I’m thrilled to welcome Victoria Kincaid back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of her newest novel, A Very Darcy Christmas. I had the pleasure of editing this delightful book, and I must tell you that it is both hilarious and sweet — and a perfect book to help you relax during the holiday season. Oh, how I loved the chaos at every turn, and I even fell a little bit in love with Colonel Fitzwilliam!
Here’s the book blurb to whet your appetite:
Elizabeth and Darcy are preparing for their first Christmas at Pemberley when they are suddenly deluged by a flood of uninvited guests. Mrs. Bennet is seeking refuge from the French invasion she believes to be imminent. Lady Catherine brings two suitors for Georgiana’s hand, who cause a bit of mayhem themselves. Lydia’s presence causes bickering—and a couple of small fires—while Wickham has more nefarious plans in mind….The abundance of guests soon puts a strain on her marriage as Elizabeth tries to manage the chaos while ensuring a happy Christmas for all.
Meanwhile, Georgiana is finding her suitors—and the prospect of coming out—to be very unappealing. Colonel Fitzwilliam seems to be the only person who understands her fondness for riding astride and shooting pistols. Georgiana realizes she’s beginning to have more than cousinly feelings for him, but does he return them? And what kind of secrets is he hiding?
Romance and merriment abound as everyone gathers to celebrate a Very Darcy Christmas.
Now, please give a warm welcome to Victoria Kincaid, who is here to talk about mistletoe and kissing in Regency England:
When writing A Very Darcy Christmas, I did quite a bit of research on Regency Christmas traditions. It was very interesting to see which of our customs they followed. They did not have Christmas trees, send Christmas cards, or give presents (except to children or charity to the poor). However, the Christmas season, which lasted from early December until January 6, was a time for visiting, parties and balls, games, and eating good food. One familiar tradition they did observe was decorating their houses with pine, holly, and other greenery—including mistletoe.
Mistletoe grows mostly in west and southwest Britain, but families in other parts of the country might have relatives send sprigs through the mail. A mistletoe berry was plucked each time a kiss was claimed and when the berries ran out, the kissing was over. Regency households also put up “kissing boughs,” hanging arrangements of evergreens, apples, oranges, ribbons, paper flowers, spices, or even dolls representing Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.
I found the mistletoe tradition to be an intriguing contradiction with other Regency customs. After all, this was the time period where a girl’s virtue could be compromised by being alone with a man and during which any contact between unmarried people of the opposite sex was strictly chaperoned. Why would they hang greenery that not only gave license for unauthorized and potentially scandalous kisses, but actually encouraged it?
I don’t pretend to be an expert, and I’m sure there are many explanations; but one answer to question may be that the Christmas season was a time when traditional customs and mores were loosened and the intermingling of the sexes was encouraged. All of the visiting and game playing encouraged socialization among unmarried men and women—and courtships and marriages often took place during the season. There were even games that would assign a man and woman to be “partners” for the evening.
The tradition of kissing boughs seems to be of a piece with these customs. Mistletoe gave couples permission to indulge in a “forbidden” behavior or gave a man an opportunity to display affection for a woman without having to make an outright declaration. In an era where anything resembling dating was forbidden, I can imagine that that such opportunities were valuable.
In any case, I found the presence of mistletoe and kissing boughs to be a useful plot device in A Very Darcy Christmas. However, in the book Georgiana occasionally has the same thoughts that I had: “If they do not wish me to kiss anyone, why did they hang up so much mistletoe?”
An excerpt from A Very Darcy Christmas, courtesy of Victoria Kincaid
“Mrs. Darcy, there are people downstairs in the entrance hall who say they are your parents.”
Disdain dripped off every syllable Giles uttered. Elizabeth pretended not to notice. Every day Pemberley’s butler demonstrated that he did not approve of the upstart country lass his master had married. In the months since William had brought her home as his bride, Giles’s friendliest tone of voice could be described as frosty. On the other hand, Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, and the majority of the other staff had been most welcoming.
Elizabeth rushed to her feet. Her parents should be safely ensconced at Longbourn for the Christmas season. What could have brought them to Pemberley unannounced?
She hurried from her sitting room and followed Giles down the grand front staircase, her heart contracting with every step as she imagined what kinds of evil might have befallen her family. Her mother and father were indeed standing in the hall.
Their rumpled, travel-worn attire contrasted noticeably with the grandeur of the room. The inhabitants of Pemberley called it the marble hall because of the black and white marble squares covering the floor as well as the classical statues set in niches along the walls.
It was an impressive room, meant to stir amazement in Pemberley’s newly arrived visitors, and from the expressions on her parents’ faces, it was having the desired effect. Elizabeth had been duly impressed when she had first arrived at Pemberley, but now the room reminded her of a mausoleum, grand and cold and forbidding. She and Mrs. Reynolds had recently finished decorating the room with holly, evergreen boughs, ivy, and mistletoe for the yuletide season. The greens softened the room’s sharp edges, but it was only slightly more welcoming.
Her father’s careworn face relaxed into a smile when he saw her as if her presence made the unfamiliar surroundings more bearable. He does not seem overly alarmed; perhaps the situation is not dire. However, the moment her mother noticed Elizabeth, she commenced fluttering her hands and breathing rapidly as if she had experienced a terrible shock.
In other words, everything was quite normal.
Before Elizabeth could open her mouth, her mother launched into a torrent of complaints. “Oh, my dearest Lizzy! You do not know how we have suffered. The ruts in the road and the quality of the coaching inns! And there was a most disturbing odor in Lambton when we traveled through.”
Standing by the ornately carved front door, Giles watched this performance with a pinched mouth and lifted chin that left no doubt as to his opinion of the Bennets.
The best Elizabeth could do was to treat her mother’s shrieking as if she spoke in a normal conversational tone. She embraced both of her parents. “This is a surprise! I did not expect to see you so soon. Is something wrong?” She searched their faces for signs of agitation. Had something happened to one of her sisters?
“Everything is well,” her father assured her.
Mrs. Bennet gaped at her husband. “How can you say that, Mr. Bennet, when we have heard the most frightful news imaginable?”
Fear gripped Elizabeth’s chest. “What has happened?”
Her mother drew herself up to her full height. “Meryton is about to be invaded!”
Her mother’s head nodded vigorously. “Mrs. Long was the first one to rouse my suspicions.” Now she lowered her voice. “There have been a great many strange men visiting Meryton—speaking in French accents!”
Mr. Bennet rolled his eyes. “Fanny, I explained that both of the men are laborers from Ireland. They speak with Irish accents.”
Mrs. Bennet put her hands on her hips. “And how would you know a French accent from an Irish one? Mrs. Long met a Frenchman when she was one and twenty. She knows how they sound!”
“Mama—” Elizabeth began.
“But that is not all,” her mother continued. “Colonel Forster’s regiment had been wintering over in Meryton as before, but then they decamped suddenly. Called away, just like that! I wager they are in Brighton at this moment, preparing to fend off a ferocious French assault.”
Elizabeth bit her lip to stifle a smile. “I have read nothing to suggest that in the papers.”
“Of course not!” Mrs. Bennet waved her handkerchief dramatically. “The authorities do not wish to stir up alarm. But why else would they have called the regiment away?”
“There was political unrest in the North,” Mr. Bennet murmured.
“Mrs. Long does not believe it,” Mrs. Bennet said with a dismissive nod. “And what is more, Mr. Long does not believe it. He was in the militia for a year in his youth and said such orders were highly irregular.
“Fanny—” Mr. Bennet started.
Her words continued unchecked. “An invasion is imminent. Nothing you may say can convince me otherwise.” She folded her arms across her chest.
Elizabeth feared this was the truest statement her mother had uttered since arriving.
Mrs. Bennet continued without even taking a breath. “And, of course, Meryton will be one of the French army’s first targets.”
“Before London?” Elizabeth asked.
“Well, London will be well-defended. Meryton no longer even boasts a militia!” Mrs. Bennet flicked open her fan and vigorously fanned her face. “Mary and Kitty refused to leave Hertfordshire. Even Jane would not listen. But I told your father I was coming to Pemberley. Since it is so much further north, we have much less of a chance of being slaughtered in our beds.” She folded her fan again. “How very clever of you to catch the eye of a northern man.”
Having never considered this a feature of her marriage to William, Elizabeth did not respond.
“I pray you let us stay here for a while. What say you, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth gave her father a helpless look, not knowing where to start unraveling her mother’s convoluted reasoning. Mr. Bennet offered her a defeated shrug. Apparently he had given up on reasoning with his wife.
Well, she could hardly turn away her own parents. Perhaps she could talk sense into her mother during her visit. “Yes, of course, Mama. I am very pleased to see you both!” She smiled at them. “Welcome to Pemberley.”
Her father gave her a rather sad smile, but her mother grunted in response. “Now, if you will have them show me to my room. I am greatly fatigued by all this travel!” Now that their immediate fate had been settled, Mrs. Bennet eyed the hall critically. “Oh, Lizzy!” Her hand flew to her mouth. “You have hung greens already!”
“They make the house more festive,” Elizabeth replied.
“But it is bad luck to hang greens before Christmas Eve!” Her mother’s eyes were round with concern.
“Just a superstition—” her father interjected.
“No, it is not!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed, wringing her hands. “Mrs. Taylor hung her greens early one year, and the very next day their chickens refused to lay a single egg! She never made that mistake again, I will tell you.” She pointed an accusatory finger at Elizabeth. “You have practically begged the French to invade.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I like the greens.”
Mrs. Bennet’s hands fluttered. “Well, don’t blame me when the French invade. I warned you!”
“I promise not to blame you, Mama, if the French invade.” Elizabeth gestured to the butler. Perhaps her mother would be more rational after she rested and freshened up. One could only hope. “Giles, I think we can put my parents in the red bedchamber.”
Giles’s expression could not possibly have been haughtier, but he gave a slight bow and left to summon a maid. As the maid led Mrs. Bennet up the stairs, the older woman warned the wide-eyed girl about the imminent French invasion. Elizabeth and her father fell behind, staying out of earshot.
“I apologize, Lizzy,” he said. “Trying to stop her was like trying to halt a runaway carriage. When she declared her intention to visit Pemberley with or without me, I thought my presence might mitigate the damage.”
Elizabeth took her father’s arm. “I am very pleased to see you both, Papa. And it will provide an opportunity to show you Pemberley.”
He smiled gently. “I must confess, that is something I am anticipating with pleasure. What I have seen so far is quite grand.”
Victoria is generously offering a copy of A Very Darcy Christmas in a reader’s choice (print or ebook) giveaway, open internationally! To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will close on Thursday, December 8, 2016. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!