Writing an Inspirational Romance “Christmas at Pemberley”

(originally posted to Austenesque Reviews on December 1, 2011)

Meredith: Your latest book is different from the style you have previously employed in your Austen-inspired works. You term Christmas at Pemberley an inspirational romance. What can you tell us about why you decided to create an IR and what makes this book different from your other fare?

Regina: When Ulysses Press asked me to write a Christmas-themed sequel to Pride and Prejudice, I readily agreed. However, I soon realized I had again taken on yet another romance genre. Previously, for Ulysses, I have delved in Regency romance, paranormal, suspense, and cozy mysteries. With a Regency “Christmas” story, I would need to walk a fine line between the story’s dramatic development and the religious implications of the holiday.

The problem occurs because a Regency era Christmas was still steeped very much in religion. One must remember that in the 16th Century, to prevent subversion, the government banned Christmas celebrations. According to the Jane Austen Centre Magazine, “We have accounts from early 19th Century journals of Christmas days where the writer mentions the holiday but makes absolutely no fuss about it. Likewise, there are records of newspapers, published on December 25th that do not even contain the word Christmas.” A Regency era Christmas is NOT a Victorian one. There would be no tree, no stockings, no caroling, and very few presents. Boxing Day and Twelfth Night were days of celebration, NOT Christmas.

For me, this new novel created an “uncomfortable” situation. Perhaps, the problem rested in the idea of the separation of Church and State ingrained on my soul after 40 years of teaching in the public classrooms of three different states. I do not discuss religion or politics; even with my close friends, I remain quite closed mouthed.

My religious background is a mixed bag: I was early on raised as a Pentecostal, became a Baptist, am essentially an Existentialist, and married a Catholic. Mayhap, that is why I have never considered an inspirational novel. According to publishing statistics (although I have no proof of the assertion), the vast majority of readers of IRs are Fundamentalists, and although Catholicism has produced wonderful writers, such as Flannery O’Connor, Catholics do not commonly pen IRs. (Again, I do not speak from experience. Research into the genre before I began to write offered up such facts.)

IRs have deep roots in American literature. During the 19th Century, while Jane Austen and the Brontës created their novels to the delight of English readers, devout female writers in America shared stories of a young female heroine who first falls in love with and then converts the young hero. The stories contained multiple Biblical passages and moral lessons. These “domestic novels” were the first IRs.

Grace Livingstone Hill is considered by many to be the Georgette Heyer of modern inspirational romances. With over 100 books, Hill’s novels serve as an IR model. One finds in Hill’s books a beautiful Christian female (often in distress) who captures the regard of a rich, handsome, worthy gentleman. These books contain no sex, no violence, some drama, and a happy ending.

Ellen Michelleti of www.likeesbooks.com defines an inspirational romance as “one where the love story between the characters is closely intertwined with their development of a relationship with God. Usually at the beginning of an inspirational romance, one of the characters is a firm believer and the other is not. The progression of the relationship between the two characters explores not only matters of love, but also matters of doubt and faith. In an inspirational romance, part of the HEA [Happily Ever After] is where the one character who has been struggling with faith becomes a believer.”

So where does this definition leave my newest novel, Christmas at Pemberley? Trying to tell a compelling story based on Austen’s characters, I placed Elizabeth and Darcy in a difficult situation. They are two years into their marriage, and Elizabeth has yet to deliver an heir for Pemberley. The Darcys’ first child was lost early on, but the second loss had come some four months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy. With child for a third time, Elizabeth refuses to permit anyone to celebrate the possibility. In her mind, Darcy is the most deserving of husbands. Therefore, she must be the undeserving one in their relationship, and she is having a difficult time in coming to grips with her losses.

I based Elizabeth’s situation on my own. Before my son Joshua graced this world, I experienced a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy. While carrying Josh, I refused baby showers and gifts until I reached six months of the gestation. I had reasoned that if I could mark that month in my child’s development that, with the help of modern medicine, he would survive. I gave Elizabeth some of my qualms, my fears, my hopes, and my insensibility.

It is through Elizabeth attempting to right her world that religion is addressed in the novel. I prefer to think of the book as having an “edge.” Christmas at Pemberley contains a message of faith, but it is faith based in the real world. Life happens. Passion, jealousy, and deceit exist in every day life. How we handle each is a testament to our faith.

Below is an excerpt from the novel:

“A small gift from Nan,” Elizabeth said as she handed the hastily made child’s dressing gown to Mary. The woman had dutifully completed the delivery, and with Mrs. Washington’s assistance, Elizabeth had helped to freshen Mary’s clothing. Now, the new mother rested once again in the bed. She held the sleeping child in the bend of her arm.

“I’ll thank the girl properly,” Mrs. Joseph mumbled.

Elizabeth patted the lady’s hand. “Why do you not rest?”

“You require rest also,” Mrs. Joseph sleepily protested.

“First, I believe I’ll go downstairs and have a proper supper with Mr. Darcy. I need time to rest my back.” She stretched out her arms. “I’ll send Mr. Joseph to sit with you.”

“Let Matthew be. No one needs to watch me sleep.” Mary’s eyelids closed slowly, but then sprung open again. “That is unless you require private time with Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth smiled easily. “I never tire of the man’s company. Even after two years.”

“Then by all means send Mr. Joseph up. A woman of your infinite powers should have her every wish.” She caught Elizabeth’s hand in a tight grip.

Elizabeth’s finger gently touched the sleeping child’s hair. “My wish is to have what you have, Mary,” she whispered.

“You will, Elizabeth.” Mrs. Joseph assured. “You’ll have your own happiness…you and Mr. Darcy.” She paused and took a deep breath. “My child’s birth…I was never afraid, because God placed the incomparable Elizabeth Darcy in my life. My prayers…those I recited before Matthew and I left Stoke-on-Trent—they were for God to send an angel to protect my child, and on the third day of travel, I walked into this out-of-the-way inn; and there you were.

“My own angel.”

Elizabeth snorted. “I’ve been called many things, but ‘angel’ has rarely been one of them.”

“That’s where the world’s in error, Elizabeth. They see the defenses you display to anyone who barely knows you. They do not see your magnificent heart—your indomitable spirit—the purity of your soul.”

Elizabeth laughed self-consciously. “Do not bestow upon me too many exemplary qualities. If so, I’ll have to find something good to say of Miss Bingley.”

Mary’s eyebrow rose in curiosity. “Miss Bingley?”

Elizabeth chuckled lightly. “The younger sister of my sister Jane’s husband. She did poor Jane a disservice, and Miss Bingley also had once set her sights on Mr. Darcy.”

“Angels can feel jealousy, Elizabeth.” Mary squeezed Elizabeth’s hand.

“So, there are shades of angelic behavior?” Elizabeth’s voice rose in amusement.

Mary laughed also. “Absolutely. God’s love is the purest, but mankind can possess levels of the benevolent spirit.”

“Then, in your opinion, I have God’s attention.” Elizabeth puzzled over that concept.

“We all have God’s attention, but I believe that He’s chosen you among His favorites.”

Before she could stifle her words, Elizabeth defensively asked, “Then how could God allow my children to die before I knew them? Before I could tell them of my love?” Tears trickled from her eyes.

Mrs. Joseph swallowed hard. “That’s the question which most frightens you, is it not, Elizabeth? You wonder how, if you serve God, He could not honor you with a child of your own. How the rest of the world can know such happiness? How no one, except Mr. Darcy, understands the depth of your fear?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth murmured.

“I’ve no answer that would satisfy your heart: God gives us what we need when we need it. Matthew holds different ideas on such matters, but I believe that when the Bible says that God created man in His own image, that means God has His own foibles. He is a bit selfish. God wished to surround Himself with the laughter of children—the most magical sound in the world. Therefore, sometimes He does the selfish thing and calls the child home early. It is the only explanation that makes any sense.”

Elizabeth brushed away her tears. “I’ll endeavor to accept your explanation, Mary. It serves as well as any other.”

“You cannot argue with a woman named Mary so close to the celebration of our Lord’s birth,” Mrs. Joseph teasingly reasoned.

Elizabeth smiled easily. “No, I suppose, I cannot.”

Book Blurb:

Christmas at Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Christmas Sequel

To bring a renewed sense joy to his wife’s countenance, Fitzwilliam Darcy has secretly invited the Bennets and the Bingleys to spend the Christmastide festive days at Pemberley. But as he and Elizabeth journey to their estate to join the gathered families, a blizzard blankets the English countryside. The Darcys find themselves stranded at a small out-of-the-way inn with another couple preparing for the immediate delivery of their first child, while Pemberley is inundated with friends and relations seeking shelter from the storm.

Without her brother’s strong presence, Georgiana Darcy desperately attempts to manage the chaos surrounding the arrival of six invited guests and eleven unscheduled visitors. But bitter feuds, old jealousies, and intimate secrets quickly rise to the surface. Has Lady Catherine returned to Pemberley for forgiveness or revenge? Will the manipulative Caroline Bingley find a soul mate? Shall Kitty Bennet and Georgiana Darcy know happiness?

Written in Regency style and including Austen’s romantic entanglements and sardonic humor, Christmas at Pemberley places Jane Austen’s most beloved characters in an exciting yuletide story that speaks to the love, the family spirit, and the generosity that remain as the heart of Christmas.

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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