Friday, 17 December 2010

All This and Heaven Too.

Well, of course I had to buy a new edition.  Amazon one click is about to bankrupt me.  It's a fact.  I will end up begging for gin and gruel, in Newgate.  Wearing a thin shawl and playing cards amongst the likes of Forever Amber and Angelique.  You see?  I have succumbed to the age old fantasy that we all are prone to around this time of year,  when we all get a bit Christmassy of going all 17th Century.  Or Victorian.  I have no idea why.  I blame it on Dickens I suppose. Snow and roast goose, Tiny Tim and cobbled streets, horse drawn carriages and bonnets.  It seems impossible to enjoy the present without looking wistfully back to different times.
My Christmas book is All This and Heaven Too by Rachel Field.  It's a cracker. (sorry)  But it is.  A dense book certainly, but what else are you going to do in front of a roaring fire, dark early evenings and roasted chestnuts?  Well, OK, huddled under a throw with the central heating on full whack?
It's a true story, as well.  Which always gets a nod of approval from me.
In 1841 Henriette Desportes is returning home to Paris after a spell as a governess in England.  Her next job is as governess to the Duc and Duchess de Praslin.  Oh dear.  If I say that the aristocratic couple have nine children, the wife is a highly strung, fleshy Corsican with a lot of money, the adored only child of her indulgent father - the sort that lounges around in tight violet silk, staring moodily out of the window whilst writing beseeching love letters to her tall, fair handsome husband, who frankly, has had enough of her - you can see just where this is going.
The Christmas chapters, where Paris is blanketed in snow, and Henriette takes a carriage to her impoverished academic friends in the Marais, clutching a basket laden with oranges, the colour of which glow in the dark enclosed dusk of the carriage, a pineapple and bon-bons along with a fine bottle of brandy is enough to have you rushing to make yourself a hot toddy. The Duc hands Henriette a small token of his appreciation of her devotion to his children.  The bauble is a crystal snow ball from the Faubourg St Honore and from then on, forever more, when Henriette sees snow, that is her memory.  Being inside a snug carriage, her cold hands tucked inside her new fur muff, a new dress of plum silk, and the handsome Duc beside her.
But... It's not a bodice ripper.  A murder, the toppling of the French throne, infamous actresses, a spell inside the infamous conciergerie and a hop across the Atlantic to a very churchified America is all in store for you.
Unwrap it slowly, for it's a present to treasure.
Happy Christmas.

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