Dear Mr. Firth,
You must allow us to tell you how ardently we admire and love you.
To celebrate your 54th birthday, we’re serving up a 3-course repast here at Alphabet Soup: a brand new picture book, a spot of tea, and you.
Whether as Fitzwilliam Darcy or Mark Darcy, you truly take the cake. May we be so bold as to say you are stunning wet, dry, and everything in-between?
And boy, can you rock a cravat and waistcoat.
We remain your loyal fans, wishing you the best birthday ever.
With deep affection and hearts a-flutter,
Every female in the world with a pulse
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♥ FIRST COURSE ♥
Goodnight Mr Darcy by Kate Coombs and Alli Arnold
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an earnest writer and a department store sniffing artist in possession of talent and wit must be in want of a good parody.
For award winning author Kate Coombs and award-winning illustrator Alli Arnold, a send-up of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice à la beloved children’s classic Goodnight Moon was just the thing to set their bonnets a-twirl.
In the great ballroom
There was a country dance
And a well-played tune
And Elizabeth Bennet —
So begins this tidy tale of moonlight and romance, as all are gathered at the Netherfield Ball — Lydia and Kitty looking pretty, Mr Darcy surprised by a pair of fine eyes, Jane with a blush and Mr Bingley turned to mush, and let’s not forget a certain gossiping mother and a father saying ‘hush’.
Those familiar with Pride and Prejudice know that the Ball is a crucial scene — where Darcy has singled out Elizabeth, and caught off-guard, she agrees to dance with him. They are allowed to engage in unchaperoned conversation (gasp!), their unguarded repartee ever-so-temptingly weakening their resolve.
In Goodnight Mr Darcy (Gibbs Smith, 2014), Kate has retained the simple rhyming structure and lulling cadence of Brown’s Goodnight Moon, but with a brilliant tongue-against-blushing cheek makeover that outlines all the delectable aspects of the prim and proper Darcy/Lizzy conscious coupling from ‘cute meet’ at the dance to mutual mooning over each other at home to happily ever after. The Mr Bingley and Jane pairing adds a bit of ‘mushy’ humor boys will appreciate, while the whole concept of a fancy dress ball with tipping of top hats, flitting of fans and oh-so-civilized how-de-do’s will have special appeal to girls.
I love how Alli has dialed back the clock with fetching character costumes and decorative details that echo Brown’s book. Though most of the Goodnight Mr Darcy scenes take place at the ball or just outside the mansion, there is a wonderful double page spread showing the gossiping mother tucking the hush-uttering father into bed. Yes, there’s a yellow rocking chair with knitting needles and yarn, two cats playing on an area rug, the familiar fireplace and log carrier, and green and yellow striped curtains. But the yellow lamp is now a candelabra, the mantle clock is more ornate, the bedside bureau has clawed feet.
Remember the pair of slippers in the great green room? They’re now bunny slippers — a fitting homage to the Goodnight Moon bunny, who might otherwise have felt a little slighted since the cats and mice made the cut. I admit to missing that little bowl of mush, but love how Kate and Alli have transformed hot cereal into a hot babe.
Clever and charming in every way, this double parody is a fun intro to classic lit for munchkins and a hoot extraordinaire for grown-up Austen fans. After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that an astute reader in possession of a child’s heart and an appetite for comic irony must be in want of Goodnight Mr Darcy. 🙂
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♥ SECOND COURSE ♥
Tea and Ratafia Cakes
No doubt all that flirting and twirling around the ballroom has left you famished. At private Regency balls like the one at Netherfield, tea was likely served during a dancing intermission or after a midnight supper with dessert.
If Lydia hadn’t eloped with Wickham and Mr Darcy had been able to host Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle for dinner at Pemberley as planned, they would have enjoyed a lavish 2-course meal (a total of about 18 dishes including such delicacies as white soup, chickens with tongues, cold gammon, pheasant, lamb, apple pie, and ice cream).
Tea would be served an hour or two after dinner (“afternoon tea” was not de rigueur until Victorian times), and I like to imagine Mr Darcy’s teaboard, where I could help myself not only to coffee or tea, but raspberry cordial and negus (mulled wine), little iced cakes, naples biskets, apple puffs, and ratafia cakes.
Ah, ratafia cakes! Let’s have some!
These light macaroon-like biscuits complemented other dessert or tea sweets nicely. Made with ground almonds and whipped egg whites as the only leavening, they were named after their flavorings (“ratafia” was a type of cordial or liqueur). The recipe in Dinner with Mr Darcy calls for almond extract or Amaretto as a flavoring, while the ratafias in The Jane Austen Cookbook call for orange flower water. I imagine both are equally yummy (who could resist their nutty chewiness?), but I must admit I have a thing for almond extract. Just opening that little bottle and getting a whiff of that heavenly scent makes me happy :).
With our ratafia cakes, let’s enjoy a bracing cup of Mr Darcy’s Finest Earl Grey by Steep Show Teas, compliments of poet and SST owner Diane DeCillis, whose wonderful poem I shared last week. While sipping and nibbling, we can imagine ourselves at the Ball, hoping Mr Darcy will invite us to dance right before supper, since afterwards he would be the one to escort us into the dining room and sit beside us. Of course having a long and lavish dinner at his place with tea afterwards would tickle our corsets too. Let’s raise our cups.
Here’s to Mr Darcy!
(makes 25-30 small cookies)
- 2-1/4 cups ground almonds
- 1-2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3 egg whites
- 2-3 drops natural almond extract or 1 tablespoon Amaretto plus 1 extra tablespoon ground almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Put the ground almonds in a bowl, sift in the confectioners’ sugar and mix well.
3. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, beating in the almond extract or Amaretto at the end. Fold the egg whites into the almond mixture until you have a smooth paste. If you’ve used Amaretto, you may need to add a few more almonds to get the texture right.
4. Put heaping teaspoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheets, and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
~ Adapted from Dinner with Mr Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels and Letters of Jane Austen by Pen Vogler (Cico Books, 2013).
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♥ THIRD COURSE ♥
The Man Himself
After all this Mr Darcy talk, it’s time we watch him dance with Elizabeth at the Netherfield Ball. You probably know Colin Firth had a real-life romance with co-star Jennifer Ehle, and that he at first refused the role because he didn’t think he was right for the part. Funny how those things work out — his famous lake scene propelled him to instant stardom, securing his status as a dashing heartthrob around the world.
Almost 20 years later, the ever modest Mr Firth (who was just named GQ’s Leading Man of the Year), still doesn’t get what all the fuss was about. He’s never thought of himself as particularly handsome or sexy, which is precisely what makes him even more attractive to his fans. 🙂
What’s interesting about this particular country dance (“Mr Beveridge’s Maggot”) is that though it might “seem” appropriate, in reality the young people in Austen’s novel would have found it terribly old fashioned. According to Vic Sanborn at Jane Austen’s World,
Regency dances were extremely lively. The dancers were young, generally from 18-30 years of age, and they did NOT slide or glide sedately, as some recent film adaptations seem to suggest. They performed agile dance steps and exerted themselves in vigorous movements which included hopping, jumping, skipping, and clapping hands.
Wouldn’t it have been fun to see Mr Darcy and Elizabeth kicking up their heels on the dance floor? 😀 For now, though, sedate sliding and gliding will have to do, and I will refrain from swooning, sighing, or mooning over Colin Firth (who for me, is the only Mr Darcy). I remain, as always, the very picture of restraint (cough).
* * *
♥ SPECIAL GIVEAWAY! ♥
GOODNIGHT MR DARCY
written by Kate Coombs
illustrated by Alli Arnold
published by Gibbs Smith, September 2014
Picture Book for ages 4+, 32 pp.
*A BabyLit Parody
The publisher has generously offered a brand new copy of Goodnight Mr Darcy for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. And just because today is Colin Firth’s birthday, I’m throwing in a Pride and Prejudice Keepsake Edition DVD (1995 BBC series, 2-disc set, January 2014 release), which includes an hour of bonus footage.
For a chance to win both the book and DVD set, please leave a comment at this post telling us what you would say to Colin Firth if you had the chance to meet him in person — no later than midnight (EDT) Wednesday, September 17, 2014. Extra entries for blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, etc. (please mention in your comment).
You may also enter by sending an email with COLIN in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
* * *
Thank you, Kate and Alli, for creating your own bit of magic in the moonlight with this splendid book!
Goodnight Colin lovers everywhere.
* * *
This is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your bonnets and bibs and join the fun!
*Spreads from Goodnight Mr Darcy posted by permission of the publisher. Text copyright © 2014 Kate Coombs, illustrations © 2014 Alli Arnold, published by Gibbs Smith. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.