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:

The Cover Art of Robert Berran

If you view any website about publishing in today’s digital age, you’re sure to see a post about the importance of book covers. For authors like me who self publish their novels and stories, creating book covers that capture a reader’s attention in a meaningful way is a science worth studying.

When I first started writing for publication, I didn’t have to worry about designing covers. That was handled by my publisher, and other than providing my editor with a cheat sheet listing hair color, eye color, and the main setting where my story took place, I really didn’t have any input about what would or would not end up on the cover of my book.

Thankfully, my publisher engaged the services of a wonderful cover artist named Robert Berran. He had a special talent for depicting the Regency era, and he created cover illustrations for my publisher, as well as others.

In 1997 I contributed a short story to an anthology titled A Mother’s Love. Here’s the cover:

That’s Robert Berran’s artwork you see on the cover, although his signature was cropped to accommodated the title, author names, and branding.

For comparison, here’s a copy of the original artwork. You can see more of the beautiful landscape Mr. Berran created, as well as his signature in the bottom left-hand corner.

With a cover like this, readers knew what they were getting: a sweet, clean Regency romance, with an emphasis on the special relationship between a mother and her children.

Here’s another example of Robert Berran’s work titled, Summer Picnic:

Based on the illustration, what kind of Regency romance would you guess this to be? Steamy and sensual? Sweet and clean? Somewhere down the middle?

I also wonder if there’s any significance to our heroine holding an apple. Perhaps she’s tempting the hero just a little?

The next Robert Berran cover I’ll share was created for a Regency romance titled Scandalous Journey.

Based on the book’s title and the cover art, I would guess the novel didn’t fall into the sweet and clean category. While it may not have been a steamy novel either, the cover seems to suggest a story that has some temptingly sensual moments, doesn’t it?

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s something about a story that introduces a dog (or a cat, or a parakeet, or any other pet) that signals a story with some lighthearted moments, and this Robert Berran cover art fits the bill nicely:

One thing I appreciate after reviewing several of Robert Berran’s cover illustrations is how well he captures the setting of the story.

He definitely knows how to evoke the beauty of the English countryside.

The next cover, with the gorgeous colors in the sky and the stately home in the distance, is one of my favorites. I have to wonder, however, how much of the background made it into the final cropped version of the cover.

And then there were the covers Robert Berran created that hinted at some action that took place in the novel itself. Like this young lady who just took a tumble on a secluded woodland path:

Or this cover, which hinted at the heroine’s talent (and if you guessed she was an artist, you’d be right!).

And then there were his action covers that leaned a little more toward the romantic, like this one depicting a heroine being carried off by her handsome groom on her wedding day:

You may have guessed by now that Robert Berran was one of my favorite cover artists. Each of his covers is a unique and lovely work of art, and I cherish the covers he created for my novels.

Did you know some of his original Regency romance cover illustrations are for sale? They pop up from time to time on various art websites. Click here to visit one of those sites.

And if you’d like to learn more about Robert Berran and his artwork, you can visit his website by clicking here. 

I’d love to have a full-size original of one of his Regency creations; unfortunately, my budget limits me to hanging framed copies of my old covers on my office walls. But if I ever win the lottery, watch out!

How about you? Do you have a favorite cover artist?

How do you think today’s Regency romance covers compare to covers created in the 1990s or 2000s?

The Art of the Fan

Ladies of fashion have been using fans for generations as an essential fashion accessory. As Joseph Addison said in The Spectator, “Women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution with them.”

At the Opera by Robert Schumann

At the Opera by Robert Schumann

Mr. Addison described the following encounter with an attractive lady and her fan at a Sunday church service:

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She displayed the most beautiful Bosom imaginable, which heaved and fell with some Fervour, while a delicate well-shaped Arm held a Fan over her Face. It was not in Nature to command ones Eyes from this Object; I could not avoid taking notice also of her Fan, which had on it various Figures, very improper to behold on that Occasion. There lay in the Body of the Piece a Venus, under a Purple Canopy furled with curious Wreaths of Drapery, half naked, attended with a Train of Cupids, who were busied in Fanning her as she slept. Behind her was drawn a Satyr peeping over the silken Fence, and threatening to break through it.

Artist: Frederico Andreotti

Artist: Frederico Andreotti

It’s possible Mr. Addison may have drawn on his own experience when he wrote:

There is an infinite Variety of Motions to be made use of in the Flutter of a Fan. There is the angry Flutter, the modest Flutter, the timorous Flutter, the confused Flutter, the merry Flutter, and the amorous Flutter. Not to be tedious, there is scarce any Emotion in the Mind does not produce a suitable Agitation in the Fan.

Artist: Thomas Benjamin Kennington

Artist: Thomas Benjamin Kennington

In Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders, Robin Tremaine disguises himself as a woman and makes great comic use of a fan to flirt with Sir Anthony Fanshawe.

Artist: Gaetano Bellei

Artist: Gaetano Bellei

You can read more about the history of the lady’s fan here at Victoriana.

 

Free on Amazon: A Scandalous Season

My Regency romance A Scandalous Season is available for free on Amazon Kindle. You’ll have to hurry: this offer is only good for the next 5 days!

Cover Art_A Scandalous Season 3Headstrong Lady Eleanor Chilton is determined to marry a country gentleman of her own choosing. But when her father insists that she have a London Season, she resolves to be so disagreeable, no man will even dance with her. Her icy demeanor and unpleasant words soon repel every dandy who makes her acquaintance – Including Sir Andrew de Ardescote, London’s most sought-after bachelor.

Sir Andrew is not used to being snubbed, and he doesn’t take to it kindly, even though the contrary young lady is quite the loveliest creature he’s ever met. He’ll have his revenge: A simple wager with friends that he will be the first to melt the icy young maiden’s heart with a kiss.
As he sets about charm Lady Eleanor to fall in love with him, it isn’t long before Sir Andrew realizes he’s the one in danger of losing his heart.

“A light-hearted drawing room comedy to brighten your day.” – Romantic Times
“Pretty entertaining, I must say!” – Goodreads

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Follow his link to Amazon to get your copy:

Amazon Kindle

Now Available: One Dance with You

Cover One Dance with You 2015 resizedMy Regency short story “One Dance with You” is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes!

I enjoyed writing this story of a young woman who gives up on love, only to discover it again in a most unexpected place.

You can read an excerpt from the story on your favorite reader:

Amazon Kindle    Nook button    iBookstore

 

A Compliment Indeed!

Once Upon A Christmas Cover 2015-04-26 resizedA wonderful reader posted a review of my book Once Upon A Christmas on the Barnes and Noble website, which says:

“This reads along the same lines of a Georgette Heyer story and almost as good!”

What a tremendous compliment! There’s no higher praise a writer of Regency romance can get than to be compared to the incomparable Ms. Heyer. Thank you!