This book, researched and compiled by Maria Hubert, is a lovely read, even for those people who do not like the novels of Jane Austen, many of which have been turned into award winning and hughly popular movies. The author uses extracts from various novels, letters from friends and contemporaries including other authors and poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, James Leigh Hunt, Washington Irving, and Robert Southey to throw the Georgian Christmas season into relief.
An Extract About Christmas from Mansfield Park Begins the Collection
The book starts off, appropriately enough, with an extract from Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, describing the Christmas in the novel. From then onwards, the reader is hooked. Each extract, whether it is from one of Jane’s novels, or a letter from her, or to her, or letters and poems from friends, family, acquaintances, other authors and poets of the period, is short and pithy.
Explanation of Festival Activities of the Period
Adding to the delight of the book is a scattering of other information that really brings this English festive season to life. Included are drawings, copies of recipes in original handwriting (and looking splattered with ingredients!), explanation of Christmas games and dances, and many poems, both written by Jane Austen, family members, and friends, and other authors of the time.
Illustrations From the Past
The book is illustrated throughout with pen and ink drawings, many of them from the novels published by Jane Austen, such as a Christmas illustration from the 1895 original edition of Mansfield Park. There are other lovely drawings of the fashion of the times, especially hats, children, and coaches delivering Christmas gifts. There are also many sketches by other illustrators, like Randolph Caldicott.
Explanations of the Christmas Customs Being Referred To
At the beginning of each extract, there’s a reference as to where the work came from, who wrote it, and in which context. Also, where necessary, there’s an explanation giving some background about the custom being written about – “A St Nicholas Verse” – for instance, or the explanation heading the article intriguingly titled: “Bullet Pudding and Messy Games”. There are also endearing little sentences such as “P.S. excuse bad writing” even though, of course, the text of the book is printed!
An Ideal Book for Dipping Into
Most of the articles are only one or two pages long and completely self contained, making it an ideal book for dipping in and out of. Any page anywhere is interesting – it’s not a book that has to be read from cover to cover, and it’s an ideal introduction to both the novels of the author and holiday customs of the period – Mummers, house parties, fancy dress balls, food and fashion. And the short extracts from various novels may easily encourage the readers to try the full novel.
“Jane Austen’s Christmas: the festive season in Georgian England” researched and compiled by Maria Hubert. London, Sutton Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0 7509 1307 X. It’s available from amazon.com