Hi Cathie! Hi Mary Anne!
Thanks for having me as your guest on the Coffee Pot Book Club today. I always love visiting.
This year, I’ve got a new Christmas story out. Hurrah! Four Christmas Kisses: A Scandal in Mayfair Book 4 is heart-warming and romantic, and it was fun to write the heroine’s three sisters, especially rambunctious six-year-old Edwina. Edwina’s constant companions are two wooden dolls, so today I’m going to talk about toys in the Regency era. Anyway, when better to talk about toys than in the run-up to Christmas?
On his way to visit an estate he’s inherited, the hero of my book has an accident during a blizzard. My heroine stumbles over him in the snow and drags him back to the house. When he recovers consciousness, he discovers a small girl playing with her dolls on the end of his bed:
“Take that! And that! And that, Wicked Cousin Christopher! This is our house. You can’t come in. Stay out in the snow. I don’t care if you’re cold. You deserve it.” What sounded like a violent clash of sticks followed.
Without moving – something told him that moving would be a very bad idea – Christopher Trant, Lord Denton, cracked open his eyes to see whether he was under attack.
To his surprise, a little girl perched on the end of his bed, holding a pair of carved wooden dolls. She smashed the toys together with a savage enthusiasm that, if her gleeful expression was any indication, gave her enormous satisfaction.
One doll was dressed as a man and one wore a tattered skirt of indeterminate color. Christopher assumed that doll was female, although both were battered and hairless with rudimentary painted faces. At the moment, the female beat the male into defeat on the thick quilt covering Christopher.
“Die! Die! Die!” Three determined thumps on the luckless male doll before the child lifted the victorious manikin to her lips and kissed its worn face. “Ha! That’s taken care of Cousin Christopher, Jenny.”
He frowned. Was it coincidence that the defeated doll bore his name? He had a horrid inkling that it mightn’t be.
I’m a huge fan of the BBC Antiques Roadshow, which is very popular here in Australia. They did broadcast the American version for a while, but it seems to have disappeared for the moment. As you can imagine, because I write historical romance, I often see bits and pieces that I then use in my stories. When Edwina waltzed into my imagination (she was a huge personality from the start), I pictured her clutching two wooden Georgian dolls very like some of the rare examples that occasionally turn up on the ARS.
If you look at the book cover above, you’ll get an idea of what these historical dolls were like (check out the two dolls in the middle of the top row). Or check out this blog: https://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2016/04/a-well-loved-georgian-doll-and-her.html
To modern eyes, these dolls are rather scary, with their rudimentary faces and general lack of cuddliness. But when I think back to the Barbie dolls I played with as a kid, they weren’t cuddly either and I much preferred my Barbies to any other dolls, partly because they were the right size to become characters in stories. Also thinking back to my Barbies, because they were well-loved, they ended up faded and battered and that was very much the idea I had for Jenny and Wicked Cousin Christopher in 4CK.
Not all dolls in the Regency were made of wood. Rag dolls were popular, and people would also use whatever else was to hand to fashion toys, including bone. Hmm, and I thought the wooden dolls were a bit creepy!
Where there are dolls, there are also dolls houses, which ranged from basic cottages to luxurious mansions. One of the most impressive dolls houses ever made turned up on the Antiques Roadshow back in 2021. It includes elaborate 18th-century mahogany furniture and figures in detailed period clothing. https://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/antiques-roadshow-expert-astounded-doll-24797355
I wonder whether the lucky little girl who owned this ever did much actual playing with it!
Other popular toys included animal figures (again sewn out of textile offcuts or carved), blocks, which make an appearance in my epilogue, spinning tops, hoops, and balls. What’s interesting is that versions of these toys are still available today, although probably made from plastic rather than the bone from the Sunday roast!
Toy theatres were terrifically popular right through the 19th century, featuring wooden or cardboard cut-out figures and scenery. Another beloved toy from this time was the Noah’s ark. Religion was a powerful influence on life in the Regency, and many people felt it was blasphemous to undertake frivolous activities on the Sabbath. But children were encouraged to bring out this biblical toy on Sundays after church. Noah’s arks are invariably charming with the naïve boat and the often even more naïve animals brought in two by two.
Here's an example made in Germany around 1850, but the design didn’t change much from the beginning of the century: https://emuseum.nyhistory.org/objects/27841/noahs-ark-toy;jsessionid=91D3BC2FA20732E785452B776512E168
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick trip to a Regency toy chest. There’s something rather moving about seeing these childhood artefacts from a couple of centuries ago, don’t you agree? That just leaves it to me to wish you all a very happy festive season, no matter how you celebrate it!
A mysterious guest at Christmas.
Spirited Abigail Bryars already has enough problems to deal with when a few days before Christmas, she stumbles across an unconscious stranger in the woods. She and her half-sisters will be homeless after New Year, now that Lord Denton has inherited Yardley Hall and given the family their marching orders. The last thing Abigail needs is a handsome, smart-mouthed distraction who makes her long for forbidden pleasures.
Secrets and passion…
After rakish Christopher Trant, Earl of Denton, tumbles from his horse in a snowstorm, his rescuer is the loveliest woman he’s ever seen. But waking up the next morning, he’s horrified to discover that at Yardley Hall, he’s universally reviled as Wicked Cousin Christopher and everybody hates him. He’d left London assuming the remote manor house was empty, but it turns out it’s occupied by three unknown cousins and an alluring lady called Abigail. To play for time, he pretends that his injuries have stolen his memory. But one small lie leads to others, until he’s so tangled in desire and deception, he doesn’t know where to turn.
A season of goodwill?
Will the revelation of Christopher’s identity destroy all his chances to win Abigail? Or might the magic of Christmas unite these two unlikely lovers and conjure up a bright new future for the whole family? Could four Christmas kisses mean goodbye or happy forever after?
Anna Campbell has written 11 multi award-winning historical romances for Hachette Grand Central Publishing and Avon HarperCollins. As an independently published author, she’s released more than 30 bestselling stories, including her 3 popular series The Dashing Widows (7 books), The Lairds Most Likely (10 books), and A Scandal in Mayfair (4 books).
Anna has won numerous awards for her Regency-set stories including RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice, the Booksellers Best, the Golden Quill (three times), the Heart of Excellence (twice), the Write Touch, the Aspen Gold (twice) and the Australian Romance Readers Association’s favorite historical romance (five times).
She's currently engaged in writing a new series set in Regency London called Scoundrels of Mayfair. The first two books, The Worst Lord in London and The Trouble with Earls, are now out. Look out for The Last Duke She'd Marry and The Duke Says I Do in 2023.
When Anna isn't traveling the world in search of inspiration for her books, she lives near the sea on the beautiful east coast of Australia.