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It is Christmas and Lady Genevieve Windham is the last unmarried Windham, which means she would have to suffer and smile through her parents' attentions, as well as her siblings and siblings by-marriage's attentions. They all want her happy and believe that their presence, their company will solve her loneliness. But what Lady Jenny truly wants, the one thing that will make her happy, is her art -- and she would love, more than anything else in the world, to go to Paris and paint there.
Elijah Harrison knows about the sacrifices one has to make for one's art: he has eschewed the comforts of his family's home and his own rightful place in society as the Earl of Bernward, heir to the Marquess of Flint, in order to fulfill his dreams of painting. Elijah is talented and sought-after -- and he has only one thing left to fulfill before he can return home to Surrey: be accepted to the Royal Academy.
When Elijah shows up at Jenny's sister's house, seeking shelter from the snowstorm, Jenny is pleased to have the chance to talk to someone who could understand her dreams. They talk (he lets her curse and teaches her new curse words), and they sketch and paint together. Love between these two kindred souls is inevitable, but Jenny still dreams of Paris and Elijah still dreams of the Royal Academy: could they really put aside their lifelong dreams for the sake of love?
To be found alone, after dark, with a lady in dishabille could also be his downfall. The Academy would quietly pass him by, his father's worst accusations would be justified, and the example he was supposed to set for all those younger siblings would become a cautionary tale.
- Chapter 6
Lady Jenny's Christmas Portrait offers the readers a glimpse into the heart of an artist: Lady Jenny is passionate and relentless in her pursuit of painting. As a younger lady, she had an art teacher who taught her the basics. When that proved insufficient, she found ways and means to improve herself -- sometimes, without her family's knowledge. At one such covert excursion, Lady Jenny had the *ahem* pleasure of seeing Elijah pose -- nude -- to a group of art students. Despite such an awkward (and unforgettable) first impression, Lady Jenny knows who Elijah Harrison is: a great painter and also the prodigal son of the Marquess of Flint. From their first conversation, she knows her dreams are safe with Elijah. I really enjoyed reading their discussions about their family and their art: they have a very comfortable companionship, which I am glad blossomed into love.
But Jenny is determined to forge on with her plans to go to Pairs once the Christmas season has been celebrated and this gives the story a poignancy and a sense of urgency: our hero and heroine have very little time left together -- how would they spend this time?
True to Elijah and Jenny's nature, they paint -- and, together, they create unforgettable works of art: collaborating on portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Moreland and on the portrait of the Sophie and Vim's sons. Their denial of physical intimacy translated itself into color, light and shadows. How Grace Burrowes depicts this, through description and through the reaction of the characters (to the painting), makes it amazingly vivid. (There was a painting in my head of the boys and of Jenny's parents.)
"I would like to be sharing your damned bed right now, Elijah. My family's kindness and concern make me want to perishing scream."
He did not falter in any regard but drew her a shade closer. "Swive, roger, bed, possess, lie with, copulate, fornicate ..." you can be explicit in your wishes, my lady. They're only wishes."
And he was warning her they'd only ever be wishes.
- Chapter 15
I saw this tweet from Kirkus on my feed:
Lethem says one of his subjects is how an absence can be extraordinarily present, instead simple vacuity. #txbookfest
— Kirkus Reviews (@KirkusReviews) October 26, 2013
And what Jenny feels is the obverse: a presence feels extraordinarily absent. Christmas is the perfect setting for this story: it is a season of bounty and blessings but, interestingly enough, it is also the season that magnifies loss and sadness. It is a time of coming together, a time to enjoy the company of family and friends who traveled from near and far but, this coming together, also reminds us of those who are no longer here with us. Jenny feels this loss as she is surrounded by so much family at Christmas. Through the years, she has gained a number of brothers and sisters by marriage, of nephews and nieces but she feels most keenly the loss of her two brothers: Bart and Victor. She also feels her "single-ness" most acutely this time of year, when everyone else is paired off except for her.
But Jenny is not alone this Christmas because Elijah is there, commissioned by His Grace to do a portrait as a present for his duchess. Wonderful Elijah who encourages her, and makes her happy but, even his companionship is a double-edged sword for Jenny. The expectation of marriage, of conventionality: these are not the things Jenny wants. What she wants is to paint. What she wants is to go to Paris.
Lady Jenny struck me as a bit sad, from the start of the story -- she smiles and plays and banters with her siblings and nephews and nieces, but there's a quietness about her and a bit of resentment.
"I've always been different. I'm different still. Everything you said ... that's who I want to be. I am a duke's daughter, though, and probably more significantly, the daughter of a duchess. Were I to give vent to my eccentricities, it would break my parents' hearts."
- Chapter 1
I tried to understand Jenny because she seemed a bit one-note to me: "Art = Paris" and I tried to look at their family dynamic to see if that would help me understand her: in a family of 10, one can easily get lost and overlooked and each one struggles to find their own niche. Louisa is the talented poet, Gayle is the capable heir, Maggie is the gorgeous, vibrant one -- and Jenny? According to her parents, Jenny "dabbles" -- and this grates at her self-esteem. Jenny longs for "a room of one's own" -- her own place in the universe.
"A butler's pantry might do, Louisa, if it were entirely mine and had at least one decent window."
- Chapter 11
I wasn't certain if the Duke and Duchess of Moreland were truly that oblivious to their daughter's talent or if it was another way they were "manipulating" their children -- but Jenny could not understand why her parents could not support her passion.
Elijah becomes Jenny's champion: the one who sees her most clearly and understands her the best, which is ironic because he is also the one who is the least familiar to her. As they work through Jenny's family issues, Elijah's own issues get sorted out: he misses his family but his pride is in the way of a proper reconciliation.
Elijah is at the end of his rather extended wanderjahr (10 years!) and Jenny is about to embark on hers -- a sacrifice is being demanded of them, but who will make it?
"There are thing you want more than you want me, Genevieve. Important things nobody else can give you, things you think you'll find in Paris. I would not deny you your heart's desire."
He spoke so gently, Jenny felt her throat constrict. "Damn you to rubbishing hell, Elijah."
- Chapter 15
I think Grace Burrowes really made her hero and heroine run the gauntlet: they have already sacrificed so much to pursue their dreams and, yet, more sacrifice is being required of them. In the end, they do what is in their nature to do: sacrifice and let go of their love for the sake of each other.
For this Christmas, this is a book to read with a mug of hot chocolate: Lady Jenny's Christmas Portrait is a heartfelt and incredibly sweet love story, one that will warm your heart and put a smile on your face when you finish it.
Lady Jenny's Christmas Portrait is Book 8 in the Windham Family series and Book 5 in The Duke's Daughters sub-series. To find out more about Grace Burrowes and her books, click below: