What Lady Jenny wants for Christmas…
For Christmas, soft-spoken Lady Jenny Windham craves the freedom to pursue her artistic ambitions, though it will mean scandalizing her ducal parents and abandoning all hope of a family of her own. She confides her plans to successful artist Elijah Harrison when he’s commissioned to paint a portrait of her small nephews, because assisting Elijah will bring Jenny that much closer to her heart’s desire—won’t it?
…Will break both their hearts.
Elijah Harrison finds in his unlikely assistant not only an inspiring muse and unappreciated talent, but also a lovely and passionate woman. If Elijah supports Jenny’s career, his own professional interests will suffer, but more significantly, he will lose Jenny forever. Both Jenny and Elijah must choose between true love and a lifelong dream.
I’m a huge fan of Grace Burrowes’ books. I realise that her books often include Americanisms, the odd anachronism and some repetitive elements which occur in many, if not all of her stories, but you know what? I don’t care. There’s something about her writing which just speaks to me; the emotional content of her stories is so beautifully written that I invariably come away from one of her novels feeling a bit churned up.
Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait is no exception. It’s a truly lovely story of the youngest daughter of a large and loving family who is trying desperately to find her own place within that large number of siblings, in-laws and children, and who, despite knowing she’s loved and valued, is nonetheless feeling suffocated by all of it and them.
Jenny – or Lady Genevieve – is a hugely talented artist at a time when it wasn’t the done thing for a female to excel at anything artistic. Young ladies of good birth were taught art and music of course, but were expected to keep their inclinations to the odd reasonably accurate performance of a Mozart sonata or to a decent watercolour daub. But Jenny is truly gifted, and while her family loves her, even they are apt to dismiss her talent as little more than “dabbling in art”.
Mr Elijah Harrison (who made a brief appearance in the previous book, Lady Eve’s Indiscretion), is a young artist of prodigious talent who has made a name for himself as a fine portraitist and whose name is mentioned in artistic circles as a likely addition to the members of the Royal Academy of Art. He is also an earl, heir to a marquisate, a fact which he generally keeps quiet as much for the benefit of his clients as for his desire to succeed by virtue of his talent rather than his rank.
An argument with his father over his chosen career has meant that he has been somewhat estranged from his family for almost ten years. Even though he has had the occasional contact with his parents and younger brothers, he has not seen his sisters (and his siblings number even more than the Windhams!) for years and years. He is beginning to feel that it’s time for him to go home, even though he is reluctant to take the first step. He’s handsome, kind and quiet, without any hang-ups or dark secrets in his past – which is rather refreshing! – and I liked that he was so honest with Jenny about her work, and so supportive of her.
Elijah and Jenny are made for each other – but Jenny is determined to pursue her studies in Paris, where it is not frowned upon for a woman to paint and to make a career of her art. This is where the plot of the book falls down somewhat, as this is the entire basis of the conflict between the two protagonists. Not that it’s much of a conflict, because Elijah, even though every single nerve in him screams that going to Paris is not the right thing for Jenny; even as he knows that what she really needs isn’t something she will be able to find by removing herself from her family – he realises that she needs to make her own path and though it kills him to do so, he does not want to be the one to stand in her way. He knows she’ll face enough opposition from her parents and siblings and determines to be the one person she can turn to and trust in the face of the familial onslaught.
But in the hands of Ms Burrowes, even such a “non-conflict” makes for compelling reading. The romance between Elijah and Jenny is simply beautiful – sensual and imbued with a deep and palpable sense of longing on every page.
This author also writes what are quite possibly the best familial relationships I’ve ever read. The scene in which the Windham brothers decamp to Elijah’s studio to escape the whirlwind that is their wives and offspring in the holiday season is wonderfully observed, and the one towards the end where Jenny and her parents finally talk about the guilt she’s carried with her for so long was so lovely it brought tears to my eyes.
For a book in which not much happens, Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait simply flew by – I reached the 70% mark without even realising I was more than half way through.
The characterisation of the two principals is fabulous, the romance is delicious and sexy (as is Elijah!) and I enjoyed Ms Burrowes’ insight into the artistic temperament as she discussed colour, light, shadow; and encouraged the reader see things through the eyes of her artist protagonists.
It’s always a little sad when a series of books you’ve enjoyed comes to an end, but there are eight terrific books about the Windhams to be enjoyed over again, plus many more from this prolific and talented author.
Thank you, Ms Burrowes, for allowing me to spend time with this wonderful family over the past few years; and may you never run out of ideas!