I must confess that before I planned my romance writing career, I hadn't read a single contemporary romance novel. Not a one. No Nora. No JAK. No SEP. Not a one.
I had, however, been introduced to Jane Austen in school, though I didn't enjoy her. The long expository paragraphs, the dull narratives... Gah. The Mother of Us All was not for me, though later I have come to appreciate her books despite their plodding pace.
But I had read every word that Georgette Heyer ever wrote. And when I looked at the publishing scene, decided upon romance as my genre--after all, it hogs a giant share of the fiction market--my first works were Regencies. The first was a short story, a satire, that did very well, reaching #1 in Amazon's free parodies list.
And the first novel I sold, then entitled Hopelessly Compromised, was reissued in both paperback and ebook. It also continues its popularity as Lord Devere's Ward.
Among us, I'm sure, are those who fail to appreciate the joy of the Regency romance. So let me persuade you.
First, it's a wonderful fantasy world (emphasis on fantasy--see below). What man doesn't love to imagine himself a rake? What woman can't see herself as reforming that handsome, wealthy and sexually gifted fellow into the perfect husband?
Second: everyone is courteous. The societal mores were strict. Though you might hate a rival, you would indicate your aversion in the politest of ways. The cut direct was the worst thing that could happen to a young woman--a far cry from the college rape scene and revenge porn that have become common. Okay, a Regency male might one day face a duel. But duelling was both uncommon and illegal.
Third: The clothes were awesome.
Of course I must emphasize that the setting of the Regency romance was a
fantasy world. Bacteria had not been discovered, so cleanliness wasn't a priority. Though a pre-industrial age, pollution was acute--people burned wood and coal to stay warm and all sewage went into the waterways. The air was foul and the water worse. People drank tea and gin because these were healthier than the water.
No laws regulating workers existed. Slavery wasn't abolished in Britain until 1833. In the middle of the 19th century, the laws still permitted children as young as nine years to work sixteen hours daily, most often in cotton mills. Older children could work up to 60 hours weekly--day or night. In 1901, the permissible age was raised to a whopping twelve years.
But little of that appears in our fluffy Regency world, and when it does, its aberrant, though shown as heroic. One example is in Heyer's Arabella, when the heroine, the daughter of a country vicar, rescues a young chimney sweep.
The ton, also called "the upper ten thousand," lived well but because the population of Britain in 1815 was over 10 million, the Regency novel can't reflect the average life of the average Britisher--and it's not intended to. It's diversion only.
Romance readers are often derided for their supposed inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. As an avid Regency reader who has occasionally wandered into writing the Regency, I'd contend that through researching this period, I know far more about the difficulties of living in that world than the average person. Romance readers are, above all, readers, and if we want to find something out, we'll Google it, rather than read a novel.
So, dear Regency fans--go for it. Immerse yourself without guilt in this lovely, unreal word of lords and ladies, dukes and milkmaids finding love.