It’s a Year of Jane Austen!

There are so many wonderful Jane Austen related events and films to look forward to in 2020!

Today on Austen Authors I published a list of all the events I know about so far.

Click here or on the image below to read the full list on the Austen Authors blog:

 

A Regency Christmas Tree for You

There’s a long-held tenet in the romance community that people of the Regency Era didn’t have Christmas trees as part of their Christmas celebrations. That’s correct.

In general.

But the truth is that long before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert introduced the idea of Christmas trees to the British public, Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, brought the tradition of Christmas trees to Britain from Germany.

Royal records show that Queen Charlotte celebrated the season by having yew branches placed in rooms at Kew Palace or Windsor Castle, which she then decorated with candles and ornaments.

In 1800 she hosted a Christmas party for the children at court. For the occasion she had an entire yew tree brought inside, “the whole illuminated by small wax candles.” She decorated the tree with “sweetmeats, almonds, fruits and toys” for the children.

While the queen’s Christmas tree tradition wasn’t widely known to the general public, it was definitely known by palace insiders and members of the nobility. Some of those nobles may even have adopted the practice themselves, and that’s the premise behind one of my traditional Regency romances.

In Once Upon a Christmas my heroine, Nerissa Raleigh, is attending a ball a nobleman’s London home, when she seeks a quiet place to escape the hectic whirl of the ballroom.

When the hero, Breck Davenant, follows her, he discovers her in a small drawing room in which the family has erected a Christmas tree.

Here’s Nerissa’s reaction to seeing a Christmas tree for the first time:

He closed the door and advanced farther into the room. It took a moment for him to realize that Nerissa had not replied, nor even turned to look at him. She remained curiously still, her attention focused upon one of the most dazzling objects she ever beheld.

In the far comer of the room stood a pine tree that reached just above Breck’s height. About its branches were hung a number of adornments. Perfectly round oranges, bowed ribbons, and small brass keepsakes decorated the tree from top to bottom. Set among the branches were short candles of purest white, held in place by small sconces of polished brass.

Breck moved toward one corner of the room, the better to see Nerissa’s profile as she continued to gaze at the tree, her brown eyes gone wide with wonder.

“Shall I light them for you?” he asked at last in a low voice that was just as mesmerizing as the tree itself.

He didn’t wait for her to answer, but drew a taper from the candelabrum and began to light the candles on the tree. Nerissa clasped her hands together and watched him with a feeling of deepening anticipation. When he was done, he stepped back, allowing her a full view of the results.

The candlelight amid the branches seemed to set the entire tree aglow; it reflected off the small brass tokens and bathed the room in the warmth of its beauty.

Nerissa couldn’t recall the last time she had been so dazzled. She closed her eyes for just a moment and breathed deeply of the scent of pine and oranges. “Could anything ever be more beautiful?” she asked appreciatively. “It’s almost as if a forest nymph had touched the tree with its magical fairy dust! It—it’s the most wonderful thing I have ever seen!”

She looked over at Breck and found his gray eyes upon her, his lips half-smiling, and an oddly arrested expression on his face.

“I dare say you think me quite foolish!” she said, steeling herself against the teasing she thought surely he would hurl her direction.

He took the time to draw a cigarillo from his vest pocket and light it from the flame of the candelabrum before he answered. “On the contrary,” he said slowly, “I think you quite charming.”

She felt a sudden and unaccountable wave of happiness sweep over her, and she was somewhat surprised by the feeling. She watched him cross the space between them with a few long-legged strides. He chose not to expand upon those brief, provocative words, electing instead to stand by her side and gaze upon the tree with her in companionable silence.

“Why is it here?” she asked after a few moments.

“It’s a Christmas tree. The Germans make them part of their holiday celebrations.”

“I—I’ve never heard of such a thing!” she said, looking up at him and finding the quizzing look had returned to his eyes.

“Barbaric, isn’t it?” he asked. “No doubt they erect it as part of a pagan ritual. Do you think they dance like heathens about it and—”

“Don’t!” exclaimed Nerissa, laying her small hand on his sleeve to still his words. “Please don’t make sport of it. It—it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”

Breck, long inured to the lures of Christmas traditions, even those of German origin, thought better than to tease her over this admission.

He stepped back a little toward the fireplace, drew deeply against his cigarillo, and watched the play of emotions cross her expressive face. It had been a long time since he had seen anyone so lose herself to enchantment. In his social circle, one rarely encountered anything new. If, by odd circumstance, one did, it would never do to betray the thing.

Nerissa Raleigh, he was fast discovering, had no such compunctions. She gave herself up to the delight of her surroundings and gazed upon the softly glowing tree with wide-eyed, unaffected appreciation. He had the very distinct feeling that she didn’t even recall the Christmas Ball going on downstairs, or the fact that someone might have by now missed her. Were he to allow it, she would no doubt prefer to remain in the family saloon, staring at the tree for the rest of the evening.

“Miss Raleigh,” he said in a quiet voice that drew her attention, “it is time we were returned to the ballroom.”

“I suppose you are right,” she said, fighting back an odd pang of regret. She watched him move about the tree, extinguishing the candles, and she said rather impulsively, “Thank you! How gallant you were to have lit the candles and made the tree so lovely just for my benefit!”

He had just finished snuffing the last of the flames, and turned to send one of his quizzing looks her direction. “I dare say I was merely in one of my heroic moods.”

She wasn’t offended. “I dare say you are more often heroic than you may know!”

He looked down upon her, a speculative look in his eye, as if he had been about to say something but thought better of it. Instead, he offered his arm and said rather gently, “I’ll take you back now.”

Nerissa placed her hand on his arm and felt the warmth fly to her cheeks. Here was a side of Breck Davenant she had not yet seen. He was being extremely solicitous and surprisingly tender. When he led her back into the ballroom and she would have withdrawn her hand from the crook of his arm, he placed his other hand over hers, compelling her to stay.

“Will you dance with me, Miss Raleigh?” he asked.

She could hardly refuse. In fact, at that very moment she wanted nothing more than to remain by his side. They took their place in a country set. The music struck up and Breck clasped her hand lightly. He may as well have set her gloves on fire, thought Nerissa, for each time the movement of the dance caused her to place her hand in his, his touch left behind a most peculiar warmth. They had been together many times, but now, inexplicably, she was nervous in his presence and could barely bring herself to meet his eyes without blushing.

Breck noticed her behavior, and he was a little intrigued by it. Her whole demeanor had changed since he had lit the candles on the Christmas tree. He recalled how lovely she had looked—her wide brown eyes gazing upon the tree with an ingenuous light that was not at all unattractive. His impulse had been to tease her, but when she had directed that same gaze his way, he had felt something stir in his heart that was not mere amusement.

He had meant to twit her, but instead found himself feeling something quite tender for her. That, he knew, was dangerous ground.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Nerissa’s first encounter with a Christmas tree.

And I hope you liked Breck’s reaction.

Whatever traditions you and your family hold with, I hope they bring you joy this holiday season.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

 

p.s. You can learn more about Once Upon a Christmas by clicking on the book cover:

Shopping For the Wrong Gift

Have you ever ordered a gift for someone only to have the wrong thing delivered? Or not delivered at all?

It’s happened to me. And while online shopping is pretty convenient, it’s sometimes not so easy to get delivery errors corrected.

Gift delivery mix-ups aren’t anything new. I found a set of old Tuck & Sons illustrations from the early 1900s that illustrate the point.

The first illustration is titled “The Wrong Hamper.”

The lady looks a little unhappy to have her morning tea interrupted with a delivery of an order of snuff!

The second image in the set is titled “The Hamper He Got.”

The artist did a great job of creating an image of a man’s man, from the spurs on his boots to the glass of ale and pipe smoke, and the hunting trophies on the wall. No wonder the butler gives a little snicker over the delivery of a child’s toy.

I wonder how difficult it was to return a wrong delivery in the early 1900s?

 

The Village People

I always love finding images that help me visualize life during the Regency Era.

Recently I came across some of those kinds of images, and I thought I’d share them with you.

The artist is Graham Hyde, who was popular around 1900 to 1910 for his cartoonish illustrations.

In 1902 he produced a series of illustrations for Tuck & Sons that featured village people going about their daily lives during the late Regency/early Victorian time period.

One my favorites is this one, featuring a squire and his dog:

This one depicts children running to the town square, perhaps to see a Punch-and-Judy-style show.

Other village people illustrations include the local shepherd boy …

… and a farm worker taking a break from ploughing a field.

In 1908 Graham Hyde produced another set of illustrations along the same theme of characters you might find living in a village.

This set is more stylized and leans a little more toward Mr. Hyde’s cartoon-ish side.

This one is titled “Ye Doctor.”

Then there’s this one titled, “Ye Huntsman.”

Here’s “Ye Host,” which instantly makes me think of a landlord at a country posting inn:

And finally, here’s my favorite of the set, “Ye Village Dame.” It reminds me of Mrs. Philips running to tell Mrs. Bennet the gossip concerning Wickham’s iniquities:

What do you think of these illustrations? Do any of them remind you of characters you’ve read in classic literature?

How Many is Too Many?

Happy Saturday to you!

Do you have multiple copies of Pride and Prejudice on your bookshelf? Me, too!

My tattered, well-worn copy of P&P.

I’m on the Austen Authors blog today explaining why each copy is special and I really can’t get rid of any of them. Really, I can’t.

Click on the image below to join me at Austen Authors.

 

More on Beau Brummell and a Short Story

One of my favorite places to shop is my neighborhood antique mall and in Denver we have several. On Broadway, just south of the downtown area, is Antique Row, where antique stores of different varieties pack a seven block stretch. … Continue reading

Beau Brummell at Bonwit Teller

I’ve been working on a story that includes a secondary character who is an unabashed Regency Dandy. In his mind, appearance is everything.

In writing the character, I wanted to make certain I accurately described his attire, so I turned to my research files on the king of all dandies: Beau Brummell.

Beau Brummell, engraved from a miniature by John Cook.

When I skimmed through my files and the books I have about Beau Brummell, I realized they focused more on the events of his life and his sense of style, but really didn’t contain any actual descriptions of his clothing.

Beau Brummell, by Hubert Cole, from my library of Regency research books.

Also surprising: there’s precious little when it comes to detailed descriptions of Beau Brummell’s clothing on the Internet, either.

But in my online searches I did find something interesting. On The New School’s website, tucked into their online archives, were several photos of Brummell-inspired fashion from the 1950s.

Why were people in the 1950’s so interested in Beau Brummell? Because in 1954 MGM released a movie that was supposed to be about Beau Brummell’s life. The film starred Stewart Granger as The Beau, Peter Ustinov as the Prince of Wales, and Rosemary Harris (mother of Jennifer Ehle, my favorite Lizzy Bennet) as Mrs. Fitzherbert.

A black and white still from a scene in “Beau Brummell” starring (left to right) Elizabeth Taylor, Rosemary Harris, Stewart Granger, and Peter Ustinov.

Also in the film: Elizabeth Taylor as Lady Patricia, a totally fictional character who served only to showcase Elizabeth Taylor’s beauty and give Stewart Granger a heterosexual love interest in the midst of all the ruffles and tight breeches. (That’s the kind of thing they did in the fifties. Don’t ask me why.)

Poster for the 1954 movie, “Beau Brummell.”

The great New York department store Bonwit Teller caught a little of the Beau Brummell bug. They came up with an advertising tie-in to the movie and devoted several of their coveted 5th Avenue window displays to women’s fashion “inspired by” Beau Brummell’s dandyism.

Here’s a photo taken at the time of one of the window displays in 1954 (courtesy of The New School archives):

The female mannequin is dressed in 1950’s style high-waist pants, ruffled shirt, and a waistcoat that mimic the male’s attire. On the floor at their feet is an unraveled reel of film.

The male mannequin is wearing one of the actual costumes from the Beau Brummel movie. Here’s how that costume looked when Stewart Granger wore it in the film:

If you look closely, you can see his round hat tucked under his left arm.

Here’s another of the Bonwit Teller window displays from 1954. In this display the female mannequin is again wearing high-waist pants with a seam detail that mimics the brocade on the male mannequin’s military jacket.

He is is dressed in another costume from the movie. Here’s what Stewart Granger looked like in that same military uniform in the film:

There’s a scene mid-way through the movie when Beau Brummell joins the Prince of Wales on a hunt. Bonwit teller depicted the scene, matching their idea of a modern, 1950s woman in a red dress and heeled shoes with a gentleman’s hunting pink, which consisted of a long red coat, white shirt and pants, and black boots.

Here’s the same costume worn by Stewart Granger in the movie. With him in the scene is Rosemary Harris as Mrs. Fitzherbert and Peter Ustinov as the prince.

I was so glad to find these images, because they helped me realize Beau Brummell was not all about black tailcoats and understated fawn pantaloons.

Stewart Granger as Beau Brummel in the 1954 movie of the same name.

Those articles of clothing have been the mainstays of any Regency romance hero’s wardrobe since Georgette Heyer first described them in Devil’s Cub in 1932. But the movie costumes convinced me I can introduce color, stripes and pattern to my character’s attire and still hold true to the Dandy’s dress code.

With these costumes as a guide, I was able to write some descriptions of ensembles I think my Regency character will enjoy wearing. I even thought up an article of clothing he’ll wear that will end up playing a major role in the story.

I’m looking forward to sharing all of it with you soon!

In the meantime, if you’d like to see more photos of the Bonwit Teller window displays featuring costumes from the movie, click here to be taken to The New School Archive and Special Collections website.