There would be no plot in Pride and Prejudice without the presence of the militia. Lydia’s main source of gossip is news from the Redcoats, whether it be that her uncle has dined with the officers, or the more sinister information that a private has been flogged. The equivalent of the modern Territorial Army in Britain, the militia was essentially the reserves, the Home Guard. Its members frequently incurred a poor reputation for dancing and drinking in the towns where they were quartered. The charming but villainous Wickham in Pride and Prejudice has joined his corps expressly for “the prospect of constant society, and good society”. Austen knew all about it, her favourite brother Henry having joined the Oxfordshire militia in 1793. Just as her sailor brothers, Frank and Charles, were instrumental in shaping the naval background to Mansfield Park (1814) and Persuasion (1817), so Henry’s military associations had a subtle impact on his sister’s literary career.
more from Paula Byrne at the FT here.