This year I had the pleasure to meet Maria Grace when she came to NY to give a presentation on courtship and marriage in Jane Austen’s time. Our event had a tremendous turnout and Maria was a huge success with our members! Not only was her presentation wonderful, she actually traveled to NY after being rescued by boat off of her block after Hurricane Harvey hit her community. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have her make it to us in NY!
Today I am looking forward to sharing her two, yes two new JAFF Christmas stories with my readers and Maria is joining us today to share this guest post. Please join me in welcoming Maria Grace to Just Jane 1813…
Thanks so much for having me Claudine! I’m so excited about this Christmas season! It’s been a doozy of a year in these parts (believe it or not, the hurricane was not even the highpoint of it all!), so much that it calls for not one, but two Christmas books. The two books go along with The Darcys’ First Christmas, kind of forming bookends to the story. Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811 tells the behind the scenes story of what might have happened during the Christmastide Darcy spent in London, while the militia (and Wickham!) wintered in Meryton. From Admiration to Love tells the story of the Darcys’ second Christmas as they try to hold Georgiana’s coming out at the Twelfth Night ball in the midst of Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh descending as very unwelcome guests. (The story was such fun to write, I hope you love it as much as I do!)
One of the key points of the story is the expectation of hospitality from the Darcys toward their unexpected guests. During the era large estates and smaller establishments alike welcomed guests for the Christmastide season. Since travel was difficult and expensive, stays were usually measured in weeks, not days.
Guests did not expect their hosts to entertain them every moment of their stay. They often enjoyed the amenities of the estate on their own.
During the day, gentlemen of the party might form hunting, fishing or shooting parties, play billiards, chess or cards, ride the grounds of the estate, and indulge in manly conversation discussing topics not appropriate in mixed company, like politics and business. The ladies shared news, patterns and recipes and flaunted their accomplishments to one another. Oftentimes children did not travel with their parents but stayed home with their governess while their parents enjoyed their trip.
Evenings would be spent in mixed company, in the parlor or drawing room, enjoying parlor games, cards, music, conversation and possibly even a little impromptu dancing.
Home theatricals, quite the rage among genteel society who found the increasingly vulgar nature of the theater disturbing, might add additional spice to the house party. On the whole, the activity was well received and even encouraged as a means of entertainment. However, depending on the play chosen, certain elements might disquiet actors and audience alike. Under the guise of the theater, participants might engage in flirtatious and even low, inappropriate behaviors, creating potential moral dilemmas. It behooved the hostess to encourage a prudent choice of theatrical material.
Depending on the weather, hostesses also scheduled outings, picnics, games like pall mall, or skating parties for her guests. Dinner parties, card parties, routs or even a ball brought neighbors in to mix and mingle with the house party guests.
House parties provided an excellent opportunity for young people of equal social status to meet and even a little match-making to occur. A bit of romance added interest and intrigue to a house party and might even result in a wedding later in the season.
Take a peek at Elizabeth’s first encounter with a very surprising Anne de Bourgh in From Admiration to Love.
December 6, 1813
Elizabeth drew a deep breath. Best get this over with. She smoothed her skirt and strode into the neat little ivory parlor where she entertained local ladies when they called. The furniture was light and dainty, upholstered in pale blue florals over ivory painted wood. Matching curtains were tied back from the tall windows that overlooked the informal flower garden. Tall vases with sunflowers and poppies added color and guided the eye from the curio cabinet in one corner to the plinky old harpsichord that Elizabeth refused to remove from the opposite corner. If nothing else, it was a good source for conversation when topics ran sparse.
Anne stood at the far end of the room, in front of the bookcase. She jumped a little as the door squeaked, and turned to face Elizabeth, a rather large book in her hand. Tall, like her mother, her figure was columnar and elegant, in an ordinary sort of way despite the fine white muslin that draped it. Her face was pretty and plain at the same time. Really, there was very little to recommend her as any great beauty. Still though, there was a spark in her features that Elizabeth had never seen before, enough to be intriguing. What had happened to put it there?
“I have heard this novel is quite entertaining, have you read it?” Anne asked mildly, as though there was nothing odd happening at all.
Elizabeth stepped to the middle of the room. “I started reading it, but found I could not like the heroine at all. She became insipid in the second volume.”
Anne replaced the book on the shelf. “Then, it is not for me. I have no use for insipid. Do you have one you might recommend? I may be here a very long time, and I might as well have some reliable form of entertainment.”
So this was how it would be? And she intended to extend her stay for quite some time? What was she, a prisoner seeking asylum?
“I am sorry you do not think Pemberley will be up to entertaining you, Miss de Bourgh. If you do not feel it will be to your liking, you are free to return to Rosings, and I will take no offense. We tend to be a quiet, family party most of the time. You might find us very dull indeed.”
Anne threw her head back and laughed heartily, a decidedly odd, screechy sound that resembled a hinge that needed oiling. “You will do very well indeed! I cannot think how it was Darcy managed to convince you to marry him; he is such a dry, dull sort. You of course already know. But he seems to have chosen very well for himself.”
Elizabeth’s jaw dropped. Who was this woman who looked so much like Anne de Bourgh, but sounded and behaved nothing like her?
“You do not know what to make of me? Good. I like that.” Anne claimed the largest chair in the room and settled upon it like a throne.
“I am pleased you have found something here to your liking.” Elizabeth tried not to roll her eyes as she sat across from Anne. She probably ought to moderate her tone, too. A lady did not express irritation to her guests, even uninvited—and probably unwelcome—ones.
“Oh, do not be that way, Elizabeth. Pray do not. I cannot have done that much to offend you, not so soon in my stay.” She folded her hands before her chest so prim and proper.
“It does not seem you have gone out of your way to be agreeable either.” Gracious! That was curt. Elizabeth pinched her temples. Lydia had been equally trying, and she had managed to find the patience to deal with her. Surely she could do it now.
Anne laughed again, but without any trace of bitterness. “You are very direct—Darcy must have taught you that as no mother in England would ever permit her daughter to be so. You must wonder why I have come.”
“The thought did cross my mind.”
“Of course it did, with us showing up here with no warning, my mother shrieking like a banshee and demanding an audience with Darcy.”
“Oh you heard me correctly.” Anne smiled—no grinned—as though she was heartily enjoying Elizabeth’s discomfort. “I know well what my mother is like. I have lived with her all my life, well except for the last year in Bath at the seminary. Truly the best year I have ever spent. I cannot recommend it highly enough for any young woman.”
“You have been away at school? Did not Lady Catherine always decry sending young ladies away from home as irresponsible and unnecessary? Besides, I thought your health was too delicate to allow you to travel.”
“I heard that for years, until Mother decided that I needed polishing since Darcy did not ‘do his duty to the family’ and marry me. She thought somehow the experience would make me more agreeable to some gentlemen so that I might be a proper married woman and get an heir for Rosings Park.”
“I see. Is she as pleased as you are with the results?”
Anne chewed her cheek and flashed her eyebrows. “Mother is not well pleased. She is convinced that I am totally gone wild. And perhaps I have.”
At some point soon, she needed to ask the name of the establishment Anne attended. Under no circumstances would Georgiana—or any Darcy child—be permitted to set foot in the place.
“Upon further reflection though, I do not think it the case, as I have only just begun to express what I have always been.” Anne sniggered. “You find that shocking?”
“I am surprised to be sure. You have never taken the opportunity to speak to me in the past. I do not believe I have ever heard you put more than two sentences together at any one time.”
“Entirely true, right and fair. It was not until I went to Bath that I experienced the delight of actually being heard. You see at home, mother did all the talking—a very great deal of it, and insured that no one else was heard. After decades of that, can you blame me for giving up and not bothering?”
“I suppose not.” That was largely how she, Jane and Mary had coped with Lydia.
“I allowed her to find satisfaction in that way, I had mine in others. It is quite a delight to secretly vex her you know.” Anne leaned forward and dropped her voice to nearly a whisper. “To this day she believes that all my governesses were truly worthless wretches who taught me nothing. That I cannot sing or play or dance, much less speak on any matter.”
“I heard that often mentioned in after-dinner conversation.”
“I know. Have you forgotten, I was there as well? Are you surprised to learn, my mother is entirely wrong? I am actually very good at all those things and learned from all those dreadful women she employed to teach me. I just chose not to show any of them my accomplishments. Why should I if she would not give me the courtesy of hearing what I had to say? At the seminary in Bath though, it was quite a different story. I was quite the pet of the school, so accomplished was I, the star pupil for acquiring such a high level of proficiency so very quickly.” Anne clasped her hands before her and flashed a very false smile.
“So, why have you left school when you found it so very agreeable?”
“Mother of course. Well, she and the headmistress. They decided it was best that I should go after they learned that I had acquired suitors at the school.” Anne giggled behind her hand.
“Suitors?” Elizabeth gulped.
“Yes, three of them, in fact. More than any other girl at the school had. And mine were gentlemen, bona fide not just dandies playing at being gentlemen.”
“And were you able to confirm that these gentlemen were who they claimed to be?”
“They were known to one of my school chums. Moreover, they vouched for one another. I would think that they would have every reason to discredit one another, since they are all trying for the same prize.” She batted her eyes.
If she did that when her suitors were present, it was a wonder they persisted.
“Would your mother have approved any of these so-called gentlemen?”
“She never approves anything I want or like and never has. They would be no different, particularly since none of them would be apt to listen to her. She would have me marry some wealthy puppy who would kowtow to her just as she had me doing all my life. I have only just begun to live. Do you think I could possibly want to return to her complete control?” Anne’s voice rose to nearly a shriek.
“I do not imagine it would be appealing.”
“Hardly, hardly at all. And I will not do it. Not for her, not for anyone. She dragged us here because she hopes Darcy will bring me under ‘proper regulation’ as she calls it. But, I cannot imagine he will. He married you, after all, defying my mother entirely. If anything, I would think he would support me to do as he did. Perhaps, if you and Darcy supported me, then Mother would not be so set against me. I might continue to see my suitors and choose a husband for myself, without interference from her. Is that not what you both did? ”
“I suppose so, after a fashion. But Lady Catherine is not Darcy’s mother and my parents did not object to him. And, to be perfectly honest, my position was very different to your own. I did not bring an estate into our marriage as you will. I have seen what a foolish, spendthrift husband can do to a woman—a sister—and it is worse than you might imagine. I pray you do not make a foolish choice. You are far more vulnerable that you understand. Rich young ladies like you and Georgiana must be very careful and examine the character of any man who pays you attention. You are in a position to lose very much indeed.”
Anne rose and stamped her foot. “You sound just like my mother! I had thought you would be on my side, that you would help me!”
“I … we will, you can be sure of that. At the same time though, we do not want to see you hurt.”
“You do not want to see me happy!” Anne balled her fists and shook them at her sides. Lady Catherine had done that same thing when she had visited Elizabeth at Longbourn—was it only a little over a year ago?
“Of course we do, but happiness—”
“I do not need another lecture. I do not want to hear it, and I will not. I simply will not. I am tired and will go to my rooms now!” She tossed her head and marched out of the parlor.
Hopefully her chambers would be ready, or Mrs. Reynolds would be privy to a memorable temper tantrum.
Was this girl truly Anne de Bourgh? And if she was, what were they going to do with her?
Wasn’t that excerpt a great tease?
I am all anticipation about Maria Grace releasing TWO new Christmas stories!! What a great gift for JAFF readers this season!
Here’s a look inside of these three Christmas stories…
From Admiration to Love
After the debacle of the previous holiday season, Darcy and Elizabeth joyfully anticipate Christmastide 1813, Georgiana’s come out at Pemberley’s Twelfth Night Ball culminating the season. With months of planning behind the event, even Lady Matlock is satisfied and sends Colonel Fitzwilliam to represent the family, assuring there will be no repeat of the previous Christmastide.
On St. Nicholas’, Anne de Bourgh and Lady Catherine arrive on Pemberley’s doorstep—never a good sign—demanding sanctuary against the de Bourghs who (according the Lady Catherine) are trying to retake Rosings Park for their family with plans to seduce and marry Anne. Needless to say, Darcy and Fitzwilliam are skeptical.
Not long afterwards, three gentlemen suitors appear at Pemberley, hoping to court Anne and obliging Darcy to offer holiday hospitality. Anne adores the attention whilst Lady Catherine makes her displeasure know, throwing Pemberley into turmoil that threatens the Twelfth Night Ball. Can Darcy and Elizabeth, with a little help from Fitzwilliam, soothe Lady Catherine’s nerves, see Anne to a respectable match, and still salvage Georgiana’s come out?
It’s available on Amazon.
Jane Austen never wrote the details of Christmastide 1811. What might have happened during those intriguing months?
Following the Netherfield ball, Darcy persuades Bingley to leave Netherfield Park in favor of London to avoid the match-making machinations of Mrs. Bennet. Surely, the distractions of town will help Bingley forget the attractions of Miss Jane Bennet. But Bingley is not the only one who needs to forget. All Darcy wants this Christmastide is to forget another Miss Bennet.
Can the diversions of London help Darcy overcome memories of the fine eyes and pert opinions of a certain Hertfordshire miss?
Without the Bingleys, the Bennets are left to the company of Mr. Collins and the militia officers—entirely suitable company, according Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth disagrees, refusing an offer of marriage from the very eligible Mr. Collins. Mama’s nerves suffer horridly until Elizabeth follows her advice to make the most of the officers’ company.
Even Mr. Bennet seems to agree. So, whilst Jane pines for Bingley, Elizabeth admits the attentions of one agreeable Lt. Wickham. What possible harm can it cause, especially when her parents are so pleased?
You can buy this book on Amazon.
This is the book that launched this trilogy…
The Darcys’ First Christmas
Unexpected guests unsettle all her plans and offer her the perfect Christmastide gift, shattered confidence.
Can she and Darcy overcome their misunderstandings and salvage their first Christmastide together?
From the award-winning author of Given Good Principles, Remember the Past and Mistaking Her Character, Sweet Tea short stories offer the perfect bite to transport readers back to the Regency era for the first days of new love.
You can add this to your bookshelf on Amazon.
Meet Maria Grace
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.
She can be contacted at:
It’s Giveaway Time!
Maria Grace is offering a readers’ choice eBook of one of these books to one Just Jane 1813 reader. Please leave a comment on this post by midnight ET, December 14, 2017. The winner will be announced after this date on this blog.
Holiday JAFF is one of my favorite kinds, so I am thrilled to have two new holiday stories released by one of my must-read authors, Maria Grace! I hope readers get into the holiday spirit with a little holiday JAFF. I highly recommend it!!