Making Xmas Plans: Regiment of Women by Clemence Dane

The special CiB meme ‘Xmas in books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!

Every December on the blog I feature Xmas scenes and Xmas books – I never seem to run out, but am still open to ideas and suggestions.

If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page

published 1917

Every day of December was a boulder, painfully beclambered. But [Alwynne] would come to the gates at last, and tear up the frosty drive, from the shadow of whose shrubberies Jacob Marley peered and clanked at her and ghosts of Christmas turkeys gobbled horribly, to the open holly-hung doorway where Santa Claus, authentic in beard and dressing-gown, welcomed her with Elsbeth's voice. Followed stay-at-home days of delirious merry-making, from which she awoke a week later, to find herself, her back to a closed door, a spent cracker in her hand, looking out again, eager and a little wistful, across the white untrodden plain of yet another January. But ever the next Christmas beckoned her anew.

To Elsbeth, too, Christmas was the day of delights, and Alwynne the queen of it. To Elsbeth, too, the pleasure of it began many weeks earlier in the secret fashioning of quaint gifts and surprises, and the anticipation of the small niece's delight in them. Elsbeth would have cheerfully cut off one of her slim fingers if Alwynne had happened to covet it. The childless woman loved Alwynne—the child in Alwynne she worshipped.

comments: The first paragraph above is part of an elaborate metaphor about how important Christmas is to Alwynne, how the year is just a journey towards this joyful time. There are several pages of it, leading up to the fact that now she is older she’s not so bothered, really, and maybe she would rather see her teacher colleague Clare on Christmas Day, and not her dear aunt and companion Elsbeth. It isn’t really necessary to the book to tell us how Alwynne used to feel about Christmas, and an editor might have persuaded her to cut this - it was her first novel. The will-she won’t-she of where Alwynne will spend the day does go on a bit, but Dane does a good job of making the reader feel the importance and etiquette of every detail. And it’s most certainly a situation that is still resonating with people today – where to go, how to keep everyone happy, who can we fit in.

Alwynne is getting herself involved in a very risky relationship with Clare, and the book will play it out in sometimes-excruciating detail. In an earlier post on it, I said that it was a brave and unconventional book for its time, and that ‘the relations in the book might be adolescent crushes, or extreme friendships, but the lesbian overtones are there – though deniable’ and went on to discuss the book I contributed to, Murder in the Closet, about gay themes in crime stories.

The book is always entertaining – I liked Clare’s earlier victim, the dull Olivia, who is ‘an expert in the more complicated forms of crochet’ and sends her every year an ‘intricate and unlovely’ doiley. And I always enjoy descriptions of school theatricals – here, a performance of King John (of all unlikely and obscure plays) is a key to the plot and contributes to a dramatic turn of events.

In my earlier post, and in this one, I also looked at the phrase Monstrous Regiment of Women – it  has intrinsic interest, and also gave a title to books by Terry Pratchett and Laurie R King. And - connections, connections - this book is mentioned (with plot significance) in a Dorothy L Sayers novel. There's a post on Unnatural Death here, while the actual quote about Dane's book features in the earlier post on this one

Clemence Dane is well worth looking up – a most interesting person. Several of her books have featured on the blog: click on the label below.

The top picture is Toys in the Corner by Carl Larsson, from the Athenaeum website.
Santa peering in is from the NYPL’s collection.


  1. Great to see you blogging again! I love your Christmas posts, such a good range of periods and styles (of dress and of writing). I hadn"t heard of this novel, though I knew of Clemence Dane as a playwright.

    King John would have seemed less obscure to an Edwardian: in the 19th century it was one of the most-performed Shakespeares, perhaps because it had medieval pageantry. Does the school production have good costumes?

    1. Thank you for the kind words, lovely to hear. I do enjoy doing Xmas posts, for exactly the reason you say - they are all so different.

      That's very interesting about King John - I had no idea. Costumes not as good as you might expect, given that Clemence Dane is quite good on certain details.

  2. For a lot of people, I think, there's a angst-laden gap between this sort of 'ideal' holiday and what really happens/may happen. It sounds as though that's a part of this plot, Moira, and I find that interesting in itself. I like the detail, too (although I do understand what you mean about 'excruciating.'...). I'm with you about school theatricals, too!

    1. Yes, I suspect it's one of those troubles in life that we think we invented - but has actually been going on forever. And why wouldn't it?
      And yes, the book has a lot of my favourite features.


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