Beyond Jane Austen: The Real Regency Romance
To prepare for writing this post, I asked Regency writers how they would define a Regency novel/romance. Then I asked readers, most of whom had never picked up a Regency novel, what is their immediate reaction to the term Regency romance or Regency novel. My conclusion is that the writers of the genre know it inside and out. Readers opinions lie at both ends of the “unlike” to “love it” spectrum and all the areas in-between. Amidst these observations resides the reason why early nineteenth century Great Britain is my time period of choice for reading and writing.
What is a Regency Novel?
Most people believe that Jane Austen defined the Regency novel. After all, she lived in and set her books in the time period when George III was mad from an illness and his son became the Regent ruler of the country. This is specifically 1811-1820; however, for publishing purposes, the time period extends from the French Revolution as far as to the end of George IV’s reign in 1830 for reasons I won’t get into in this post. My point here is that Jane Austen did not write Regency novels.
“Jane Austen,” says Tamela Murray, an agent with the Laube Literary Agency and author of two Regency novels and one Regency novella, “wrote contemporary novels. Austen did not have the perspective of whole picture insight into Society.”
Today, we have access to information about the working classes, the disastrously poor, the urban lives, and the place Great Britain played on the world theater. Now, we enjoy thousands more resources than Ms. Austen could have found or afforded such as private journals, many newspapers, and other original sources such as military documents and scores of other books written during her time. Austen wrote of her microcosm. She wrote rather cynically of her microcosm. Her novels were no different than the author from a small town in America without television or the Internet, writing about the people and events of that town—perceptive regarding human nature, often witty, more often than not snarky, ultimately a view no broader than what one can see through a set of binoculars.
Because of the movies and numerous spin-off novels with Austen’s world, readers responded to my query with, too often for this regency writer’s pleasure, “Boring,” or “Not my favorite”.
So let us, bored and disinterested reader, leave Jane Austen in her contemporary and narrow little world and leap forward about a hundred and ten years to the advent of another English lady onto the scene—Georgette Heyer. I haven’t read her biography, so don’t know a great deal about her personally. I do know, however, that she was brilliant and a fabulous author and a huge influence on my writing and thus my life. Heyer brought the Georgian era alive with everything from swashbuckling romances, to drawing room comedies of manners, from mysteries, to gothic novels set from the 1740s, to 1820.
Georgette Heyer set the stage for the modern—Post Modern to be literary—Regency novel. She gave us a perspective of the haut-ton, the highest of society, to the middle class and even glimpses into the darker side of that fascinating era. She gave us a broad spectrum of the Napoleonic wars and dashing, sometimes dangerous, heroes, with spirited but never anachronistic heroines.
“In my mind,” says Rita award-winning author Diane Gaston, “what defines a book as a Regency is the setting. Is it set in the “Regency World?” To me, the Regency world means that it is written from the British perspective, about the places, events, and people who lived in Great Britain or were British during roughly 1790 to 1830. The setting could include British India, British characters in Europe (such as British soldiers in the Napoleonic War–like in my Three Soldiers Series ), or even America (War of 1812, for example), but it is about British characters and involved in British social, political, or economic concerns. Mostly, though, the stories take place in Great Britain and are about the social world of the privileged, although some of my Regencies have been about characters who are not of the aristocracy, but whose lives are more peripherally involved.
Shannon Donnelly, an award-winning Regency author, responds to my ques
tion with, “it was an era when style mattered more than almost anything else. Good “ton” mattered — wit and fashion.” (Note: “Good ton” means having a respectable reputation in Society.)
I think of gentlemen and ladies, fashion, glitz, glamour, and society,” replies Kristi Ann Hunt, fan of the genre and writing her own Regency novel. “I think of the wonderful interest created by a period in such transition – the shift of power among the classes where society and family history still reigns supreme, but money can buy you a place, too. The horse is still the main form of transportation but the train is making an appearance as well. Even indoor plumbing is making its way into buildings. Mostly I think I’m going to read a book that takes me to a place that is either a world in transition or one where reality is still covered with a sheen of old society. I expect characters that are at least aware of the strict social rules, even if they choose to break them. I expect men to treat women like ladies. I like the clothing of the time period.”
All of these ladies and the scores of others who responded to my questions sum up the subgenre of historical romance novels in this same fashion. Wholeheartedly, I concur. It is an exciting time in history with a world of opportunity for romance and adventure, grief to overcome and joy to share, advancement in science and a powerful need to carry the grace of God to a society that went to church out of obligation and habit and not a need to worship.
Although Jane Austen’s endurance into the twenty-first century brings readers to an awareness of the Regency period, her novels barely scratch the surface of everything going on in that world. Georgette Heyer and those who followed in her footsteps—Clare Darcy, Patricia Veryan, etc.–took the genre one, two, a dozen steps further.
In writing inspirational Regency romantic adventures such as my espionage plot in A Necessary Deception, I wish to open a whole new world to readers—the realization that the people of the Regency era needed more substance. It was a world of constant seeking after entertainment and pleasure, concern about their shoes and clothes and appearance, leaving little room for God. . .
Yes, the parallels are often eerie and enough for another blog post. Let us just say that, through writing a spiritual aspect into the Regency subgenre, I, like my predecessors, the late Jane Orcutt and beloved Marylu Tyndall, and my co-Regency authors Ruth Axtell Morren, Louise M. Gouge, and a handful of others, wish to open up a new horizon to readers of Christian fiction and Regency romances.
A Necessary Deception
When young widow Lydia Gale helps a French prisoner obtain parole, she never dreams she will see him again. But just as the London Season gets under way, the man presents himself in her parlor. While she should be focused on getting her headstrong younger sister prepared for her entrée into Society, Lady Gale finds herself preoccupied with the mysterious Frenchman. Is he a spy or a suitor? Can she trust him? Or is she putting herself and her family in danger?