What makes a Regency “Traditional”?

dedicationI’m always interested in the keywords used to describe books. Having already talked about what “sweet” means with regard to Regencies, I’m moving on to “traditional”.

There are various explanations of how traditional Regencies differ from Regency-set historical romance.

Traditional Regencies are short. But some of the older ones were 80,000 words or more, especially those published as Super Regencies.

Traditional Regencies are “sweet.” There are many exceptions, including some books by the Riskies. Sweet historical romance also exists.

Traditional Regencies depict the world of the Regency as described by Jane Austen and/or Georgette Heyer. True to a degree, but neither of them ever included paranormal elements like vampires. Or time travel. Or Greek deities who take a mischievous role in the characters’ love lives.

vampireTraditional Regencies are historically accurate. Not always! I’ve heard there was a Zebra Regency that included photography as if it were in common use. I’ve also read traditional Regencies with errors in titles, fox hunting in the summer, etc…, and many that seem to rely almost entirely on Georgette Heyer for background information. Although we know she did meticulous work, the sensibility in her books is largely Victorian.

One other point is that many authors of Regency-set historical romance do extensive research (I do!) although they may incorporate aspects of the setting that were not seen in books by Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer.

Traditional Regencies are light and witty “comedies of manners”. There were some pretty angsty traditional Regencies, dealing with substance abuse, PTSD and other serious themes.

rakeSo even while some of these traits often describe traditional Regencies, it seems to me that the only simple definition is those books published in the traditional Regency lines. Of course, now there are indie authors and specialty lines who publish what are generally agreed to be “traditional” Regencies.

jewelThe only definition I’ve been able to come up with that makes sense is that in a traditional Regency, the Regency setting is more consistently emphasized, described in detail (even if the detail may be incorrect or copied from Georgette Heyer), and that the setting often takes on an importance almost as if it were a secondary character.

So what do you think? What makes a Regency “traditional”?


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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16 Responses to What makes a Regency “Traditional”?

  1. Elena, I agree with you about the setting being more emphasized in the Trads, and also about all those exceptions to the general Trad definitions, especially having authored some of those myself! One thing you didn’t mention, though, is the writing style. This difference has changed over time, but I think the Trads being written now still preserve something of a style that is more formal, more flavored like the 19th century, than that generally used for Historicals. Vocabulary, sentence structure, etc. I think we’ve all eased away from it somewhat, in the interest of making the books more reader-friendly, but I know that this was the distinguishing feature that placed my books into Signet’s Traditional line when I started, since my plots and emotional levels were kind of in-between trad and historical. I had to cut my first book down from 100,000 words to 75,000 so it could fit the Trad line!

    • Elena Greene says:

      I think you’re right, that style is a big part of it. I think it’s something the more devoted fans of traditional Regencies look for, while readers who focus more on historical romance may or may not care for a more period feel to the writing. Some seem to prefer a modern style, despite the long gowns and carriages. I guess it depends on how deep into the period experience one likes to go.

  2. Traditional to me means observing the social customs and manners as generally seen in Austen’s books, a sweeter romance, and a good bit of attention to the details of daily life. The author does not endlessly prose on about the sexual attraction between the hero/heroine. Of course, they’re attracted to each other or it wouldn’t be a romance, but let’s remember the subtlety of that day. Sentences are longer and speech more formal for the upper-class characters, and markedly different from any servants, farmers or tradesmen in the stories. A good bit of attention needs to be paid to historical details without becoming a slave to them. A traditional to me has always meant an emotional story well-controlled, and told within the confines of “polite society.”

    • Elena Greene says:

      Kadee, that may be true but many of the books above didn’t confine themselves to “polite society” (as in Mary Balogh’s prostitute story). What I think is generally true is that in a traditional Regency, the rules of polite society are important and understood. Breaking them always had potential or real consequences and the characters were aware of those consequences–even if they sometimes acted outside the rules. However, it does bother me in historical romance if the characters seem unaware of the rules–for instance, the couple caught in bed who are surprised that they are expected to marry or fall into disgrace.

  3. I suppose when I think of a traditional Regency, it is very much with a sweet theme in mind and most readers I speak to have the same concept of traditional. Manners and settings are also paramount in the ones I have read.

    • Elena Greene says:

      Thanks Sasha. I also think manners and settings are critical–however many books published as traditional Regencies deviated from the sweet themes. Personally I enjoy the variety but understand that some readers prefer a specific “flavor”.

  4. The trads are the ones I like. Period. Regardless of the level of eroticism, the subject matter, etc. I guess if I like it, I think it’s a trad! That usually (but not always) eliminates the chick-lit-in-costume stuff; the pirates and vampires and magic; the girls who jump into an affair willy-nilly; and definitely excludes the ones with weird (and impossible) inheritance plots. As some have mentioned, it is the tone, the voice, the wit, the manners — and of course the setting as strong element of the story. On the other hand, I like heroines with strong goals beyond husband-hunting. And heroes whose ‘fatal flaw’ is not too improbable to overcome. And absolutely no physical cruelty!

    • Elena Greene says:

      That’s a refreshing way to look at it, Vicky!

      I personally don’t differentiate too much, as I enjoy books in both the traditional and historical categories. I’m pretty eclectic as a reader and enjoy variations on the Regency unless they just feel too modern.

  5. Honestly, I always thought that traditional Regencies were between 60,000 – 80,000 words and about the only thing they had in common was a certain style and dash. They could be dark or light, sexy or not so much, and a lot of other things. But they had to have flair–and a word count that fit the category.

    Thankfully, with ebooks that’s all pretty much up to the author and the readers now.

    • Elena Greene says:

      Shannon, Gail mentioned the same thing–style, and I think that is a big part of it. Now it is up to author and readers, but that’s why it’s interesting to discuss things like what it means to be “sweet” and “traditional”. Not everyone comes up with exactly the same answers, but hopefully if there’s enough story blurb along with those keywords, readers will find the stories they can enjoy.

  6. Being English and brought up on “Traditional Regency” novels – Austen & Radcliffe obligatory reading at school – I fell in with Georgette Heyer & Barbara Cartland works, and compared them to personal family journals/diaries penned from the 16 the century right through to mid 19th century, and I soon realised Austen presented a rose-tinted perspective of Regency society, and although Georgette touched on darker issues, she nonetheless garnered much from Jane Austen & Ann Radcliffe respectively, who were ladies of their time: Regency England. But it was easy to forgive Ms Austen’s reticence in keeping things sweet rather than racy. After all, she was the daughter of a parson, and Georgette was equally of a time period where sex was pretty much a taboo word. And yet, in real-time Regency society, opium abuse was rife within the aristocracy, children born within seven months of marriage (premature?) were at a peak as was the registration in parish records for illegitimate births (no named father). In fact, the numbers for “bastard” children was twice that countrywide than in the reign of Charles II: the Merry Monarch. Which brought me to the conclusion – some years back – that Regency life was far from depicted correctly within Austen novels. And if one dares to think in terms of Charles Dicken’s novels as true depiction of English society (A tale of Two Cities – French Revolution), prior Regency falsehood probably accounts for why Austen fell out of favour with a Victorian readership, and why the darker gothic tales of the Bronte Sisters’ were so popular alongside Dickens et al. Life in Regency England was tough, mean and there was a huge divide in society, and despite the “new rich” returned from the colonies and India who rapidly acquired land and property (one way and another) and paraded their wealth on their sleeve, it was very difficult for the “new rich” to ever be granted the same recognition as members of the aristocracy, even when they married into them or engaged in business deals. You had the blood, or didn’t, and part blood offspring needed to be blooded again to enter the fold of the establishment. Cinderella stories were rare, and often proved to be disastrous in real-time Regency marriage situations. Fiction allows for element of fairy tales, and if parish records are correct on marriage dates and christening dates of first children, then there were a lot of young Regency ladies who indulged in sex before marriage! In one of my ancestors journals there is much talk of a rushed wedding (shotgun wedding) in order for the child to be born within the recognised premature limits of eight months for a healthy baby. Later on there is a reference to a child born some distance from home and on its homecoming remarked upon as rather large baby for its age! So not all sweet Traditional Regencies are an exact depiction of the era. No doubt young girls did fear getting with child, but in the heat of a romantic liaison, well… Not only that, young Regency ladies were not as well-chaperoned as novels would have us believe.

    • Elena Greene says:

      This is so true, Francine! Back when I was starting to write Regencies, I remember critique partners questioning one of my stories in which my heroine, a vicar’s daughter, walks in the countryside with just her dog. I reminded them of P&P, where Elizabeth Bennet walks alone to see Jane when she’s sick at Netherfield, and they sort of gaped at me. I do think that heiresses and daughters of lords were likely to have more chaperonage, but not every young lady. And although it’s important to know there were rules, it’s also realistic to recognize that some people broke them!

  7. HJ says:

    Some very interesting comments above. I suspect that the meaning of the term “traditional Regency” has changed slowly over a few years, and that many people use it today as a shorthand for “no sex”. But as well as that, I agree with Kadee’s definition. I don’t think the term “traditional” can be used for ones which included “paranormal elements like vampires. Or time travel. Or Greek deities who take a mischievous role in the characters’ love lives.”

    • Elena Greene says:

      Thanks for your comments, HJ! Although many books originally published in the traditional Regency lines did include elements considered “non-traditional” it’s useful to know what “traditional” means to readers.

      It’s reinforcing my belief that besides the keywords, it’s important to have a cover and story description that make it clear whether the story contains “non-traditional” elements.

  8. Elena Greene says:

    Sorry for posting and then disappearing. My excuse is my oldest graduated high school this weekend–a fun, busy and very emotional time! I will try to get back to everyone individually now.

  9. Thanks for the cover (before last) post, Elena!

    Francine, I have to take issue with you about Austen’s “rose-tinted” world. She was quite well aware of issues of her time within and outside her class. It’s there, but to a modern audience it takes some deciphering. Austen has really suffered from the branding imposed upon her by her loving family after her death, when Victorian ideals were applied to dear old Aunt Jane who in their view was rather racy and vulgar. She’s suffered further from the 1995-on branding and the cult of Darcy.

    And oh yes, romance readers/writers. Please try and figure out that sensuality/eroticism goes way way beyond vocabulary. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many many times again, look at all the possibilities of stockings and gloves and tight leather pants.

    I like a lot of historical detail in my books. Otherwise what’s the point? I don’t want to see a Regency heroine unzip her polyester dress and reveal Victoria’s Secret undies.

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