If there had been no Georgette Heyer, would the Regency novel that we know and love ever have come into existence? There is no sure answer to this question. Of course, there was (and will always be) Jane Austen, but she did produce only six perfect diamonds! Barbara Cartland wrote hundreds of books – many people think it’s the same book written in hundreds of different locations with differently-named characters. Could be. Or not.
Fortunately, we don’t need to have an answer to the above question, because there have been possibly hundreds of authors in just the last 40 or so years to supply our habits. If you love Regency, you NEED your Regency fix! Actually, there are two major Regency categories to supply that fix: Traditional (no sex, please) and Historical in which nearly anything goes. In this writer’s opinion (I’m also a devoted reader) attention must be paid to the customs and morals of the era, whilst wallowing in the historical settings. The books MUST be both witty and literate.
What is there about this 9 year span that is so endearing and compelling to so many people? (I’m basing that number on the technical Regency period of George, Prince of Wales from when he assumed the position of Regent as substitute for his ailing father George III, until he became King in his own right – George IV.) I know, many people claim any—or all—of the years between 1800 and 1830. There was too much change in the air after 1820 to suit me, but I will happily include those early years – 1800 to 1811.
First off, there was the lure of Napoleon. Bold, brash, unlike any other military personage since Charlemagne, it was apparently impossible not to fall into his thrall. The Duke of Wellington was more than equal to the challenge, however, finally claiming his terrible victory at Waterloo, and sending Napoleon to his final prison at St. Helena.
It was the era of the poet. In England, it was mostly Byron, but also Keats and the Shelleys (both Robert and Mary). Germany contributed Goethe and Schiller.
Musically speaking, the giant of these years was Beethoven, firmly planted in Vienna, also the home of Franz Schubert. However, the music of Mozart and Haydn was still very fresh in the minds of music lovers—especially their operas! Obviously, not all of these artists lived during the Regency itself, but their work was still fairly new at the time, so it could still be considered as influential.
Visual artists during that time were the French Jacques-Louis David, and the British John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner.
It was an age of very conspicuous consumption, when the 1% were known as the Upper Ten Thousand. Or maybe less. Rigidity of class and adherence to these customs were mandatory or lifetime banishment could be the result. It’s very hard to imagine some of these standards in this day and age, but they did exist. There was a definite formality to that time and woe betide the author who willingly ignores it.
Thanks to Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, an entire cottage industry has sprung up around the possibilities of Regency. Long live all of them!
Which variety of Regency is your favorite? In addition to traditional and historical, there is also fantasy/paranormal with ghoulies and ghosties and other things that go bump in the night! I’d really like to hear from you. Toodles! Hetty St James (firstname.lastname@example.org)