Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The ingredients for a Regency novel . . .

The ingredients for a Regency novel . . .

It’s no secret that I love traditional Regencies as well as historical Regencies. Well, most of the time, at any rate. The books of either category that I most emphatically do not care for are those with modern-day characters parading around in costume. They don’t know (or care, maybe?) about the times in which they happen to be living, or the customs of that time. Manners, language, protocol – all sorts of things mold a character and those who aren’t historically well-grounded are just a lot of fakes!

It’s true that Jane Austen wrote ‘contemporary’ novels, but her contemporary bears little or no resemblance to ours!

Time-travel, however, opens up another door entirely! (Pun intended, as that’s how most of them seem to work.)  A door opens, and someone falls in or out and before they can even think of the word ‘help!’ they’re in another world. There were any number of wonderful Regencies that evoked this plot line from the late 1980s through the 1990s.

Two of the very best (in my humble opinion were by Joan Overfield. The Door Ajar sent the Regency character forward into the London of the mid-90s and the battles with IRA – bombs, etc. everywhere! Time’s Tapestry, on the other hand, sent a modern young woman back to the Regency. She was a bit of a punk dressed in leather, chains and green hair, yet she managed to charm the Earl at whose feet she landed!

Noted Signet Regency  author Sandra Heath also wrote a number of these concoctions: Magic at Midnight, Summer’s Secret and Shades of the Past, among others. She also produced some just plain fantasy books: Lavender Blue, Halloween Husband and The Faun’s Folly.  Some of these also included varying degrees of sensuality, but readers were warned of that, in advance!

Each of these authors did endless research to be sure of getting it just right – whether the past or the present.  Recently I read another book, which isn’t quite a traditional Regency nor yet a time-travel, exactly, but a delicious mix of both, set in the modern-day present. In my opinion, it is nothing short of masterful! This book is Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos.

Well, thanks to Colin Firth in the BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice, (can you believe it’s already 15 years old?) there are literally hundreds of books out there these days that are either about Mr. Darcy, or have his name in the title. I freely admit to being a sucker for these books, but unfortunately, I’m sorry to say -- not all of them are wonderful.

Ms. Doornebos, however, really, truly did her homework. The plot is straight out of yesterday’s paper – a reality show! This one is inspired by the Jane Austen books and subsequent films, and is set around a ‘reality dating show’ set in the year 1812.  The eight finalists (and their chaperones!) live in a Regency era mansion with no mod cons. None! This comes as a rude shock to these modern young women, especially the heroine, 39-year-old Chloe Parker, mother of an eight-year-old daughter Abigail,  left behind in Chicago. And Chloe with NO cell-phone availability!

Of course, there is a dark, brooding hero (Mr. Wrightman) and his unassuming younger brother, plus the ever-present tv cameras, conniving entrants, lovely costumes, etc. It really is a wonderful reading experience! Very cleverly done, at that! I cannot recommend it highly enough for those of you who don’t need rampant sex scenes everywhere. Nothing against rampant sex scenes, of course, but this book does very nicely without them. What it does have is charm, historical accuracy (not a bad thing at all, really!) and a delicious twist at the end that will bring both tears and laughter, simultaneously! Try it and see for yourself! I can’t wait for the film!

Speaking of Jane Austen, did you see that a natural turquoise ring set in gold which originally belonged to her sold recently at a London auction for $236,557? Wow! 
I'm hoping to have a postscript of my own about a Christmas novella. We'll see if it comes to pass! In the meantime, happy reading -- whatever you choose to read! 


Tina Donahue said...

I like regencies. It's amazing to me that there was ever a time when women weren't allowed to walk across a room without a man escorting them. Wow. Talk about emotional feet-binding.

As soon as you know more about your Christmas novella, please share with us. :)

jean hart stewart said...

Thanks for a wonderful column. I started reading regencie when I was about twelve and still adore a good one. Also thanks for the recommendation on someone you think is so good. I'll have to see if her hero can rival Colin Firth in my imagination.....