In the Regency, but not wholly of the Regency

Like Carolyn and Diane, I’ve been following with interest the discussion on the state of historical romances in general and Regencies in particular that’s been prominent on the romance blogosphere since Jane at Dear Author’s provocatively titled post, We Should Let the Historical Genre Die.

I’m never sure where I fit in during discussions of the State of the Regency, because I never can decide just how much of a Regency writer I am. Back when the Golden Heart and Ritas had two separate categories for Regencies and other historicals, I used to angst endlessly about where to enter my books. What if I entered them in Regency and got marked down for not having enough ballrooms and dukes? Or what if I entered them in historical, only to have some judge see the “1811” dateline at the top of the first chapter and think, “Hey! This is a Regency. I’m sick of Regencies. If I wanted to judge one, I would’ve signed up for that category.”

In the end, I entered The Sergeant’s Lady as a historical and its prequel, A Marriage of Inconvenience, as a Regency. Why? Well, The Sergeant’s Lady is set almost entirely in Spain during the Peninsular War with, as the title makes clear, a common sergeant as a hero. Despite its 1811-12 setting and British protagonists, it just doesn’t feel Regency. A Marriage of Inconvenience, on the other hand, is a house party story set in Gloucestershire, with a wealthy viscount for a hero and a poor relation cousin of a baronet for a heroine. Regency tropes everywhere you look.

My third book, An Infamous Marriage, is maybe a half-Regency. The hero and heroine are of the gentry rather than the nobility, and though they move in exalted circles in Brussels in the run-up to Waterloo because of the hero’s rank as a major-general, that’s not what their story is about. And my fourth book, A Dream Defiant, despite its 1813 setting is another non-Regency–it takes place in Spain in the aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria, the hero is a black soldier (the son of Virginian slaves who ran away to the British army and freedom during the American Revolution) and the heroine is another soldier’s widow, an ordinary village girl whose ambition in life is to take over her home village’s posting inn and make it famous for serving the best meals on the Great North Road.

I don’t want the Regency to die because I have such an insatiable passion for the opening 15 years or so of the 19th century. I mean, what would I do with all my research books if i couldn’t base my novels upon their contents?

Susanna's Shelf

But when I write my Regencies (or Regencies in year only, as the case may be), I’m trying my best to ground them in a specific place and time–and that’s what I’d like to see more of in the genre as a whole. I know a lot of writers and readers love historicals for the “Once Upon a Time” feeling, and the last thing I want to do is deny anyone the pleasure of the stories they like best. But for myself I don’t want once upon a time. I want 1812 at the Battle of Salamanca, or Seattle in the 1850’s, or Philadelphia in 1776. And I don’t want the only alternatives to Regency to be Victorian, Western, and Medieval. I want Colonial American historicals. I want more stories set on the West Coast, like Bonnie Dee’s lovely Captive Bride. I want a Civil War romance from the Union side. Given the role of women at the time it’d be tricky to pull off, but I’d love to see an ancient Greek romance set sometime around the Greco-Persian wars. And so many more. I want more history–in my Regencies and across the genre.

What about you? What unexplored corners of the Regency world would you like to see more of? And what other periods of history strike your fancy?

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22 Responses to In the Regency, but not wholly of the Regency

  1. Elena Greene says:

    I loved The Sergeant’s Lady and look forward to reading the rest. I’m glad there’s room out there for a variety of stories.

    Although it’s not a deal-breaker for me, I do prefer Regency set romance to be somewhat grounded in the reality of the period. But for me, it doesn’t have to be necessarily bound to a specific year or specific historical events (most of my books aren’t). But if not that, then I still want a sense of place. If the story takes place n a country house, let it be set in a real county, with some sense of the landscape, the architecture, maybe some local customs or dialect. For me, those details add a sense of color and life to the story.

    • susanna says:

      Elena, I agree. While my books so far have tended to be grounded in specific events, I’m equally happy to read a Regency that just feels rooted in the era in general–it’s the ones that could just as well be Victorian or mid-18th century Georgian if you changed the shape of the heroine’s skirts that don’t satisfy me.

  2. Good points. I’ve read a wide variety of Regency, thanks to writers like Diane Gaston. I’m definitely interested in American Colonial.

    • susanna says:

      I’ve always been surprised there’s so little American Colonial romance, since it’s such a fascinating period of history and most Americans know at least a little about it.

  3. Isobel Carr says:

    “[W]hen I write my Regencies, I’m trying my best to ground them in a specific place and time–and that’s what I’d like to see more of in the genre as a whole.”

    this. This. THIS!

    Biggest compliment I’ve received lately was from a reader who said he was so happy to open my book and discover that it *felt* distinctly Georgian. Made my freaken year!

    • susanna says:

      That *is* a great compliment. It’s always wonderful when readers appreciate an aspect of your writing that’s important to you–I have a Goodreads reviewer whom I treasure because not only does she like my books, I always feel like she’s reading the same book I intended to write. 🙂

  4. Susan/DC says:

    While I agree with your points about the need for a book to feel rooted in its time and place, I’m not sure I would make the same distinctions you do. I’ve read and enjoyed both A Marriage of Inconvenience and The Sergeant’s Lady (and want to thank you very much for that enjoyment) but thought of both as Regencies. Yes, one has more of certain Regency tropes (aristocrats, house party, etc.) but both are firmly grounded in the manners, mores, and events of the Regency. The impediments to marriage raised in the latter book by the class differences between the hero and heroine are very much of the era. On the other hand, the hero and heroine would probably not have met in a different time period, as it was the Peninsular War that brought them together, and war has a way of breaking social distinctions, for good or for ill. Dukes and ballrooms are not necessary for me to call a book a Regency.

    • susanna says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed both books, Susan! FWIW, when I first started writing The Sergeant’s Lady, I thought of it as a Regency for all the reasons you list. I started redefining it during my unpublished contest junkie days, when I entered that manuscript in just about every contest that had a historical category with a final round being judged by an editor at a publisher I liked. I noticed that when judges evaluated it as a historical, it scored quite well, but if it was judged specifically as a Regency, I’d get comments like, “The characters just don’t seem like Regency people.” I then noticed both authors and readers talking about the appeal of the Regency as an escape to a once-upon-a-time world of glamor and elegance. Which led me to think, “If that’s a Regency, then I must be writing something else that just happens to have the same dateline.”

      • diane says:

        Diane, here, coming late to the party.
        I agree with Susan/DC. I see both your books as Regency, because I define the Regency in terms of an era, not a specific class of people in the era. I do see the aristocracy and balls and Almack’s as part of the fantasy of the Regency, though, but not necessary for the book to be a Regency.

        For contests, though, I do understand your anxiety. Contest judges often come with more pre-conceived notions than readers. Or editors.

  5. Susanna,
    Oh my gosh! You just described my delimma with my books. In the Regency but not wholly of the Regency. I do love Regencies but I also like those that dare to go beyond the typcial trappings of the era. Good for you!

  6. Ella Quinn says:

    Good discussion, Susanna. I don’t get the not really Regency thing. Some of Heyer’s books, such as the Infamous Army and the Spanish Bride are still Regencies eventhough they don’t take place during the Regency. Two of my books in my series The Marriage Game take place outside of England, on in Europe and the other in the Danish West Indies. They are still Regencies. To me as long as it’s set in the time period, there is not a problem. Tweeted.

    • Well, it’s a distinction I developed for myself based on what I seemed to be hearing from authors, readers, contest judges, editors, etc…but it’s obviously just my own way of making sense of the genre boundaries. YMMV.

  7. When I’m reading (or writing) Regencies, I’m mindful that we labor under a Victorian sanitizing of the period, and also that Jane Austen was a vicar’s daughter who circulated in primarily one narrow strata of that society. Between the Victorians trying to help us forget that Wordsworth (England’s poet laureate) had an illegitimate half-French daughter, and Jane’s viewpoint being taken as the only accurate one, I’m aware that the Regency was much, much, MUCH more than dukes and ballrooms, just as the south is more than cotillions and sweet tea.
    All of which is to say, please keep writing those risky Regencies!
    Hats off to any author who can make any aspect of a historical period come alive to

    • I might debate the Jane Austen point a bit–personally I’d love to see a more Austenian approach to the Regency, since if anything it’d allow more room for characters not of the highest aristocracy–but I definitely agree that we view the period through an often cloudy lens.

  8. Oops…
    come alive, to better convey a good loves story.

  9. This is a fascinating look at why we write and how the stories we write are viewed by the reading public. For me, I write stories that resonate with me, characters who want their stories told, to include the nitty gritty feel of real Regency. Meaning: people are people no matter what era they live in. Same dreams, hopes, toils and foils. Research intrigues me so much because it’s important to discover those little snippets that dig deeper into the lives of the time period. That makes stories 3-dimensional, don’t you agree? I applaud you for digging into actual historical events and bringing them to light.

    By the by, these are the stories I WANT to read. Regency for me, is the time period. Even more fascinating: the various social levels within that time period. So keep writing those great stories, Susanna, and WAR EAGLE!!!

  10. I’m not as fond of historical romance set in the United States as my ancestors were Native Americans and there is really no period of American History in which they were treated fairly to say the least. And having grown up in the South when we weren’t stationed overseas I find nothing romantic about anything that happened in the South in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    As I spent three years in England as a young girl perhaps my love of all things English, especially English history is rooted there. And as my introduction to historical romance was Austen, the Brontes and Georgette Heyer I didn’t stand a chance.

    That said I do love historical romance that introduces me to events and phenomena that aren’t often integrated into Regency romance. And I feel the events of the Peninsular Wars are an unexplored treasure of stories.

    • Totally agree with you on finding nothing romantic about the South during slavery. I’m an Alabama native myself and the great-great-granddaughter of a Confederate soldier, but I will never, ever glorify that aspect of my family’s history. I also see where you’re coming from on Native American issues, since my husband and daughter are members of the Cherokee Nation. (Though, having many years ago read a dreadful novel about the Trail of Tears, one of these days I’d like to attempt to write a good one.)

      But I still think I could write an American historical–I’d just do the same as I do with my British ones and create characters who are at least broadly on the right side of their country’s history.

  11. I love reading regencies. I could never write them though because I can’t keep all those titles straight. (I’m fairly certain my fellow authors have created more Dukes and Earls than ever existed in actual fact – throughout all of time!)

    The time period I chose to write in is Pre-Revolutionary/Revolutionary America. I love American historicals, but I’m not a big cowboy fan. Plus, I was reading a lot of books written by men, e.g. the Aubrey/Maturin series. I loved them, but I needed more romance! My first two novels were definitely inspired by what I wanted to read, not what was necessarily popular.

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