Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Character Showcase - Mrs. Julia Lightbody

In general, the students at Mrs. Lightbody's Particular Establishment for the Advantage of Respectable Ladies— or "The Pearl", as some of its wittier residents referred to it— gave the redoubtable proprietress little trouble. Most boarders at this worthy academy were terrified enough to leave her to the enjoyment of her gin flask, a fly smasher and the Histoire et Vie de L'Aretin secreted inside a book of sermons. Mrs. Lightbody, in return, saw her pupils graduate through her front door at eighteen and nineteen in much the same intellectual state as they came into it as younger girls. In some cases with an even emptier head, incapable of having a thought or an opinion unless it was put there by her.

            The academy was required to provide only a very basic education for thirty guineas a year, and nothing more than an ability to attract husbands was ever expected of those who survived the experience. After all, as Mrs. Lightbody was known to grunt despondently, "There is not much to be done with girls, except teach them sewing, dancing, a little French, and How to Get a Husband."

* * * *

Mrs. Julia Lightbody rules her school with a mean, vindictive temper. And is often helped through her day by a bottle of gin hidden inside a china shepherdess. When it comes to the pupils put into her care, she favors those girls whose fathers can pay more than the standard thirty guineas a year for their "studies", and she looks down upon any girl who will not, or cannot, conform to her ideals. Anybody who crosses her and refuses to pay her the deference she believes she is due, will soon suffer dearly, for - as she likes to remind everybody - she is a woman of influence with friends in high places. During her time at the academy she has brokered many "successful" marriages for her best pupils and that is, after all, more important than actually providing an honest service and a proper education for these young women.

The headmistress took pleasure in the misfortunes of others, liked to lecture at length on subjects about which she knew nothing, and snidely criticized work that she herself could never emulate. She had been known to tear apart finely wrought embroidery or throw it into the fire, simply because the girl who made it once looked at her the wrong way, or her corns were playing up, or she'd been given the cut by someone in the street.

But Mrs. Lightbody has a dark secret in her past. She once went by another name and lived a rather different life. Her route into the upper echelons of society has been a somewhat sly and winding serpentine path. It balances precariously on her art for blackmail and it just might be exposed by one of her least favorite pupils.

Georgiana had often wondered how Mrs. Lightbody ever came to open an academy for young ladies. She was not a woman who set a very great example to her pupils. She appeared to have stumbled into this profession by some clerical error, rather than ability or inclination. Most of the time she left her "teaching" duties to the older girls, letting them tutor the younger ones while she remained shut in her parlor with the door bolted.

            Julia Lightbody was socially ambitious. As the headmistress of that school she was able to assure herself that she was, in fact, a "somebody", even if her students— once they achieved a successful match and moved up in society— became completely embarrassed by the old association and would deliberately not recognize her in the street.
            Georgiana, who had always loved a good mystery, knew there must be more to Mrs. Lightbody than met the eye.

* * * *

Along with Georgiana, you can uncover Mrs. Julia Lightbody's dreadful secret in The Trouble with His Lordship's Trousers - coming tomorrow!

Jayne Fresina Author Facebook Page

(Above: Portrait of Mary Robinson by Thomas Gainsborough)

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