Okay. Just what IS the lure of the Regency novel? If you were to ask 100 devoted readers of the genre, you’d probably receive 100 different answers. But chief among them would be:
They’re witty, and literate, and a picture of time gone by that exemplified civility, elegance, manners, and a more structured type of lifestyle. Of course, usually, the seamier underbelly of that society is ignored, but then, there’s a good bit of fantasy involved here—in every regard.
Remember Cinderella? This charming and hopeful fairy tale is probably one of the world’s oldest: a shy, beautiful young female, totally unaware of her charms, and thrust into a corner by those in authority over her, suddenly meets the charming prince who cannot live another day without taking her for his wife. Who among us female persons hasn’t dreamt of just such an occurrence becoming reality? Not for nothing were the two most heavily-watched TV events in the past thirty years those of royal weddings, with an innocent young beauty marrying her prince.
Of course, just because it’s a fairy tale doesn’t necessarily mean it always ends with a ‘happily ever after’! Enter the traditional Regency Romance novel. These do end with a happy ever after. It’s required! (No, not really, but close!)
Marriages were not made in heaven—they were made in boardrooms or on the hunting field. Of course, they were more alliances than marriages. Thus we have the ‘marriage-of-convenience’ plot, one of the most favorite of all Regency concoctions. Another favorite is the ‘get ‘em together and keep ‘em together’ a là Taming of the Shrew. These two will fight each other and everyone else in the near vicinity at the drop of a chapeau. And by book’s end – voilà! Happy ever after.
And then, too, there’s the ‘hit ‘em upside the head!’ (not literally) when, from across a crowded floor, it’s one look – and gangway! Another rake bites the dust having just espied the beauty he’s been searching for, without quite realizing he was doing so.
There are twists on all of these, of course. Another frequent plot line is the sibling switch! It’s the wrong brother (or sister) who is betrothed, and stays that way right up until the last minute, when finally, one of them summons up enough courage to declare the truth.
Mix any of these with the era of conspicuous consumption evident in Brideshead Revisited, or Napoleón and Josephine, and who could resist? All those handsome young men in their gaudy military uniforms awash in ermine and gold lace? And don’t forget those tight pants!
In traditional Regencies, there is no (s-e-x). A kiss, maybe, with perhaps a hug after the wedding – and the bedroom door is firmly closed in the face of anyone wanting to intrude. After all, it’s the courtship itself that provides the sparks! That does NOT mean these stories are bland. They fairly drip with ‘longing’, which in the no-holds-barred books translates to immense sexual tension. Non-traditional or Historical Regencies have no such boundaries. It’s sort of ‘anything goes’. Another alternate is time-travel, which has been done in either direction, with varying levels of success. And we mustn’t exclude fantasy as a plot line. The classics (Roman & Greek) provide a wide variety of detours in the path of true love.
One final consideration. It’s a point of honor for most writers of traditional Regency novels to be as historically accurate with times and places and facts as is humanly possible. Many an author has gone off to find one missing tid-bit of information and not been seen again for years! Heaven forfend that one should mention an area of London that didn’t become popular until the Victorian era. Or send the young heroine off to a store that didn’t exist during the Regency. Or get the clothing wrong, or some other easily discernable truth.
Readers are only too anxious to clobber such an uniformed author, regardless of how wonderful the other 99% of the book might be! Authenticity and attention to detail are the most important requirements for the writer of a traditional Regency. But after all – that’s the fun part of writing! Doing all that research.
Hetty St. James
author of traditional Regency novels