Winners — Passages by Brenda Webb

Passages - book coverThe randomly-selected winners of an e-copy of Passages are:

Anji

and

Daniela Quadros.

I’m sorry that everybody could not win, but Congratulations to the winners! I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

I’ll be sending your details to Brenda this afternoon. If you don’t hear from her in the next few days please get back to me.

Many thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway, and better luck next time.

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Passages by Brenda J. Webb: Excerpt, review, and giveaway!

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Author Brenda J. Webb

Sometime last year when I was seriously getting into published JAFF (as opposed to fan fiction sites) I won a contest and received paperback copies of the first FOUR of Brenda Webb’s books. I was hooked! They were unlike most of the other JAFF I had been reading: Aside from being much lengthier and better-constructed than many JAFFs, they were non-canon and took our dear characters into exciting and formerly uncharted directions. They all share certain characteristics: Darcy is invariably portrayed as even more honourable, protective, and courageous when it comes to his loved ones, especially Elizabeth, so the reader ends up falling in love with him all over again. Brenda’s villains – including Wickham – are not just bad news but nefariously and fiendishly evil. I don’t know how she keeps coming up with these scenarios, but I certainly hope she continues to do so. Her stories are also appealing in that they allot plenty of face time to my favourite secondary JA character, the redoubtable Colonel Fitzwilliam, who I also end up loving even more by each book’s end.

Not to mention that there is always a happy ending for Darcy and Elizabeth, whilst the other characters get their happy endings or just deserts as they are merited.

Passages - book cover
Buy at amazon.com

Passages does not fail on any of these counts, and I’m delighted that Brenda was kind enough to provide an intriguing excerpt, and is also offering two (2) e-book copies to two lucky Every Savage Can Dance readers!

Blurbing the book:

Passages – A Pemberley Tale is a Pride and Prejudice variation. Not a simple retelling, it is an intriguing new story that does not follow canon.

Years after her ruin at the hands of George Wickham, Georgiana Darcy is a virtual prisoner at Pemberley as a result of her brother’s good intentions. Drastic changes have taken their toll, leaving brother and sister adrift from polite society.

Faithful to his vow to prevent further harm to his sister, Fitzwilliam Darcy has retreated from the few friends and acquaintances who still acknowledge him. Lonelier than ever, Darcy’s life is swallowed up by darkness until the day a young woman is discovered close to death on the estate grounds.

Unaware of her identity, Elizabeth Bennet finds herself the recipient of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s benevolence whilst she recovers from her own encounter with Wickham. Elizabeth’s presence breathes life back into Pemberley and its occupants, until Wickham returns with a nefarious plan to regain control of both Elizabeth and Georgiana.

Will Elizabeth fulfil her destiny and rescue Darcy from a desolate life or will the mystery of her parentage take her in another direction, leaving him alone once more?

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The excerpt:

After the last of the guests had departed, Richard walked his stoic cousin to the portico to await his carriage. Knowing her brother was leaving for Pemberley the next day, Georgiana had already said her  goodbyes and returned to her bedroom, allowing Richard and William some privacy. All too soon, the carriage pulled to a stop at the bottom of the steps, and they walked towards the pavement.

“I apologise for leaving you with the vultures circling. Mother and Georgiana insisted I meet Mrs. Forrester’s son, who recently enlisted in the army. I would never have left you, however, had you not been surrounded by your university cronies.”

“I have to admit it was good to see Sanderson, Goddard and Marshall once more. Marshall and I were never close friends, but he wanted me to know he supported me, which was extremely kind.”

“So you had a pleasant evening, in spite of the . . . how shall I put it . . . the adoration of the ladies?”

The corners of William’s mouth lifted. “With your help, most of the evening was tolerable.”

Recalling of the number of ladies introduced to Darcy after he returned to the ball, Richard’s thoughts flew to his mother. She had tried; he would give her that. Single-handedly, she had introduced Darcy to a dozen women, some quite lovely, though none had succeeded in getting more than a few words from him.

“Please stay in Town a while longer,” he said at last.

“I . . . I cannot. Pemberley calls.”

“I do not think it a good idea for you to go there now. With Georgiana and Belle here, you are sure to be even lonelier than before.”

William stopped staring into the night sky and turned to grasp his cousin’s shoulder. “I appreciate your concern, Richard. You are a true friend and brother, but I have matters to attend at home. All will be well, and I will write often. If you are in the area, you can always stop in to cheer me.”

Richard locked eyes with William. “You cannot fool me, Cousin. You miss her terribly.”

Gazing into the distance as if seeing his future, William replied, “I cannot lay it down, Richard. No matter where I am, she is with me. Still, I have no alternative. I cannot sit around wishing for things to change, and I am no longer certain that Elizabeth will return.”

A heavy sigh brought Richard’s arm around his shoulder. “She will come back to you, Darcy; of that I am certain. Wait for her here.”

“I cannot,” William said softly. Climbing into his carriage, he closed the door and leaned out the open window. “I will be well. Please try not to worry.”

Unable to shake the feeling of helplessness that engulfed him, Richard watched until the carriage disappeared into the darkness.

But I shall always worry about you, Darcy.  

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And now for my review:

In order to protect his sister, and himself, from further harm at the hands of “society,” Mr Darcy and his sister live a half-life hidden away at Pemberley. Then one rainy night, Darcy is out riding on his estate and comes across a severely injured young woman. As she is unable to remember who she is or why she is at Pemberley much less in such a state, Darcy does not expect her to completely change his life and Georgiana’s. Yet little by little she does just that, as well as changing the direction of her own future.

Elizabeth Bennet has been living a miserable life of her own at the hands of her mother, who is not merely ridiculous but a hateful harridan who has been taking out all of her frustrations and resentments on Elizabeth since she was a child … resentments related to the question of who is Elizabeth’s real father.

As Darcy and Elizabeth slowly fall in love with each other, each must overcome their own issues, shed their previous misery, and accept that they are worthy of love and happiness, in order to freely give and accept that love … and to build a future together. In doing so, they also lead family members to find and accept their own happy futures.

The path to happily ever after is not easy, and is beset with villainy of the most horrendous kind. And a good helping of admirable characters. This book, like Brenda’s other stories, is a gripping and magnificent ride that takes the reader from the depths of appalling criminality to the uncertainty of hope to the joys of true and tender love.

Be advised that there are some scenes of marital intimacy altho’ nothing explicit or pornographic.

What I liked most:

Darcy’s tenderness towards the unknown young woman he rescues.

Elizabeth’s courage rising as she faces a pair of fiends to learn the truth of her parentage.

Darcy’s skill at the pianoforte. Who knew?

How frighteningly well the villains are drawn.

How delightfully Georgiana, and the Colonel, eventually find their own paths to joy.

Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding. Unique in JAFF as far as I know!

What I liked least:

I’ve known this point in the review was coming up and I’ve been racking my brain to find something I didn’t care for, but all I could come up with is: The book ended. I could have read on for another couple hundred pages!

In short:

Unless you’re a canon purist, you’ll love this book. If you enjoy a well-written, well-edited and exciting story featuring characters we all know and love, you’ll love this book.

I give it gold-stars-5

The giveaway:

Comment on this blog post by clicking Comments above. Two winners will be chosen at random this Friday, May 19th at 12noon. Giveaway is open internationally. Good luck!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome. (Even if you don’t want to enter the giveaway.)

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desp-hearts-coverAnd … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here.

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Two sleep nights

DH and I have recently been caring for a couple of aging pets. We’d wake up in the middle of the night, either of our own accord or because some particular noise alerted us to see if either of them needed something in the night. After tending to whatever needed tending, we would go back to bed, on good nights falling asleep straight away but just as often struggling to return to our slumbers.

On those long white nights, and the following mornings when I could barely drag myself around the house, I was reminded of a custom I learned about several years ago and that has ever since fascinated me: the practice of two sleeps. And decided to go with it instead of fighting it.

two-sleeps 8 hour sleepHumans did not always spend eight (or so) hours at one stretch sleeping through the night. From ancient times our ancestors would sleep for four or five hours, wake up, spend anywhere from two to four hours in various activities, and then return to dreamland until sunrise. It was the common practice, and it lasted until about the end of the nineteenth century. So altho’ not a uniquely Regency-era practice, people certainly would have been two-sleeping during Jane Austen’s lifetime.

After waking from the first sleep, people engaged in numerous activities. These included feeding babies or the sick of the household; tending fires that would otherwise extinguish themselves during the night; checking on the welfare of farm animals to ensure they were not being set upon by predators or thieves. Many people spent the time reading or praying, and in fact there were specific prayers for this time of night. Family members might find this a convenient time for chatting with each other, while husbands and wives often engaged in sexual relations. Physicians recommended having sex after the first sleep as both parties were generally more relaxed and it was likelier to result in conception.

two-sleeps cartoon woman asleep at nightAs the practice of two sleeps was so common, visits were often made to equally wakeful neighbours. Socializing also served to remind potential nighttime thieves that their intended targets were awake and alert.

Two-sleeping faded in popularity with the advent of electricity; specifically indoor lights and outdoor street lamps. With more light available, people extended their daytime activities to the nights, and began to go to sleep later, leaving too little time for two sleeps and a wakeful period in-between. Thus our current practice of getting (or trying to get!) eight consecutive hours of sleep each night developed.

While we lost one of our pets recently – cancer ultimately claimed our beloved dog Rufus – we still tend to our elderly kitty Shana when she requires attention during the night, as well as to any other critters who might be temporarily indisposed. We two-slept for most of last weekend, for example, when our kitty Spunky chewed up a silk flower and spent the better part of the next two days puking it up at all hours. (Yes, we took him to the vet and he’s just fine now.)

two-sleeps cat and dogNext time you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, don’t panic or think that you absolutely must get back to sleep right away. Take a cue from our ancestors and stay awake for a while – productively awake, that is, by engaging in one or more of the activities enumerated above, or perhaps by sketching out your next storyline or book review. Or jot down any part of your dreams that you can recall. Or catch up on your reading. In fact, this is often the time when I get most of my own reading done!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome.

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. A perfect read for your two-sleep night’s awake hours!desp-hearts-cover

 

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Perception & Illusion, a Regency romance by Catherine Kullmann — review and excerpt

One of the great pleasures of reading JAFF is that I have also discovered Regency-era romance fiction. In fact I just finished reading a book in this genre: Perception & Illusion by Catherine Kullmann. Today I have not only a review for you but an excerpt as well … and a couple of extra treats.

Blurbing the book:

catherine-kullman

Cast out by her father for refusing the suitor of his choice, Lallie Grey accepts Hugo Tamrisk’s proposal, confident that he loves her as she loves him. But Hugo’s past throws long shadows as does his recent liaison with Sabina Albright. All too soon, Lallie must question Hugo’s reasons for marriage and wonder what he really wants of his bride.

Perception & Illusion charts Lallie’s and Hugo’s voyage through a sea of confusion and misunderstanding. Can they successfully negotiate the Rocks of Jealousy and the Shoals of Perplexity to arrive at the Bay of Delight or will they drift inexorably towards Cat & Dog Harbour or the Dead Lake of Indifference?

Catherine Kullmann’s skillful evocation of the Regency period rings true, as do her protagonists’ predicaments. It is a joy to step into this other world with her.

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Buy at amazon.com

The excerpt:

 

Perception & Illusion by Catherine Kullmann

Chapter One

The Great Ocean of Love represents a period of life that all persons are supposed at some time or another to pass.

Lallie knew the instant she set foot in the house that her father was making one of his rare visits to Alwood. It was difficult to define what had changed. The house was quieter, almost unnaturally so and the atmosphere was charged with a peculiar tension.

“Excuse me, Miss Grey.”

John, their only footman, noiselessly closed the door to the servants’ quarters and carefully steadied a tray of decanters and glasses before carrying it to the library. He wore his best livery. Balancing the tray on one hand, he slowly turned the door knob so that it didn’t squeak. Everyone knew that Mr Grey would not tolerate anything less than perfection and more than one servant had been turned off immediately for failing to meet his standards. It was as if he needed to assert his position as head of the household, despite the fact that he was the most distant of husbands and fathers, Lallie reflected as she hurried to the schoolroom. Her stepmother was not inclined to stand on ceremony at home, but her father would expect his younger children to make a formal visit to the drawing-room before dinner.

Her half-brother James, who was entertaining his younger sisters with stories of his prowess at cricket during the recent summer half, stood awkwardly at her entrance. He had shot up since they had last seen him and was not yet comfortable in this new body. “Lallie,” he reddened at his new deep tone, “will you help me later with my neckcloth? You know how my father is.” She smiled warmly at him. “Of course I will. Beatrice and Eleanor, come with me now, if you please. Once you are ready, you may sit quietly in my room while I change my gown. I’ll come to you then, James and we may all go down together.”

Robert Grey was a slim gentleman of medium height, his clothes the epitome of restrained perfection. His curly fair hair was clipped close and brushed forward a la Caesar, a modish style that suggested a nimbus of laurel leaves crowning his high forehead. The head so embellished was habitually cocked a little to one side while the faint curve to his lips spoke of a jest that only he could appreciate.

“Good God,” he said lightly, when his son followed his sisters into the drawing-room.

“What have we here? A hobbledehoy?”

“Dear James has grown so much, hasn’t he?” Mrs Grey said fondly, ignoring the boy’s

furious blush. “It won’t be long before he’s looking down on you, Robert. He takes after my father, of course.”

Lallie bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself smiling at her father’s petulant expression but something must have betrayed her inner amusement and his gaze swung to her.

“I trust you have been behaving yourself, miss.”

He might have been addressing a recalcitrant ten-year-old instead of a lady of almost twenty-four and Lallie’s chin went up. She met his eyes calmly. “I always do, sir.” He nodded dismissively and went to pour himself a glass of madeira. He sipped, then gestured to the pianoforte. “What have you prepared for our delight this evening, Eleanor?”

The girl blanched and glanced pleadingly at her elder sister. “Come, I’ll turn the pages for you.” As they bent over the music, Lallie whispered, “You play very well and even if you make a mistake, he won’t notice unless you stop. Remember how we practised keeping going?”

At Eleanor’s nod, Lallie spread open a sonatina by Clementi and positioned herself so that she partially shielded the child from her father’s gaze. She noticed that Mrs Grey was talking quietly to her husband on the opposite side of the room.

“He’s not really paying attention,” she hissed to her sister who sighed with relief and plunged into her music.

“Well done, brat,” James exclaimed as soon as she had finished. By the time his mother had finished scolding him for his unseemly language and he had apologised to her and to Eleanor, their father had grown weary of domesticity and dismissed the schoolroom contingent. Lallie was obliged to remain and follow her parents into the dining-room. She could imagine the consternation caused in the kitchen by Mr Grey’s unexpected arrival— while she and Mrs Grey usually sat down to a simple dinner of one course each evening, he would expect two courses with removes and a dessert.

Tonight he surveyed the table critically through his quizzing glass but, apart from complimenting his wife on the Maintenon cutlets, did not comment further on the meal, apparently content to satisfy her curiosity regarding the latest on-dits. He finally launched into a description of the Prince Regent giving Beau Brummel the cut direct.

Brummel then dished himself completely,” he continued with relish. “He looked at Alvanley and, as cool as you please, asked, ‘Ah, Alvanley, who is your fat friend?’ The Prince will never forgive him. He may be unable to prevent his wife roasting a wax effigy of him in front of her fire, but he will not tolerate such public insolence from one so far beneath him.”

“Nor should he,” Mrs Grey said. “I have little patience with these dandies who give themselves airs and set themselves up as the arbiters of all taste. They have ruined many a girl’s chances by declaring her a quiz on her first appearance so that no-one will have anything to do with her. I even heard of one cub who cut his own father because his parent presented too rustic an appearance. You may imagine how wounded the old gentleman was.”

“That’s disgraceful!” Lallie exclaimed.

Her father waved away her protest. “It is the way of the fashionable world. One either sinks or swims. Of course you know nothing of that.”

“That is hardly my fault, sir,” she retorted, nettled. “If my grandmother had lived I would have made my come-out five years ago.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “To what avail, I wonder? Remember she had been completely cast off by her family. I once mentioned to her father that I had married the daughter of Lady Anna Staines. Martinborough looked down his nose and said, ‘I wish you joy, sir, but I do not know either lady’. And the Marchioness was for many years Lady of the Bedchamber to Her Majesty, so it is most unlikely that either you or your grandmother would have been received at court or awarded vouchers for Almack’s.”

Silenced, Lallie was grateful that her stepmother rose as soon as Mr Grey had finished speaking.

“We shall leave you to your port.”

“Go to bed, Lallie,” Mrs Grey instructed once the door had closed behind them. “Good night.”

“Good night, ma’am.”

“They say that young Mr Neville is betrothed,” Lallie told her maid as she prepared for bed. “Oh, who to?” Nancy carefully drew the brush through Lallie’s long, curling hair.

“A Miss Eaton. Her father is Sir William Eaton and she has seven and a half thousand pounds.”

Nancy began to braid the dark hair for the night. “That will please his parents, especially his mother. He wouldn’t have done for you, Miss Lallie. He’s too much under his mother’s thumb. What about the curate? Mrs Hersey would make a better mother-in-law.”

“I doubt if he can afford to wed, especially a penniless girl. He must support his mother and two sisters.”

Lallie liked the young clergyman, but was under no illusions about his circumstances and, if she were to be honest, did not feel that spark of attraction for him that she had felt for Lambert Neville. Still, her prospects were so bleak, she wasn’t sure she could reject an honourable gentleman whom she liked and respected, even if she did not love him.

Nancy tied a small ribbon around the end of the thick plait to hold it in place. “Any man would be proud to have you as a wife.”

Lallie looked fondly at her former nurse. As usual, she was dressed in a neat print dress in subdued shades, over which she wore a starched cotton apron and matching fichu that was pinned at her breast with a mourning brooch containing a lock of Lallie’s grandmother’s hair. To Nancy, this was the emblem of her sacred charge to care for Miss Lallie and she wore it as proudly as a soldier would a medal. Her fair hair was pulled severely back from her forehead into a tight bun which was covered by a lawn cap, but her face was still smooth and her blue eyes bright. She had looked like that as long as Lallie could remember.

“How old were you when I came to you?” she asked suddenly.

“Just sixteen, Miss Lallie. I’ll never forget that day. The house was all at sixes and sevens, with you coming so sudden and your poor mother took so bad.”

“And my father? Was he there?”

“He waited with your grandfather in the library. They called him in at the last. We had laid you in her arms, just for a moment, before the end, and she smiled faintly and was gone, poor lady. He looked down at her, said ‘my poor Louisa, lost to me, lost to me’, kissed her brow and left the room.”

Funny, Nancy thought, she had almost forgotten Mr Grey coming into the nursery the next day and standing beside the cradle. He had smiled oddly and said, ‘my daughter, o my ducats, o my daughter,’ and departed. She had thought ‘ducats’ to be a pet name, like ‘duckling’ or ‘ducky’, but Mrs Staines, who had come in behind him, had looked most strange, angry even and she had never heard him use the word again.

“But I had Grandmamma and Grandpapa and you,” Miss Lallie said. “You were younger then than I am now. Did you never want to get married, Nancy?”

“Not really, Miss Lallie. I had my offers, of course,” she said proudly, “but none that would have tempted me to leave the Rectory. Will that be all, Miss?”

“Yes, thank you, Nancy. I’ll sit and read for a while. Good night.”

“Good night, my dear Miss Lallie.” Nancy skimmed her hand over the younger woman’s hair in a familiar caress. While in public she punctiliously denoted her young mistress’s standing as the eldest daughter of the house by addressing her as Miss Grey, in private she made no secret of her devotion to the girl who had been hastily deposited in her arms as a new-born infant while more skilled attendants strove in vain to save her mother’s life.

Lallie drew her shawl more closely around her shoulders and curled up in the big, threadbare armchair. It had long since been removed to the attics but Mrs Grey had raised no objection when her stepdaughter had asked if she might have it brought to her bedroom. Now the chair was Lallie’s refuge. Here she could read or just let her thoughts drift. Her days were fully occupied; she spent the mornings in the schoolroom while the afternoons were devoted to whatever task Mrs Grey might care to allocate to her.

‘We have no place for idle hands here,’ she had said six years previously when Lallie had come to live at Alwood. ‘Your sisters may now benefit from your expensive education and otherwise you will assist me in my household duties. There is always something to be done.’

But once the evening tea-tray had been removed Lallie was excused, especially on those occasions when her father graced them with his presence.

So the squire’s heir was betrothed. She smiled ruefully, remembering how he had dazzled her at his coming of age ball. She had been in alt when he had twice requested her to stand up with him. Not only that, he had called the next day to invite her to drive out with him and his sister. But her stepmother could not spare her and not long afterwards he had departed for London to acquire some ‘town bronze’, as his father had put it. That had been the end of his interest in a provincial miss.

Lallie sighed. How different her life might have been if Grandmamma had not succumbed to that virulent attack of influenza. Her memories of those grim days were all confused. Her father had been sent for but by the time he arrived in Cornwall the funeral was over and he had insisted on leaving the next day, taking her with him. The journey to Sussex had seemed endless; her head had ached the whole time. She had no memory of arriving at Alwood, just what a relief it had been not to be jolted in the carriage. Then she had been very ill; by the time she had been allowed to leave her room, it was as if a curtain had descended, separating her from her previous life.

At least I have Nancy, Lallie thought. What would I have done if my father had not agreed to take her too? And she is so good to stay with me, even though she has to look after the others as well. She might have preferred to remain near her own family.

Downstairs, Robert Grey poured a glass of port for his wife, who had returned to the dining-room. “Otherwise, all is well here?” he asked casually.

“As well as can be. That is good news about young Neville, although his mother was just as opposed to a match between him and Lallie as we were.”

“But that was some years ago.”

“Lallie still harbours a certain tenderness for him, I think, although I warned her at the time that only a bride with a good fortune and of impeccable breeding would satisfy his mother and that she could not lay any claim to her grandmother’s family; in fact to be disowned, as Mrs Staines was, was worse than having no connection. That taint is not, of course, attached to our children,” she finished with a smug smile.

He raised his glass in appreciation. “How old is she now?”

“She’ll be twenty-four next week.”

“The devil she will!”

“Why, Robert, what is the matter?”

“Her trust comes to an end when she is twenty-five. The trustees will write to her directly then, seeking her instructions.”

“Surely you will continue to handle her affairs?”

“She would have to agree. I found her rather pert this evening.”

“She is certainly not as amenable to direction as she once was, especially since she became friendly with the Herseys. They have set up a little literary circle, as they call it, and it would have looked very odd if I had tried to forbid Lallie to join. Don’t forget I have no true authority over her, should she choose to question it. Allowing her a little independence now may help us retain her income and her services. She is sincerely attached to the girls and has proved to be an excellent governess at no expense to us. Remember her trustees also pay her maid’s wages. All in all, Lallie’s presence contributes some one hundred and forty pounds per annum to this household. I should feel it if she were to leave us. Who knows what she may decide to do once she becomes aware that she is heiress to a little competence.”

Her husband looked thoughtful but said no more.

Excerpt Perception & Illusion © Catherine Kullmann 2017

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Really leaves you wanting more, doesn’t it?

And now for my review:

There seem to be trends in historical romance fiction; recently I’ve come across no less than three stories about young ladies of little fortune or dubious parentage (or both) who come into an inheritance of fortune and title to gain a higher place in society. Perception & Illusion is amongst them, and certainly one of the better ones.

The heroine is a lovely, almost penniless young girl with bleak prospects for the future who drifts through a quiet country life … until she meets a young man who is line for a peerage. They fall in love and get married in very short order. After they are married she learns that she is in fact an heiress, and her new husband is concerned that people will think him a fortune-hunter. That is only the first of many misconceptions to which this loving couple succumb; their marriage is a series of cross-purposes that serve to prevent them from finding their true happily ever after.

In one heart-breaking encounter after another, they misinterpret each other’s actions and seem destined to end up like all the other loveless couples of their acquaintance, until a final showdown forces them to face their own failures to understand the other. Will these revelations lead them to a closer and more loving understanding, or will it compel them to admit their marriage was a mistake and push them even further apart?

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What I liked most:

How the author charmingly relates each chapter to the Matrimonial Map.

The way the main characters are drawn as sympathetic but flawed.  My heart really ached for them to learn to better understand each other, because I very much liked both of them. It was impossible not to root for them to find the happiness they deserve.

HoundMam’selle ‘Ubertine (see photo).

Insights into Regency life, and learning some new terms from the era.

A mostly clean read with just enough spice, and with only a very occasional typo.

What I liked least:

The sheer number of characters. Each one was indispensable to the story, but I have to admit that I tend to lose track of characters when there are so many in a story – especially if they have titles and thereby essentially two names (e.g., John Jones, Earl of Smith). Eventually, however, everything fell into place.

In short:

If you like Pride and Prejudice, the ultimate story of two lovers being at cross-purposes, I am certain you will enjoy Perception & Illusion. I know I did. A definite five-star read!

gold-stars-5

Catherine’s website is a treasure trove of Regency information and fun stuff. Do stop by!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome!

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

 

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A Dance with Mr Darcy by Regina Jeffers: Review, excerpt, and giveaway

I’m so pleased to be reviewing Regina’s latest book, and am also delighted that she is offering readers of ESCD not only an excerpt but also a very generous giveaway!

Blurbing the book:

regina-jeffers
Author Regina Jeffers

The reason fairy tales end with a wedding is no one wishes to view what happens next.

Five years earlier, Darcy had raced to Hertfordshire to soothe Elizabeth Bennet’s qualms after Lady Catherine’s venomous attack, but a devastating carriage accident left him near death for months and cost him his chance at happiness with the lady. Now, they meet again upon the Scottish side of the border, but can they forgive all that has transpired in those years? They are widow and widower; however, that does not mean they can take up where they left off. They are damaged people, and healing is not an easy path. To know happiness they must fall in love with the same person all over again.

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The excerpt:

A Dance With Mr Darcy copy 2
Buy at amazon

Chapter 1

A Dance with Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary

“IT IS SHE,” HE MURMURED as his gaze settled upon her back. Even without viewing her countenance, Darcy’s body recognized the woman some thirty feet removed. If it were not for the biting wind stinging his cheeks, he might think himself asleep, for not a night had passed since he was last in her company—and all the previous nights of their acquaintance—that he did not dream of her; yet, she was not a dream, but rather flesh and blood. His breathing hitched higher.

During the daylight hours, he had prided himself upon not permitting his mind to conjure up her memory more than a half dozen times per day, but he always welcomed her into slumber’s embrace each night. Even during the fourteen months he had claimed Miss Amelia Davenport to wife, it had been Elizabeth Bennet in his arms. Often, Darcy had felt guilty for closing his eyes and pretending that his sweet, docile Amelia was the enticing maid from Hertfordshire who had stolen his heart long before Lady Matlock had arranged a joining between him and her niece.

“What is Elizabeth doing some twenty miles northwest of the Scottish border?” he whispered as he watched her checking the shutters of the small, but tidy-looking, inn in preparation for the storm. “And where is her husband?”

The word “husband” left a bitter taste in Darcy’s mouth. It was some six months after her marriage before he learned of Elizabeth’s joining, and by then there was little he could do but to continue with his life, such as it was at the time. It was only the realization that her marriage was forever that permitted him to accept his Aunt Matlock’s matchmaking schemes.

“Should I ask within if the innkeeper has accommodations available, Mr. Darcy?” His footman waited several feet off Darcy’s shoulder.

“No, that is not necessary, Jasper. Even if we must sleep upon the floor, we can travel no further with the coach having a broken crank neck.” He glanced again across the busy inn yard. If he were a sane man, he would continue to the next village, which was reportedly fewer than three miles removed, according to his coachman. Walking would not be the best choice, considering the condition of his left ankle and the knowledge of the approaching storm; however, he had long ago accepted his obsession with the woman shaking out her skirts and admiring her work. Sanity and Elizabeth Bennet were in opposition. “I will speak to the lady; you speak to the ostler in preparation for Mr. Farrin and my coach’s arrival.”

“Yes, sir.”

Darcy paused before making his way across the inn yard. What type of welcome would he receive? They had so often been at odds, but he assumed they had reached a better understanding when they had been together at Pemberley. Yet, the debacle with her youngest sister’s elopement had proven nearly more than he could manage. Nevertheless, he thought he had carved a path to a happy joining between him and Elizabeth, but G0d had a way of laughing in a man’s face when said man attempted to take control of another’s future.

“Might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb,” he chastised and began picking his way across the yard. The cane he had always carried for fashion and for protection from footpads now assisted in supporting his weight. “Could not dance at the Meryton assembly now,” he repeated in ironic tones. “No matter how tolerable I might find the lady.”

He did not step up to the wooden walkway; instead, Darcy remained in the inn yard where he might enjoy the hitch of her skirt to expose a trim ankle as she stepped upon a low stool to reach the upper shutter. He cleared his throat before saying, “Good afternoon, Miss Elizabeth.”

Her shoulders stiffened, and he noted that her fingers clutched at the wooden shutter for support. After a long pause, she stepped down and slowly turned to face him. If he thought he might receive a warm greeting, he was sadly mistaken. “Good afternoon, Mr. Darcy. However, I must insist that you no longer refer to me as ‘Miss Elizabeth.’ I have been Mrs. McCaffney for nearly four years.”

“I fear I never knew the gentleman’s name,” Darcy said in apology.

She pulled her shawl tighter about her as if to ward off his words as much as to brace against the wind that had kicked up. “I assure you Mr. McCaffney could never be accused of being a gentleman. All he owned was this fine establishment.” She gestured wildly, which was quite uncharacteristic of the lady he knew. Elizabeth Bennet always displaed confidence, even when she had erred miserably.

“Nevertheless, I would know pleasure in having Mr. McCaffney’s acquaintance,” he said in strained politeness. He thought he would go mad when he had learned of her marriage. Bingley had encountered Sir William Lucas in Town, and Sir William had shared the news of the marriages of both Miss Bennet and of Miss Elizabeth. While Bingley had ranted and raved against the injustice, all Darcy could do was to bite hard upon his tongue and swallow the cry of anguish ripping through him. The torment had been worse than any pain he had ever suffered, including the one that never disappeared from his left leg.

“Mr. McCaffney met his end one summer night some two years back when he thought to take a boat out to meet a group of smugglers off the Scottish coast,” she stated without emotions in her expression or in her voice.

“Then who is the inn’s proprietor?” Darcy demanded in incredulity.

She spoke in clipped tones. “I own McCaffney’s Coaching House.” She nodded to his coach as it limped into the yard. “I see you require assistance. I suppose you desire accommodations also.”

There was something in her tone that stifled any hope he might have experienced with the news of her husband’s death. “If it would not be an imposition,” he replied in contrition.

“I am accustomed to those who practice impositions.” Gathering her skirts about her, she turned on her heels to lead the way. “I fear with the approaching storm, I am already quite full. I have but one small room at the back of the third story passageway. It is nothing of the nature of which you are accustomed, but it is clean and dry.”

He expelled a long sigh of exhaustion. The walk had claimed more from him than he had expected. And now he was to revisit his emotional connection to the woman entering the inn door without a glance in his direction to see if he followed. Perhaps G0d meant for him to confront his ghosts, so he might carve out a fresh path and perhaps come to know a bit of peace, at last. Darcy had long ago given up on the possibility of happiness. With a soft grunt signaling the stiffness in his step, he lurched forward to enter the darkened common room. She waited for him behind a high-legged table about three feet long and covered with a white linen cloth.

“What brings you to Scotland, Mr. Darcy?” she asked as she handed him a sharpened pen to sign the register. Meanwhile, she retrieved a ring of keys from a locked box and selected the one he would require.

“I inherited a small property some five and twenty miles north of here,” he said cautiously. “It is near the larger Fitzwilliam estate. I planned to stay at Lord Matlock’s manor house while inspecting the inherited land.”

“Most would do so in the spring, rather than in January,” she remarked without looking upon him.

“Which is exactly why I chose this time of year. No one will have made preparations or renovations to impress me. I mean to know whether the property can sustain the livings that depend upon it.”

She turned to lead the way up the stairs. “Follow me.”

Since his accident, stairs were his least favorite architectural element of any structure, but he could customarily manage; however, on this particular day, his leg was slow to respond to more exercise. Nonetheless, he gritted his teeth to persevere, for he did not wish for the woman slowly climbing the stairs ahead of him to view him to be as weak as he sometimes felt.

She glanced over her shoulder at him. “Is the Fitzwilliam estate of which you speak the colonel’s family? How fares your cousin?”

Darcy slowed to keep his balance upon the narrow stairs. “Fitzwilliam is more than my cousin. He is my brother, for he is Georgiana’s husband.”

An ironic smile turned up the corners of her lips. “Then the colonel claimed his heiress. It gladdens me to hear it.”

“I assure you, convenience was not the reason for their joining,” he snapped.

Her chin rose in predictable defiance. “I never thought a marriage between Miss Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam would be anything but a happy occasion for your family. My brief acquaintance with your sister said she would never settle for less than a comfortable marriage. I simply recalled something the colonel shared while we were all at Rosings Park.”

A familiar pain of regret caught Darcy’s good sense. “I imagine you would have accepted Fitzwilliam’s proposal if my cousin had been in a position to utter one.”

“I thought I knew something of the colonel’s character,” she said in defensive tones.

“And nothing of mine,” he charged.

Before she could respond, a familiar countenance appeared at the foot of the stairs. “Lizzy,” she called, but halted when she spotted him on the stairs. “Well, look who the cat—“

Elizabeth interrupted in impatient tones, “What is amiss, Lydia?”

The chit smiled knowingly at him before she answered her sister. “Mr. Simpson and the mail coach have arrived with three passengers. He says the roads are quickly becoming impassable. He means to stay the night and perhaps longer. I told him we were full, but he insists.”

Darcy noted the girl’s “we,” and he wondered if he were also to encounter his long-time foe, Mr. Wickham.

“Tell Simpson we can put him and the others on mattresses in the private room. If more arrive, we may need to ask some of our regulars to share rooms. We always manage somehow, do we not, Lyddie?”

Her sister chuckled with a sly look. “We do very well, Lizzy.” Mrs. Wickham gave him a long look. “Will Mr. Darcy be required to share a room?”

“As Mr. Darcy has the small corner room, I doubt sharing will be necessary or even possible,” Elizabeth explained.

“I would expect nothing less,” the girl said with a lift of her shoulders in indifference before she returned to the noisy entrance.

“I fear you must forego a private room for supper, sir,” Elizabeth said as she turned back to the task at hand.

He released a long sigh. Nothing had changed: They were still from step. Following her slow progress, he said, “If it would not be an imposition, please send a tray to my room. I am a bit weary.” He spoke the truth: His ankle throbbed from the nearly two-miles’ walk to reach the inn. He needed to remove his boot and rest his ankle and calf muscle. “If you are too busy, Jasper can carry it up.” He knew the footman would call at his room to act as Darcy’s valet for the evening. “I did not ask, but I assumed there would be rooms for Jasper and Mr. Farrin.”

“Above the stables, there are several small rooms created by low partitions. All have cots and mattresses. The animals keep the area warm with their heat.”

What more was there to say between them? She was obviously not happy to see him upon her threshold. “Then our business is settled,” Darcy announced as she handed him the room key and stepped aside.

“It is as it always was, Mr. Darcy,” she said with a snit. “Your wishes are absolutes.” She turned to shove her way past him while he was left wondering why she despised him so. Mayhap Mr. Wickham had created new lies to fill her mind. Needless to say, with Mrs. Wickham under her roof, it would be easy for Darcy’s former friend to do so. It was as if she had learned to loathe him again. “And here I thought after our time at Pemberley that we could, at least, claim a friendship,” he murmured as he closed the room door on her retreating form.

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Wow, right?

And now for my review:

All JAFF/Regency readers, I suppose, have their favourite authors. Regina Jeffers is one of mine because I know her stories will always be not only well-written and very much respectful of the original, but both make me smile and tug at my heartstrings, and I’ll learn one or two things about (Regency) history to boot.  A Dance with Mr Darcy does not disappoint, and also encompasses one of my basic requirements for JAFF: I must fall even more in love with Mr Darcy by book’s end. Check, check, check, check, and double-check.

From the very first sentence I was hooked, as I am sure you were too when you read the excerpt. You can feel Darcy’s heartbreak and yearning in just these three words.

Elizabeth and Darcy have both been married and widowed. Her husband was a brutal SOB and she of course has regrets about marrying him, while he regrets taking a wife who could never be her. They come together again from some rather dark places; as Elizabeth observes, these are not the carefree young man and woman who once shared hopes that were cruelly dashed.

Both of them have had to learn to be stronger people: Darcy to accept the physical weaknesses resulting from his injuries, and Elizabeth to simply survive (and as she does so, to thrive) first the cruelty of her husband and then his death. Seeing each other again reignites the love, the passions, and the hopes for the future that they once shared. I will not say that their meeting was a coincidence because I do not believe in coincidences: everything happens for a reason. And I cannot say that their reacquaintance reignites their dreams, because they have in fact kept their dreams of each other very much alive.

This is a story about second chances, about the strength it often takes to let go of the comfort zone we have built for ourselves and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable again, and to accept that second chance. And, of course, the joy it can ultimately bring when we do.

What I liked most: Darcy and Elizabeth telling each other about their personal fears. This was for me the most heart-rending yet hopeful scene in the book.

Plenty of misunderstandings to be overcome. This is after all Darcy and Elizabeth!

The new characters. I particularly liked Sir Robert.

The “old” characters. I am very partial to stories that give plenty of face time to Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Learning new stuff: I had never heard of St Agnes Eve before.  Or dumb cake (really?). And who knew what a footpad was?!

What I liked least: That the end of the story sort of snuck up on me! Usually I check to see how many more pages are left in a book, and altho’ I did check periodically, and while the ending was very satisfying, I was just so disappointed that it came about sooner than I expected.

In short: Another don’t-miss five-star story by Regina Jeffers. BTW, if you are fascinated by history and love learning about arcane words and expressions, I highly recommend that you follow her blog.

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And now for the giveaway. I have two eBook copies of A Dance with Mr. Darcy available to those who comment on this post. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST on April 3, 2017. Good luck all!

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

 

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Review and guest post: Suzan Lauder’s Alias Thomas Bennet

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Buy now at Amazon

As I’ve mentioned previously in various forums, I arrived late at the JAFF party and am still playing catch-up. When I enjoy an author’s newest release, I seek out their previous works. As I did in this case: after reading and enjoying Letter from Ramsgate, I searched for previous books by Suzan Lauder. And found Alias Thomas Bennet.  And I’m very glad I did.

The premise is, as far as I know, unique amongst JAFFs: it’s almost like stepping through the looking glass. The Bennet family is no longer dysfunctional, but is headed by a very engaged father who cares for his wife and daughters as well as being a successful estate manager. Mrs Bennet, recipient of the love and respect of her husband, is still concerned about getting her daughters married, but not dementedly so, and she provides loving care as well as an excellent role model for her daughters to become ladies, wives, and mothers.  The eldest two Bennet sisters are essentially unchanged (well, except for reaping the benefits of a surprise familial relationship), while the other three sisters retain their original personalities altho’ tempered into more positive and productive actions and activities. Not canon by any means, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Mr Bennet and Mr Darcy form a close friendship, and slowly tho’ ultimately Darcy and Lizzy grow into their own loving relationship. Lauder’s version of Lizzy here retains all the traits with which Austen endowed her, amplified by a greater strength and confidence. The author has created her character to reflect the modern view of an accomplished lady.

There are numerous flashbacks in the telling of the story, and to own the truth I did have a little trouble keeping the story line straight at first. Then two things happened: First, I was reading a used paperback copy of the book, and apparently whoever read the book before me was having similar difficulties and had actually drawn an interconnected timeline of events which I discovered tucked away in the pages! And then the author herself brings the story together in a series of well-crafted scenes that left me with a feeling of understanding calm; what one would call a lightbulb moment. These both occurred not too far into the story, so for most of the time I had a very clear grasp of what was going on.

As with Letter from Ramsgate, Lizzy and Darcy display rather more physical passion than their original counterparts ever did – or at least that we *saw* them do, altho’ I suspect most of us had our suspicions about them! This story gives them more leeway, and definitely has some spice to it.

The author has asked me to be sure to repeat the warning she has posted on the book’s back cover:  “This book contains one brief scene of non‑explicit sexual violence that may be concerning to sensitive readers. The sexual violence does not involve Elizabeth Bennet.” Altho’ I viewed the scene dispassionately, I did find the events a bit shocking. It is, however, integral to the plot. There are several very vague references to these events at various points in the story, so if you want to skip the scene, you won’t be left out in the cold; you’ll still get the gist of the story. (And you’re welcome to contact me and I’ll tell you the pages you might want to avoid, and the one(s) that clarify the story, in the event that you do want to avoid this trigger.)

A definite five-star rating for Alias Thomas Bennet!

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suzan-lauderSuzan Lauder kindly agreed to provide a guest post to accompany this review. When she asked me to suggest a topic, I in turn asked her what her inspiration was for this story. Here is her response:

I’m a regular contributor on the Jane Austen website A Happy Assembly. In some discussions and in AHA chat, it became evident that some readers loved Mr. Bennet for his acerbic wit and humorous evaluation of other peoples’ characters while others disliked him for his obvious lackadaisical attitude towards parenting and financial responsibilities. It showed that Mr. Bennet’s personality was a fairly important element in the direction of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Given that circumstance, I began to think to myself what the novel would be like if his flaws were erased or minimized. I began to think of the plot of P&P and what essential scenes would change.

Mr. Bennet would go meet Mr. Bingley without having to be browbeaten into it. He would attend the Meryton Assembly, let Jane have the carriage to go to lunch with the Bingley sisters, and try to modulate the behaviour of his wife and younger daughters. But I needed a mechanism to facilitate this changed personality, and that’s how the mystery part of the story fit in.

Side issues that were strong possibilities with a changed Mr. Bennet emerged: it would be fun if he were close friends with Darcy so Elizabeth and Darcy knew each other better prior to Hunsford. Mr. Bennet would be in love with his wife and would calm her when she became agitated. To show where Mrs. Bennet’s nervous personality emerged from her youth, a carriage wreck and a startling assault open the novel.

The timelines for everything that ran parallel in the story were so critical, I even mapped out Jane’s and Elizabeth’s birthdays! That’s how complicated “what if Mr. Bennet were exactly opposite of his personality in canon” becomes!

Alias Thomas Bennet is available in paperback and ebook versions at the usual outlets. And, as I have previously mentioned, as a used book.

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

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Sorry, no blog tour

I regret to announce that I have elected to withdraw Every Savage Can Dance from participation in the scheduled blog tours for Mistress by Sophie Turner and for Caroline by Sue Barr.

See you soon with other news and reviews and a few surprises!

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

 

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

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A peek under Lizzy Bennet’s muslin gown

Some weeks ago I posted a piece entitled “Getting into Mr Darcy’s pants,” about the underwear a Regency gentleman would have worn under his fashionable clothing. Rather than re-post the general overview of fashion and undergarments of the day, you might want to take a moment to re-read the original post.

regency-dressesWhen ladies of the Regency exchanged their previously-fashionable voluminous skirts for a slim, classical Greek-style high-waisted silhouette, their undergarments also altered. Wearing the previously-stylish constructed fashions that essentially re-designed the shape of a woman’s form into something resembling a bell, a lady faced two primary problems. The first was one of real estate: only so many bell-shaped ladies could fit into a given area such as a sidewalk, a shop, a sitting-room sofa, or a carriage. Secondly came the problem of maintaining modesty: one false step, or a less-than cautious entrance into or exit from a carriage, could send the rigidly-constructed frame under one’s dress — and the dress along with it — up into the air in a most revealing position.

regency-dress2The slim lines, and lightweight fabric, of a Regency Empire-style dress presented its own problems. As clothing became lighter and slimmer, ladies began to discard heavy layers of undergarments for the bare minimum required for comfort and modesty. The challenges at this time were also multi-fold: fabric folds would work themselves between a lady’s legs, often aided by a wind or even a light breeze, clingingly revealing a bit more of a lady’s form than was considered proper. Being caught in a light rain that dampened one’s attire could cause a scandalous spectacle! And again, if one was not attentive to how one was moving, or — heaven forfend! — if one tripped or took a fall, the light fabric could easily be blown or otherwise pushed away to expose a lady’s privates. (This, by the way, was the reason why gentlemen preceded ladies when walking up stairs.)

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A simple corset
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A corset with breast supports

Even after adopting the new fashion styles, the basic lady’s undergarment remained the chemise, a simple, unfitted shift-type garment with a rounded neckline and short sleeves that reached to about the knees. It was generally made of light cotton or linen, although it might be fashioned of flannel at colder times of the year. Over the chemise was worn a corset, or stays. As with their male counterparts, ladies wore these to create a slimmer appearance. An important function of a corset was to draw in the hip area, as the slim style of dress required almost a boyish figure below the waist (much as some modern fashion styles have also demanded).

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Full-length petticoat.
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Short or half-petticoat

Corsets might be simple affairs, or they might have supports for the breasts, similar to a modern brassiere. Slim hips did not exclude the preference for a femine bustline! Over this would be a petticoat, either a short petticoat from waist to ankle, which was gathered around the waist with tapes, or a full petticoat with an attached bodice. Again, they were crafted of light fabric except for winter wear. And they were mostly still homemade at this time. Depending on the style of the dress being worn, the petticoat might have a small, light hoop at the bottom to create an A-line shape rather than a straight style.

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Original ladies’ drawers design
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Evolved into this one-piece design

As to drawers … Ladies “borrowed” men’s drawers some time before 1810. Altho’ they were not in regular use at this time, by the 1810s most ladies, at least of the upper and middle classes, were wearing them. Initially these too were homemade; it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that they become available commercially. Reaching from waist to knees, and fastened with tapes at both points, they were not particularly ornate, as they were not intended to be seen. At least not until Queen Charlotte decided to scandalize society by wearing them somewhat longer and sitting with her legs extended in front of her so glimpses of the embellished bottoms of the drawers could be seen as her skirts lifted slightly. Like the rest of underclothes, these were fashioned of lightweight cotton, linen, silk, stockinette, or sarsenet in summer and flannel in winter. The original ladies’ design comprised two tubes for the legs held together with tapes at the waist; these later evolved into a connected design more like the gentleman’s. Which certainly makes a lot more sense from just about every standpoint.

So perhaps the ladies of the Regency period were not so very different from modern ladies in their fashion choices. I have, however, sometimes wondered about one aspect of the effects of fashion: Was the not-uncommon loss of the mother’s life in childbirth in any way affected by the fashion of mechanically drawing in the hips as tightly as possible? Perhaps I’ll research and report on this aspect in a future posting.

Your comments, as always, are invited.

If you missed it: Part One: Getting into Mr. Darcy’s Pants

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy heredesp-hearts-cover

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