A Regency Christmas with Anne de Bourgh + Excerpt from “A Gentle Touch” by Corrie Garrett

A Regency Christmas with Anne de Bourgh + Excerpt from “A Gentle Touch” by Corrie Garrett

Regency Christmases

A difficult thing about writing Regency Christmas scenes or stories is that Christmas was celebrated quite differently then! There were few Christmas trees (they were popularized in England a little later, by German Prince Albert), no emphasis on family (usually upper-class children were relegated to the nursery), and no extravagant presents. Often there were winter visits or house parties, but again, rarely children, which seems strange to me! Anyway, we Regency authors must make do with what we are given and even at times–well, we are writing fiction!–we just compromise. For me that means: Presents! Children! Family!

(To be clear – I am NOT criticizing any way that regency authors want to write about Christmas–I love all Christmas romances! It’s just an interesting writing exercise to decide what to include or not.)

Austism and Gifts
Christmas decorations

In my book A Gentle Touch, which is about Anne de Bourgh (and also Elizabeth Bennet and Georgiana Darcy, of course) I wanted gift-giving to be a turning point for Anne. In my version of the story, she is on the autism spectrum and struggles to have friendships and understand others’ emotions. With Lady Catherine, there was never opportunity or encouragement for Anne to learn kindness and empathy and generosity, but with James, she begins to learn. She gets into the habit of asking him her questions about human behavior, and as he unofficially mentors her into healthy adult relationships, their own love story grows quietly and gently.

Throughout the Christmas season she has some successes and some failures in relationships, but she succeeds the best when she isn’t just “pretending to be normal” but is able to use her acute observation of people and her desire to show affection. She is learning to know her husband and step-son, and though reaching out to others doesn’t come naturally or easily, it is heartfelt and appreciated.

Merry Christmas to all!

Excerpt from Chapter 13 of A Gentle Touch

The pompous and critical Lady Jane was a difficulty for Anne. She seemed to have decided that Anne was her dearest friend. She sat with Anne in the parlor, walked out next to her when the group took a turn in the Pemberley wood, and even rode next to her when Darcy provided carriages to take everyone to church on Christmas morn.

The woman did not like Lizzy, that was clear and she bemoaned Georgiana’s low engagement, which Anne could not help agreeing with to some extent. Lady Jane did not invariably speak ill of either lady, but still Anne did not enjoy her company or her comments.

At breakfast, it was, “The new Mrs. Darcy ran downstairs barefoot, I saw it myself.”Regency Christmas novel "A Gentle Touch" - Anne de Bourgh falls in love

At church, she whispered, “John’s family is no doubt pious, but everyone knows that is another word for bourgeois. Probably an odious middle-class family that will forever be pushing into Darcy’s circle.”

After church, she grumbled, “Do you dislike Christmas services as much as I? Shall we be expected at evensong as well?”

Since it was Christmas Day, Anne’s little step-son Barney joined them both for the service and the meal, and Lady Jane did not take much notice of him until he was nearly underfoot as they disembarked from the carriage.

“Careful of your elders,” she commanded. “My own boys always allow the adults to exit first.”

“Your boys?” Barney asked.

“Yes,” she said, with careless pride. “I have three sons at home; the youngest is your age.”

“I wish you’d brought them!” he exclaimed.

She laughed in a way that made Barney hunch his little shoulders. “They’re better off at home; they need to make strides with their tutor during the short break.”

This disappointed Barney but he plucked up for the extensive Christmas luncheon Lizzy provide. “Plum pudding!” he exclaimed at dessert.

“Why, yes!” Lizzy said. “It does not rightly seem like Christmas without it.”

The adults exchanged presents in the afternoon. Most of the couples exchanged small mundane items. John gave Georgiana a book of sheet music, which made her quite happy. Lizzy gave Darcy an embroidered handkerchief, and he her, a tortoiseshell comb.

Anne presented one gift to her husband, James, and another to Barney. She’d found she rather liked selecting presents; finally a use of money she could enjoy despite her ill-health. James’s gift was ensconced in a small wooden case, which he opened gingerly. Inside was a glass tube with a small, finely wrought apparatus on the bottom. The whole was filled with a silvery liquid.

“What is it?” Barney asked. “A thermometer?”

“No, better, a mercury barometer!” James exclaimed. He held it up and examined the atmospheric markings, showing Barney how it worked and tipping the tube so that the viscous mercury slid about like living silver. “You see, they have discovered that the weight of the atmosphere varies and can be measured with these instruments. Some are studying how the weather can be predicted by observing a barometer and the variability of wind and temperature. I suspect someday we shall predict storms that are weeks away.”

Anne dipped her head, smiling. “Your mother said you do not need one; that Old Joseph’s bones tell of coming storms in plenty of time, but I thought you would enjoy it. You were talking to me of those experiments about atmospheric pressure and evaporation.”

“You were very right! Only now I feel guilty that I bored on about that when you were clearly listening. My mother knows she may think on other things when I become loquacious.” He squeezed her hand. “Very thoughtful, thank you.”

Barney’s present was in a cotton bag, and he quickly loosed the slip cord and opened it.

“It is another dissected map,” Anne explained. “This one is the continent of Europe and it was mine as a child. I hope you will like it.”

Barney pulled out a piece that was mostly deep blue with a gilt border running through. “I like the colors.”

“It was hand-painted in Paris.”

“Will you complete it with me? The first time?”

“Oh. Of course, if you like.” Anne felt warm and full, and not merely from the meal. She was not used to people desiring her company or help.

James’s present to her was a silver locket of the sort that could hold a lock of hair.

“Thank you,” Anne said. She used her fingernail to click it open, but it was empty.

“You don’t need my hair,” James explained, rubbing his sandy hair on his round head. “Always seemed a daft notion to me—getting hair off people you see every day, when you can just as soon touch the real thing.” He brushed his fingers against her hair. “But I thought you might ask Lady Catherine for a lock. I know women miss their mothers, and it would be a nice thing for you. My late wife had one for her mother, wore it often.”

Anne’s lips parted. But you don’t like my mother, she nearly said. But that did not matter to him, did it? He had thought of what Anne might value, as he always did. “Thank you. That is an excellent idea.”

Barney was soon taken back upstairs by Nurse, with promises that he should enjoy some playmates on the morrow when Georgiana’s new family arrived.

James left to show off his new instrument to Colonel Fitzwilliam, who seemed to have more interest in such things than the other gentlemen. Lady Jane soon joined Anne.

“Mrs. Darcy kissed her husband just now—Twice! Shameless! Before us all!” Lady Jane shook her head. “Tomorrow shall bring worse, I am sure.”

“I doubt she will kiss the Turners,” Anne replied dryly.

Lady Jane trilled a laugh. “You are too comical.”

Anne felt she ought to like Lady Jane, since Lady Jane seemed to like her, but it was difficult.

When James escorted Anne up the grand staircase later that night, but before the rest of the party retired, she asked him, “Why do we like some people and not others? Assuming neither has done us wrong?”

“Don’t know that I have adequate philosophy for that one. Or perhaps that would be anthropology—study of man, eh?”

“But you… you understand people better than I.”

“Hm. Name a soul and I’ll give you my honest opinion of them, but natural law isn’t in my line of study.”

“I don’t know if I ought, but… the person is Lady Jane. I cannot be comfortable with her.”

“’Course not,” James said at once. “I wouldn’t like you so well if you could cozy up to that vindictive viper. Her husband is the same; not sure who infected whom, but they are two of a kind. I haven’t heard either utter a word that wasn’t better left unsaid since we arrived. You know the adage, ‘If you cannot improve the silence, do not break it…’ Well, they do not.”

“Her comments are rather critical.”

“Exactly. Slaughtering cattle is far easier than raising them.”

“Sorry?”

“Farming metaphor; never mind. In my opinion, there are two courses with such people, either avoid them—that is generally my choice—or answer with such unrelieved cheeriness and stupidity that they avoid you.”

Anne smiled. “You might do that, but I do not know that I could.”

“Try it then. Experimentation is not just for strains of beets and barometric devices, you know. There is nothing to say you cannot try an experiment with a person such as her. In fact, house parties such as this are the perfect occasion.” Anne saw that he wanted to make her laugh, for he grew more ridiculous. “I’ll show you how it’s done. Perhaps I shall answer with a color every time Lady Jane’s husband makes a snide criticism. Umber. Saffron. Crimson. He already thinks me a halfwit.”

Anne shook her head, though her smile grew. “You would sound mad.”

“No, I should couch it in such terms as to put him in no doubt of my agreement. ‘Crimson, sir, I concur!’ ‘Yes, saffron to the nth degree.’ ‘Fine umber for a Darcy!’” James waggled his eyebrows meaningfully.

Finally, Anne laughed. “This is absurd.”

“Yes, but a little absurdity is the spice of life.”

“I do not think many would agree.”

James had reached her door and entered with her. “Good night again, m’dear. I hope you have absurd dreams.” He kissed her cheek and used the connecting door to his own room.

***

I hope you all have a lovely Christmas week (or early Hannukah!) enjoying whatever decorations and traditions you love, even if they are very quiet.

Corrie

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9 COMMENTS
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Glynis
Glynis
December 28, 2021 2:21 PM

I definitely like Anne in this excerpt, Lady Jane on the other hand, not so much! What a spiteful person she is. I do hope Anne can follow James’ advice.
I hope you are enjoying the festive season.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
December 26, 2021 9:00 PM

That was pure amber, my dear. LOL! I will have to try that sometime. HA! This was such a cute excerpt. I like the child Barney and his interactions with Anne. I am in agreement that I don’t care for Lady Jane either. Nope, not one bit. Thanks for sharing this excerpt. Blessings, and have a Happy New Year.

Mirta Ines Trupp
AuAu
December 26, 2021 2:57 PM

Loved the excerpt. I like this Anne!

DarcyBennett
DarcyBennett
December 24, 2021 9:25 AM

Enjoyed the excerpt. Glad that Anne finds love in this book.

Linda A.
Linda A.
December 23, 2021 5:33 PM

That was a fun excerpt. Thank you for sharing! Enjoy the holidays.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
December 23, 2021 6:43 AM

Great excerpt! Merry Christmas!

Linny B
Linny B
December 23, 2021 2:26 AM

Merry Christmas! Thank you for lovely excerpt. Wishing everyone a joyous holiday!

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