I first discovered Jane when I was about twelve or thirteen years old, when I read Pride and Prejudice, and I was hooked. I fell in love with her humour, her characters and her world. I quickly went on to read her other novels and I adored her insights, which I often find myself quoting in daily life: “A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer”; “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other” and “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid” are particular favourites of mine.
This love of all things Jane led me to writing a series of diaries which look at the novels from the heroes’ points of view, the most famous of which is Mr Darcy’s Diary. This in turn led to my editor asking me if I would write a a novella about Mr Darcy for an anthology of Christmas stories called A Darcy Christmas. As I love both Christmas and Mr Darcy I was happy to oblige!
It was important to me that I created the right Regency atmosphere and so I did what I always do: I turned to Jane Austen.
Out came a book of her letters, and I read them again with the virtuous feeling that this was not pleasure, this was research. Out, too, came all of her novels, and I read the Christmas passages again, to remind myself of the customs that Jane herself enjoyed. I had already included Christmas scenes in Mr Darcy’s Diary and Mr Knightley’s Diary, but this was to be something different, a story set entirely at Christmas.
I chose all my favourite features and included them in my novella: a large family gathering, with plenty of quarrels and misunderstandings as well as more harmonious moments; a Christmas Eve ball, with dancing and cards and of course a hearty supper; a roaring fire to keep out the cold; greenery brought into the house for decoration; cakes and puddings and other good things to eat; the giving of gifts (though not necessarily on Christmas Day) and plenty of snow:
As the days passed, the house began to take on a festive air. Greenery was brought in from the gardens to decorate the house, with holly, ivy and mistletoe adorning the pictures or threading its way through the banisters. Rich smells wafted up from the kitchens, and the scent of winter spices and fruit cakes filled the air. Kitty and Maria could be heard giggling as they hastily hid half-wrapped presents whenever anyone unexpectedly entered their rooms, whilst Mary began making Christmas extracts.
But as well as atmosphere, something had to happen, and I knew at once what it would be. At the end of Mr Darcy’s Diary, Elizabeth was expecting a child, and the child would arrive the following December. I also knew that Jane would have just given birth to a little boy. So I decided to send Elizabeth and Darcy on a visit to Jane and Bingley, and have a novella about a family Christmas with the Bennets, the Darcys and the Bingleys all together. And then, because I couldn’t resist, I made Lady Catherine and Mr Collins arrive unexpectedly, having been prevented from reaching their intended destination by heavy snow.
Snow made me think of Emma and the wonderful scene where Mr Elton proposes to Emma. I didn’t put a proposal into A Darcy Christmas, but I did put in a delicious misunderstanding. Poor Mrs Bennet, to be so deceived!
There are arguments and misunderstandings aplenty, but the end of the story brings a perfect moment for Elizabeth and Darcy, and not even Mary playing ponderous carols in the background can spoil it.
I hope you will enjoy this look at one particular Austenesque Christmas, and that your stocking will be full of all things Jane.
Amanda Grange is the author of more than twenty Regency stories, including the acclaimed Mr. Darcy’s Diary and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. Her latest Austen inspired short story, Christmas Present, can be found in A Darcy Christmas, A Holiday Tribute to Jane Austen.
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