Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Jane!

Today is Jane Austen's birthday. She was born on December 16th 1775 and would be 239 if she were still alive. We're sharing our thoughts about the immortal Jane in honour of that birthday and I'm going to start the ball rolling.

Jane Austen has travelled with me through life. I first discovered her when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I found Pride and Prejudice in my local library and as soon as I read the first page I was hooked. It was the humour that appealed to me. When Lizzy and Darcy entered the story, things just kept on getting better. I lived every moment of it and it became my favourite book, which it has been ever since. I then read all of her other books, some of which I loved instantly and some of which have grown on me over the years. Writing the heroes' diaries was something I adored and although it took me about 8 years, it was time well spent. I loved digging deeper into Jane's novels and discovering things I hadn't noticed, even though I'd read them many times.

And now, here we are again at her birthday, which is a reminder of her genius and of what she has given to the world.

What are your thoughts, feelings and memories of Jane? How has she affected your life?

Amanda Grange

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas and Winter stories for Lizzy and Darcy lovers!

Thanks to Amazon, our own knowledge and help from everyone who left comments in our last post about Christmas stories featuring Jane Austen's characters, here is an updated list (including two winter stories which might include Christmas). Again, if you can think of any we've missed, please let us know in the comments. Follow the links to find details on Amazon.

Twelve days of Christmas by Jennifer Lang

Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe

Christmas with Mr Darcy by Victoria Connelly

Twelfth Night at Longbourn by Maria Grace

A Darcy Christmas anthology by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan and Carolyn Eberhart

Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers


Mr Darcy's Christmas by Elizabeth Aston

Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy by Barbara Tiller Cole

Holidays with Jane anthology - various authors

The Ghosts at Pemberley by Fenella Miller

And here are two winter stories:.

Winter at Netherfield Park by Jennifer Lang

A Winter Wrong by Elizabeth Ann West

Happy reading!

A Regency Saturnalia

When we think of the things we take for granted at Christmas, most of them turn out to be Victorian developments, not Regency.
The Christmas tree, elaborate presents, the Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, even the very special time of year, they were all invented or developed by the Victorians to help in their resurrection of family values.
When William IV died in 1837, the monarchy was at a low ebb. William was the last of the “wicked uncles” and his death draws a line under the era of debauchery and frivolity, and the feverish atmosphere of war that marked the early nineteenth century, particularly the Regency era.
Christmas was just one of many celebrations. The big one as far as the Church was concerned, was Easter, when Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. Christmas was fairly arbitrary in any case, chosen by the early Catholic church to conveniently cover the period when the pagans went nuts at the winter solstice.
The remnants of the solstice are still there. After all, what does the Christmas tree have to do with the Christian story? Precious little. Then there’s the Christingle orange, one that does have religious significance, but has been dragged kicking and screaming into the church.
Our Christmas is a cunning mix of religion and happy party times. It is supposed to bring families together, but in the Regency era, it was a much quieter celebration, marked by churchgoing.
It overlaps with the Twelve Days, the Roman Saturnalia, when everything was turned upside down, when masters became servants and vice versa.
Many of our Regency ancestors did celebrate that one. A party where the masters served the servants and the servants gave the orders, often held at Twelfth Night. But any servant who wanted to keep his or her place would take care not to make the party too realistic! I can see it being embarrassing for some. Maybe the maid didn’t want to order her mistress to fetch her some figgy cake!
Saturnalia originally had a religious theme. The Romans liked that one, and they held it between the 17th and 23rd December. It was supposed to recreate and celebrate the golden age of the gods, when everything was perfect.
It would appeal to the flip side of the Regency zeitgeist—order overturned, the unthinkable happening. The kind of society that produced the Hellfire Club would celebrate it with relish.
It died out in the more staid Victorian era, when Christmas completed its transition from a wild, half-pagan celebration, to a religious celebration of family.
Which do you prefer?

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Christmas Through Historical Objects

Recently there has been something of a craze for telling the story of certain things through material objects – the BBC series “A History of the World in 100 Objects” was a fascinating example. It got me thinking about the different object associated with Christmas through time. Here are a few I came up with:

The Yule Log

The burning of the Yule Log was said to have its origins in pre-Christian paganism and the celebration of a winter fire festival. Intriguingly it has been suggested that this Christmas tradition only started in England in the 17th century and was an import from Europe. The first reference to it was made by Robert Herrick in the 1620s when he referred to “the Christmas log,” which was a good luck charm promising prosperity and protection from evil. The tradition died out in the late 19th century because of a decline in open fires. However, it could be construed to be continued in the Buche de Noel cake on the Christmas dinner table!

The Georgian table decoration

I’m cheating here a little bit because I don’t have an original Georgian Christmas decoration to show. This is a recreation from Fairfax House in York. Fairfax House is one of the finest Georgian town houses in England and every year they hold an exhibition called the Keeping of Christmas which displays elegant decorations, extravagant dining table decorations, sugar temples and Christmas greenery. There are lots of historical Christmas decorations on show at National Trust houses around the country. I'm planning a visit to Avebury Manor and also to Lydiard Park, where they are creating a Downton-Abbey style Edwardian Christmas.

The First Christmas Card

Henry Cole, first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the
organiser of the Great Exhibition, sent the world’s first Christmas card in 1843. However the traditions did not catch on in a widespread commercial way until later in the 19th century. Many of the first Christmas cards were postcards.

The Christmas Ball gown

I could not resist this gorgeous retro-looking Christmas ball gown that is now in the Chicago Museum. I would so love to wear that to a ball! It actually dates from the 1960s but looks like something from the 19th century. Never mind decorating the house, decorating yourself for the season takes the whole celebration to a new level!

What object or tradition best sums up Christmas for you? The tree, the exchange of gifts, Christmas carols, or something else?

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Claremont: Princess Charlottte's beloved home

Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), only child of George, Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent) and Caroline of Brunswick, had a short but tempestuous life. The day after she was born, her father removed her to an establishment of her own supervised by the dowager countess of Elgin. Charlotte saw her parents – separately - once a week and occasionally visited her grandparents, King George III and Queen Charlotte, at Windsor Castle or Weymouth.

Claremont House, now a private girls’ school

Charlotte became the centre of a tug of love as each parent tried to influence her. She loved her wildly indiscreet mother but could not respect her; and respected her father but could not love him. She seems to have been remarkably clear-sighted about them both: ‘My mother was wicked but she would not have turned so wicked had not my father been much more wicked still,’ she wrote.

Lake with island and pavilion

Knowing that her wayward mother needed protection from her father’s malice, must have placed a heavy emotional burden on her when she reluctantly agreed to marry William, Prince of Orange in 1813. What would happen to her mother if she, Charlotte, had to live in Holland? When she learnt that that was what her father, now Prince Regent, intended, she broke off the engagement. He was furious and put her under what was, more or less, house arrest.

The belvedere

Then her mother fled to Italy with her lover. Charlotte was deeply upset but it set her free to have a life of her own. In May 1816, she married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, a popular match at home. The nation, increasingly fed up with the Prince Regent’s extravagance, now had a focus for their hopes for the future. It was also a happy marriage for Charlotte and Leopold personally. They set up home at Claremont, near Esher.  

The amphitheatre

The house, originally built as a country retreat by Sir John Vanburgh, had had a number of notable owners, including the Duke of Newcastle and Clive of India. The first formal garden was designed by Charles Bridgeman who built the three acre amphitheatre; then, when informality became the rage, William Kent redesigned the gardens around a serpentine lake. Lastly, Capability Brown rebuilt the house and re-located the Portsmouth road to give the estate more privacy.

The grotto by the lake

Charlotte and Leopold both loved Claremont and its gardens. They built a camellia greenhouse and planned a tea house with views over the lake. There is a belvedere tower from which you can see London and Windsor Castle on a clear day; a grotto; a small pavilion on the island in the lake; a bowling green; a skittle alley; and lots of winding walks leading to unexpected vistas. A quote engraved on the back of one of the benches says it all: ‘constant and never-failing source of amusement. Princess Charlotte & Prince Leopold, 1817.’

Rhododendrons by the lake

Alas, Charlotte had tragically little time to enjoy it. On 5th November, 1817, after a fifty hour labour, she gave birth to a stillborn son and died the following day. The tea-house was never built and her sorrowing husband built a Gothic mausoleum on the spot. It was demolished in the 1920s and all that remains now is a slab of concrete on which is engraved: My Charlotte is gone. Prince Leopold

Elizabeth Hawksley

Claremont House is now a private girls' school but Claremont Landscape Garden is owned by the National Trust and well worth a visit. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/claremont 

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Christmas at "Downton"

Greetings! I'm Jo Beverley, and I'm wondering if you look forward to the Downton Abbey Christmas special for the grand rooms lit by roaring fires, the holly and the ivy, and a berry-loaded mistletoe bough. Perhaps you'd like to read some romances set at Christmas in stately homes during the Regency, with love and a happy ending to add to the spice.

Not all these books are easily available in print in the UK, but they are all available as e-books. I've given Amazon links, but of course they are available elsewhere.

Perhaps you can recommend other romances set at Christmas in a stately home. Please do. :) 

I'll start with one of my own.

Genova Smith is traveling to celebrate Christmas at Rothgar Abbey, as companion to two of the Marquess of Rothgar's elderly great-aunts. However, another of the ladies' nephews appoints himself their escort -- the Marquess of Ashart, life-long enemy of Rothgar and his family, hell-bent on trouble. Christmas is celebrated with grandeur at the Abbey, but can even the joy of the special season bring and end to the feud? And will Genova's heart be broken along the way?

Alexander Edgware, Lord Xavier, is as notorious at the gaming tables as he is in the ton’s gossip rags. But this might be one wager he cannot win: he must persuade proper Louisa Oliver, a shy bluestocking, to attend his raucous Christmas house party at Clifton Hall in SurreyIntrigued by his invitation, Louisa looks upon the house party as a chance to have a few adventures—and browse through Clifton Hall’s grand library, too. Fascinated by her host’s hidden depths, she soon persuades him into the library, where they discover an unexpected passion. When long-hidden secrets are uncovered, will Louisa and Xavier’s new found bond prove strong enough to save them both, or will they begin the new year with ruin?  

The Blanchard Secret by Nicola Cornick
Miss Sarah Sheridan lives a quiet life in Bath as companion to her cousin. Then two events upset her calm existence. The first is the delivery of a mysterious letter from her deceased brother, hinting at a mystery only Sarah can solve. The second is the arrival in Bath of Guy, Viscount Renshaw, a shocking rake who seems very attracted to Sarah. Together Sarah and Guy must unravel a secret that takes them to the splendour of Blanchland Hall for a Christmas season that Sarah will never forget.  

Falling in love at first sight—with another man’s wife—was hell for Phillip Houghton. Never mind that he knew Julianna’s husband to be scoundrel, the ring on her finger meant she was off limits. Three years later, he has a second chance with an invitation to spend Christmas at Brookside. Julianna is content with her life as a widow with two small children. The scars of her husband’s abuse feed her general distrust of men. Yet, Phillip makes her painfully aware of how lonely her life truly is. As Phillip wins over her parents and children, she finds herself drawn to him. Dare she trust her mind—and her heart?

Young widow Lady Lenora Fitzallan receives an unexpected invitation that might change her life but will ultimately mean a choice between two men. Accompanied by her elderly godmother, Lady Pettigrew, Lenora sets out to face the man she never thought to see again. At Marlings, his Scottish country house and estate, Laird Edward Montgomery awaits the arrival of the woman he should have married seventeen years before, but has he left it too late once more? Meanwhile his young niece and ward, Annabelle, begins to fall in love in between getting into scrapes. But is it with the right man? As they all prepare for the Masquerade Ball on the Winter Solstice in the lead up to Christmas, new arrivals cause uncertainty and reveal past secrets. But who will win Lenora’s love in the end?

When Major Lucas Stanton inherited his earldom, he never dreamed his property would include the previous earl's granddaughter—Miss Phoebe Linville, a Quaker from America with a talent for getting into trouble. Witness the compromising position that forced them into wedlock. Whisked away to Mistletoe Manor, his country estate, it isn't long before she is challenging his rules--and surprising him in and out of bed. Phoebe has no intention of bowing to Lucas's stubbornness even though he offers all that she wants. His kisses and unexpected warmth are enticing, but Phoebe is determined to show the earl of Merritt what real love is all about.

Plain, bookish Elinor Bancroft is traveling with her aunt and young cousins to spend the holidays with her father, when a carriage mishap leaves the party stranded at the remote manor of Lord Martin Thorne. Also known as “the Black Baron,” he has no patience for invalids or spoiled heiresses, and children are usually terrified of him. But he gives them refuge during the snowstorm, and to keep the children out of his way Elinor helps them turn the sparse manor into a warm holiday haven for Christmas.

Without dowries and the opportunity to meet eligible gentlemen, the five Barlow sisters stand little chance of making advantageous marriages. But when the eldest attracts the attention of a wealthy viscount, suddenly it seems as though Fate is smiling upon them. The man of Lucy Barlow’s dreams, however, has always been Andrew Livingston, her best friend's brother, but he's always treated her like a child. Perhaps the time has come to put away childhood dreams and accept reality…and the eligible viscount. Andrew has returned from the Peninsula with emotional and physical scars. Surprisingly, it's his sister's friend “Little Lucy” who shows him the way out of his melancholy. As the two families work together to decorate Livingston Hall for Christmas, he can't help noticing that Lucy's grown up into a lovely young woman. With an eligible viscount courting her, however, he'll need a little Christmas magic to win her for himself.

David Worthington, Duke of Penrose dislikes Miss Meredith Chambers, the American governess who accompanied his new wards to his Devonshire estate. He especially detests his attraction to the insufferable woman, and is anxious for her replacement to arrive. Merry is thrilled when the Dowager Duchess Penrose hires her as a companion to stay at the manor and help with the Christmas festivities. Now she can stay with her beloved charges. But can she ignore how her heart thumps when the pompous duke gets close?

Christmas Angel by Patricia Rice
Living in the squire’s house next to abandoned Sedgwick Hall, Marian Chadwick has no intention of deserting the village as the earl had done. Taking care of family and helping a once prosperous town survive is all she has in mind after the tragic death of her fiance. Then a stranger from America visits, wearing a heart as heavy as hers. Maybe this will be the Christmas they both need - with a gift that lasts forever.

I hope you enjoy this selection of stories. Don't forget, you can always read a free sample at Amazon or other e-book retailers before you buy. And please do share some other titles.

Happy December!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

John Clare's Poem December - Jane Odiwe

This is one of my favourite Christmas poems - I hope you enjoy it!

December - from The Shepherd’s Calendar - John Clare 1793-1864

GLAD Christmas comes, and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now,
E’en want will dry its tears in mirth,
And crown him with a holly bough;
Though tramping ’neath a winter sky,
O’er snowy paths and rimy stiles,
The housewife sets her spinning by
 To bid him welcome with her smiles.

Each house is swept the day before,
And windows stuck with ever-greens,                                   
The snow is besom’d from the door,
   And comfort crowns the cottage scenes.

Gilt holly, with its thorny pricks,
And yew and box, with berries small,
These deck the unused candlesticks,
And pictures hanging by the wall.

Neighbours resume their annual cheer,
Wishing, with smiles and spirits high,
Glad Christmas and a happy year,
To every morning passer-by;                                                 
Milkmaids their Christmas journeys go,
Accompanied with favour’d swain;
And children pace the crumping snow,
To taste their granny’s cake again.

The shepherd, now no more afraid,
Since custom doth the chance bestow,
Starts up to kiss the giggling maid
Beneath the branch of misletoe
That ’neath each cottage beam is seen,
With pearl-like berries shining gay;                                       
The shadow still of what hath been,          
Which fashion yearly fades away.

The singing wates, a merry throng,
At early morn, with simple skill,
Yet imitate the angels song,
 And chant their Christmas ditty still;
And, ’mid the storm that dies and swells
By fits—in hummings softly steals
The music of the village bells,
Ringing round their merry peals.                                            

When this is past, a merry crew,
Bedeck’d in masks and ribbons gay,
The “Morris-dance,” their sports renew,
And act their winter evening play.
The clown turn’d king, for penny-praise,
Storms with the actor’s strut and swell;
And Harlequin, a laugh to raise,
Wears his hunch-back and tinkling bell.

And oft for pence and spicy ale,
 With winter nosegays pinn’d before,
The wassail-singer tells her tale,            
And drawls her Christmas carols o’er.

While ’prentice boy, with ruddy face,
 And rime-bepowder’d, dancing locks,
From door to door with happy pace,
 Runs round to claim his “Christmas box.”

The block upon the fire is put,
 To sanction custom’s old desires;
And many a fagot's bands are cut,
 For the old farmers’ Christmas fires;                                      
Where loud-tongued Gladness joins the throng,
 And Winter meets the warmth of May,
Till feeling soon the heat too strong,
 He rubs his shins, and draws away.

While snows the window-panes bedim,
 The fire curls up a sunny charm,
Where, creaming o’er the pitcher’s rim,
 The flowering ale is set to warm;
Mirth, full of joy as summer bees,
 Sits there, its pleasures to impart,                                          
And children, ’tween their parent’s knees,           
Sing scraps of carols o’er by heart.

And some, to view the winter weathers,

Climb up the window-seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
 In Fancy’s infant ecstasy;
Laughing, with superstitious love,
O’er visions wild that youth supplies,
Of people pulling geese above,
 And keeping Christmas in the skies.                                       

As tho’ the homestead trees were drest,
 In lieu of snow, with dancing leaves;
As tho’ the sun-dried martin’s nest,
 Instead of i’cles hung the eaves;
The children hail the happy day—
 As if the snow were April’s grass,
And pleas’d, as ’neath the warmth of May,
 Sport o’er the water froze to glass.

Thou day of happy sound and mirth,
 That long with childish memory stays,                                    
How blest around the cottage hearth            
I met thee in my younger days!

Harping, with rapture’s dreaming joys,
On presents which thy coming found,
The welcome sight of little toys,
 The Christmas gift of cousins round.

The wooden horse with arching head,
 Drawn upon wheels around the room;
The gilded coach of gingerbread,
 And many-colour’d sugar plum;                                            
Gilt cover’d books for pictures sought,
 Or stories childhood loves to tell,
With many an urgent promise bought,
 To get to-morrow’s lesson well.

And many a thing, a minute’s sport,
 Left broken on the sanded floor,
When we would leave our play, and court
 Our parents’ promises for more.
Tho’ manhood bids such raptures die,
 And throws such toys aside as vain,                                      
Yet memory loves to turn her eye,            
And count past pleasures o’er again.

Around the glowing hearth at night,
 The harmless laugh and winter tale
Go round, while parting friends delight
 To toast each other o’er their ale;
The cotter oft with quiet zeal
 Will musing o’er his Bible lean;
While in the dark the lovers steal
   To kiss and toy behind the screen.                                         

Old customs! Oh! I love the sound,
 However simple they may be:
Whate’er with time hath sanction found,
 Is welcome, and is dear to me.
Pride grows above simplicity,
 And spurns them from her haughty mind,
And soon the poet’s song will be            
The only refuge they can find.

I hope that's got you all in the Christmas spirit! Here's a link to the John Clare Society who are celebrating the 150th anniversary of his death this year.
Illustrations by Jane Odiwe, Hugh Thomson, and Arthur A. Dixon

Jane Odiwe - Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar - November 2014

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