Now that my holiday décor, baking, and gift shopping are finished—reading time was in order! What better way to celebrate the season than tucking up with a cup of tea and a good holiday themed story? Fortunately for my Jane Austen obsession, a surprise anthology appeared like an irresistible kitten with a big red bow arriving on your doorstep on Christmas Eve.
Yuletide is a new short story collection edited by Christina Boyd. Inspired by Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, seven altruistic Austenesque authors donated their stories, along with others involved in the independent publishing process, to create a small collection of stories to benefit Chawton House, the manor house owned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight near Alton, England. This seemed a win-win for me. My purchase would benefit a worthy cause and support the Austenesque genre.
I understand that the book was pulled together in a very short time frame, so we shall see what magic happens when authors, editors, and book designers’ mettle is tested. Here is a rundown of the seven stories in the anthology.
- “The Forfeit,” by Caitlin Williams
The Christmas after he orchestrated the separation of Elizabeth Bennet’s beloved sister Jane from his friend Charles Bingley, Mr. Darcy finds himself snowbound at Longbourn, the Bennet family home where many of its residents despise him. Slowly lulled by Christmas carols and holiday festivities, tensions rise again with the unexpected arrival of his nemesis George Wickham. While Elizabeth and her family are subject to the ebb and flow of the mood of the “Great Man,” she is confident that Mr. Wickham’s claim that Darcy withheld his inheritance is true and that Darcy is also responsible for her sister’s unhappiness. Eager to win her point and bring Darcy down a notch, she challenges him to a wager. If she wins, he must forfeit his objections to Mr. Bingley’s interest in her sister Jane and re-unite them.
- “And Evermore be Merry,” by Joana Starnes
Set ten years after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, we find the couple celebrating the holiday season at Pemberley with their five young children and his married sister Georgiana by decking the halls with greenery and mistletoe, engaging in snowball fights, playing parlor games, and singing carols around the pianoforte. The holiday guest list is quite extensive including all of their immediate family, their spouses and children. Told from Georgiana’s perspective, we are privy to a flashback of the conflict between Elizabeth and Darcy when Georgiana and her beaux declared their intentions—and with all family gatherings of his size, the different personalities make for very entertaining get together.
- “By a Lady,” by Lona Manning
Before they depart London for their visit to Rosings Park for the holiday season, Mr. Darcy and his wife Elizabeth stop at a bookshop to purchase Christmas gifts. Among Elizabeth’s selections are several novels for her husband’s cousin Anne de Bourgh—all selected in the hopes of widening her reading and cultivating their friendship. Once there, it is hard going to penetrate Anne’s reserve, especially since she is under the close scrutiny of her companion Mrs. Jenkinson and her mother Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Eventually Anne drops her guard and shares an amazing secret. With this new revelation, Elizabeth is determined to help her new friend—who like a princess in an ivory tower, must be set free.
- “The Season for Friendly Meetings,” by Anngela Schroeder
Given the unhappy loss of her eldest daughter Jane’s beau Mr. Bingley, and her second eldest daughter Elizabeth’s refusal to marry their cousin Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet is thrilled to accept an invitation to send them off to York to spend the holidays with her neighbor Mrs. Long’s nieces. While attending a local Christmas ball, they are introduced to Col. Fitzwilliam, the second son of an earl whose family resides nearby at Matlock. During the course of the evening Elizabeth encounters spurious gossip regarding her friend Mr. Wickham’s reputation which she shares with the colonel. Defensive and defiant, she soon has the opportunity to defend him to the one person responsible for ruining his future – Mr. Darcy.
- “Mistletoe Mismanagement,” by Elizabeth Adams
One month after their marriage, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy are hosting their first Christmas at Pemberley, their palatial estate in Derbyshire. His younger sister Georgiana, who also resides with them, is also assisting with the large party of guests: their aunt and uncle Lord and Lady Adlington, their eldest son Lord and Lady Lisle and second son Colonel Fitzwilliam. A formal dinner includes four local families to fill the table. While Elizabeth plays matchmaker for Colonel Fitzwilliam, two of the married guests are way too familiar with each other causing Elizabeth and Darcy to go to great lengths to foil their wayward guests’ plans by cleverly manipulating their time together.
- “The Wishing Ball,” by Amy D’Orazio
In this fantasy story, Fitzwilliam and his younger sister Georgiana prepare for Christmas during the month prior to the close of 2014. Her early gift to her brother is a silver-plated wishing ball which she is certain will be the talisman he needs to find happiness. Engraved with his initials and containing a had written wish, cryptically scribed in his own hand, Darcy is certain that it is a prank being played upon him by his best friend Richard. Later that night he visits his Facebook account and discovers pictures, people and a future life he does not recognize, nor had he ever imagined for himself.
- “Homespun for the Holidays,” by J. Marie Croft
Traveling by car on Christmas Eve in a New England snowstorm, Darcy is in pursuit of a handmade pink jumper (sweater) for his younger sister Georgiana. Arriving at Homespun, a home craft shop in a country barn run by the five Bennet sisters, he discovers that the one-of-a-kind item has been sold. In an attempt to throw his weight around and obtain what he wants, he goes toe-to-toe with the head proprietress Elizabeth Bennet, demanding she make another sweater while he waits. She thinks his behavior is insufferable. He thinks she is only tolerable. Stranded at the Bennet home, packed with a laundry list of Bennet relations, the proud man must make peace with his surroundings and his growing attraction to Elizabeth, before he discovers the most valuable gift of all.
Holiday short stories can be the most challenging to write. The best ones evoke the traditions and sentiments on the season without overwhelming the story. The problem is that the readers who are addicted to the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies will expect there to be plenty of treacle and twee, while those who prefer the deeper message of A Christmas Carol will require some substance. I am happy to say that there is a mixture of sentiment and parable in Yuletide. I especially enjoyed the stories that offered an aside with beloved characters set in Regency times. Lona Mannings’ story of Anne de Bourgh was particularly touching and poignant, while Elizabeth Adams’ masterful plotting of “Mistletoe Mismanagement” should have been titled “Mistletoe Madness!” The way she maneuvered her characters in scenes was like an intricate country dance where partners come together then twirl around and dance with someone else. Whoosh! In my view these two stories excelled because the authors both understand the unique skill of crafting a story of limited length. Their plotting, character development and resolution was textbook and really made their stories sing. For me, they were the big red bow that made this anthology a gift.
If you are looking for festive, Austen-inspired stories, I hope you will give Yuletide a try. By supporting Chawton House you ensure its future, the memory of Jane Austen, and her legacy.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Yuletide: A Jane Austen-Inspired Collection of Stories, edited by Christina Boyd
The QuillInk, LLC (2018)
Paperback and eBook (192) pages
Disclosure of Material Connection: We purchased our copy for review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Cover image courtesy of QuillInk, LLC © 2018; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2018, Austenprose.com