Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday Tea and Tomes: A Jane Austen Christmas

Enjoy "A Jane Austen Christmas" with Regency flair: a yule log, mead and green tea punch

Christmas in the Regency period, before the Victorian era upped the ante on holiday falderal, still had much to offer with the search for the perfect yule log, creating and imbibing specialty  mead or champagne and green tea punch, and attending the numerous balls and parties of the season.

In "A Jane Austen Christmas" by Carlo Devito,  the author describes not only Regency holiday traditions that would have been enjoyed by the Austen family and their society, but also six influential Christmases in Jane Austen's life. Devito begins with Jane, in early adolescence, at her family home in Steventon, concluding with her final years, filled with prolific writing, at Chawton Cottage.

I enjoyed "A Jane Austen Christmas" not only for the interesting tidbits about my favorite author and the Regency era holiday customs, but also for allowing me to reminisce about other Austen-inspired writers we've had the pleasure to meet and the travels we've taken to residences where Jane would have spent many a Twelfth Night.

With Margaret Sullivan, author of the Jane Austen Handbook

A fun, fact-filled book, with a forward by Margaret Sullivan who wrote the Jane Austen Handbook, Devito crams his slightly less than 200 pages with accounts of Jane's family, travels and a regrettable 24-hour engagement of marriage. While citing many sources for these tales, including Margaret Sullivan and John Mullan (both of whom we met at the Jane Austen Festival), the only caution in reading this tiny tome is that it's filled with quotes rather than the voice of the author. So, if one approaches this book as compendium of assorted clippings tied together by subject and timeline, it's a very enjoyable read.

Rachel and John Mullan, author of "What Matters in Jane Austen"

Starting with the Christmas of 1786, when Jane was just eleven, the Austens host their cosmopolitan neice, Eliza de Feuillide, at their Steventon home. Eliza captivated not only the budding author, but two of her six brothers as well, and became the inspiration for the independent women of Jane's novels.

In Bath, across from the Pump Room and near the Jane Austen Center. Jane, by most accounts, was not a fan of Bath.

By  1802 (Christmas, Part Four), Jane is in Bath, living with her sister, Cassandra, and her parents. Although a somewhat dismal time for Jane -  staying in a city she did not like, compounded by the aftershock of an early December proposal of marriage, readily accepted and then as quickly rescinded -  she nonetheless mined much rich material for upcoming novels.

Chawton Cottage. Happier times for Jane

In 1815, Jane moves to Chawton with her mother and Cassandra and lives in a charming cottage, courtesy of her brother Edward. It's here that Jane finds the solace of the country once again and returns to penning more novels. That Christmas, "Emma" is published.  We're told Jane "busied herself with dispatching presentation sets of Emma to select friends and relations". (How I'd love to have been on her friends gift list!)

Rachel plays melodies on the piano forte at Chawton
At Jane's desk,  Chawton Cottage

"A Jane Austen Christmas" is really a book for any season and for all audiences, be they longtime Jane-ites or Jane-neophytes. I confess, the day after Christmas, I consumed this book as quickly as the two accompanying pots of tea I brewed, and found them equally delicious and satisfying. You may be inspired to fire up the yule log, grab your favorite Austen novel for an afternoon diversion and toast the new year with champagne and green tea punch!

Recommended tea pairing:  Christmas at Chawton (while supplies last!), Mr. Knightley's Reserve or Compassion for Mrs. Bennet's Nerves, part of the Jane Austen collection from Bingley's Teas.

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