the restraints against her freedoms had been relaxed. Even so, one of Freud’s orderlies accompanied her as she walked out on the heath, protecting her from the city’s dangers—more prevalent as class antagonisms had reappeared in the face of continued privation now unobscured by a faded wartime sense of mutual sacrifice. However, the unspoken subtext of his attendance was to ensure that she returned to her compact second-floor chamber above the consulting room.
Eileen’s new awareness of her inner self made her realize that she was preternaturally suited to exist in the smudged regions between polite society and Britain’s enemies. Where before she had unaccountably gravitated to espionage, she now found that there were aspects of the work she found to be most satisfying.
Her recent German outing with Fitzwilliam, Robard, and Schiller had been her probationary return to field operations. The assault on the Swabian redoubt was the result of eighteen months’ work starting with her clues and adding material from files culled from around the Continent. The brief sharing of time and space with Richard, unsettling in a manner that hearkened back to their wartime closeness, was tempered by the awareness that, if the enterprise uncovered a trap, she would be close at hand to suffer a traitor’s final consequences. As it was, Schiller and Robard discovered seven die-hard SS storm troopers holed up in the trees surrounding a disused bunker that she later identified as the location she had been held and from which she had decamped. The encounter had been brief and brutal, only ending when a full company of American paratroopers reduced the black helmets’ position.
The school of piranha had been exterminated. The shark, however, had evaded capture.
Now on the beach at Deauville, Eileen tightly clasped her mother’s locket, the only remnant of her girlhood. The pendant, preserved by the SOE Housekeeping wallahs throughout her years in the wilderness, offered solace and strength as a last link to the time before. She assumed the latch to be irretrievably frozen, preventing her from opening the jewelry. Yet, despite her ignorance about what was inside, Eileen cherished the talisman.
Mrs. Bennet broke through the young woman’s reverie. “Please forgive me, Miss Nearne, but you must understand that I was somewhat surprised to discover you standing above me. I did not hear you approach.
“However, my dear, you seemed to be a hundred miles away just now. About what were you thinking if I may be so bold to ask?”
Eileen ran the fingers of both hands through her short-cut blonde hair, emitting a large sigh as she did so. The action, perforce, caused her to release the locket that, as it dropped free to hang between her breasts, glinted in the sunlight and caught Mrs. Bennet’s eye.
The lady pounced, instantly quizzing, “Where did you find that locket?”
Puzzled, Eileen replied, somewhat diffidently, “’Twas my mother’s. She passed it to me on her deathbed.
“When you mentioned the name ‘Bingley’ earlier, I was confused, for I vaguely recollect seeing that name in our family—my mother’s family, that is—Bible…something about a Frances Bingley deep in Mama’s lineage…sometime over a hundred years ago.
“But that Good Book is long gone—destroyed when the warehouse where all my parent’s goods were stored burned during the war. This is literally the only item I have left of my heritage.
“And ’tis broken. I have never been able to open it. As far as I know neither could my mother.”
In an almost dreamlike voice, Mrs. Bennet said, “On the back: is there an engraved J-H-B?”
Stunned, Eileen replied, “Indeed! But how could you know that?”
Under her breath, Fanny whispered, “Because her name was Jane Hadley Bennet, later Bingley.”
And then louder, “Hand me your locket, child. I wish to show you something.”
The old Eileen would not have relinquished her treasure, at least not with ease. However, her new iteration had learned to trust once again. She reached behind her neck and released the clasp. She lowered the piece into Mrs. Bennet’s outstretched palm.
The elder lady began speaking almost as soon as her fingers closed around the item. “How remarkable all this is. I thought that traveling forward to go on vacation was unusual. How much more extraordinary for me to come across a stranger who bears my dear Jane’s coming-of-age memento.”
As she spoke, she gripped the chain loop at the top of the locket and the stem that protruded from the bottom. “The craftsman we visited—Cheapside has the most remarkable jewelers, you know—was so clever. He created a special mechanism that would prevent the locket from falling open, especially when more conventional closures would eventually break or wear out.”
Saying that, she gently pulled the two posts apart with an opposing rotation. A slight snick indicated that the lids were released. Fanny gently separated them, taking care not to stress the delicate hinge, stiff after decades of disuse.
She gazed down at the opened ornament and smiled. Then she handed it back to Eileen who looked down at the two portraits—one of a gentleman and one of a lady, probably his wife—somberly gazing up at her.
“I imagine you might like to see your grandparents of I am not sure how many ‘greats,’ Miss Nearne.
“And then I would hope you would give one of them an embrace.”
Eileen did not waste a moment clasping her lost family to her chest as tears of joy freely flowed down her freckled cheeks.
[i] Please see chapter 9 of The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey. See also chapter 23.