My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Before the holidays are officially over, I want to take a moment and review Maria Grace’s A Jane Austen Christmas. I originally picked up the book, excited to see that there were recipes and games that I had hoped to incorporate into my own Christmas celebrations or as part of a Jane Austen – themed gathering on December 16th in honor of Jane Austen’s birthday. However, I found that the book was a bit of a mixed experience for me. The title, A Jane Austen Christmas, is a bit misleading. Other than the fact that Jane Austen lived in the Regency era and this book is (mostly) about Regency Christmas traditions, it really has very little to do with Jane Austen. I was hoping that the author would connect the traditions, customs, and celebrations that she was discussing with references either to Austen’s life or to scenes from her books. For example, there was a section in the book about holiday charity that would have connected nicely to certain sections in Emma about Miss Bates. And the chapter dedicated to holiday entertaining, including balls and card parties could have easily been illustrated with quotes from Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, or any of Austen’s wonderful novels. The truth is that the book contained more quotes and references to Dickens novels than it did to Jane Austen’s work, leaving me with the impression that the author entitled the book “A Jane Austen Christmas” simply to capitalize on Jane’s popularity with modern readers.
I was also disappointed in the recipe section of the book as the author simply copied period recipes without making any attempt to update them or make them accessible for modern cooks to try. Also the amounts that each recipe made – while appropriate for a large ball or house party – wasn’t really practical to make otherwise. Any recipe that involves twenty quarts of French brandy is just not something I will be making – no matter how much I want to attempt a Jane Austen Christmas.
The best part of the book – and the most helpful for Janeites who want to infuse their holiday celebrations with a touch of Regency style – was the part about parlor games. The author very helpfully included the rules for several games, ranging from a Regency version of Musical Chairs to a game that involved snatching raisins out a bowl of flaming brandy. I am a huge board game and card game fanatic so I would have loved it if the author had given as much time and attention to the many card games which were played by many of Austen’s characters in the novels. But other than a brief description of games like Speculation, Whist, and Loo, the book doesn’t spend as much time on cards as it does on party games.
Fortunately, I was able to find some online resources that fill in some of the blanks that I found in the book. This website (and this one) have the rules for several card games that were mentioned in various Jane Austen novels. And of course, with all the flirting, courting, and marital maneuvering that went on at the card tables, no modern-day Jane Austen card party would be complete without a game or two of Marrying Mr. Darcy – a charming game that has each player vying for the affections (and a proposal) from eligible bachelors like Mr. Darcy. The game is easy to learn and hilarious to play. Although role playing is not a part of the rules, almost every game I have ever played of Marrying Mr. Darcy ends up with the various players getting into character (my husband is particularly funny – and rather ruthless – as Lydia Bennet!) and I cannot wait to try out the Emma expansion of the game!
All in all, A Jane Austen Christmas wasn’t the book I was hoping for when I picked it up. It had its moments but I probably would have been happier if I had taken it out at my local library rather than spending money to add it to my own book collection.