Why is Regency England the backdrop for so many love stories? Countless films have been made from Jane Austen’s novels, drawing us into the world of the Regency gentry. Miss Austen is the harbinger of this period of romance, and yet, her novels are hard- hitting tastes of reality, where true love does not always win, but good sense, modesty, and propriety always do.
As we move forward in time to the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer, currently being republished by Sourcebooks Casablanca, we find that these novels follow in the vein of Miss Austen with simplicity and wit, and always a love story. Of course, romance in Miss Heyer’s world does not mean bodice-ripping and overwhelming passion. Gentlemen and ladies fall in love, but they do it with grace, under the watchful eyes of the ladies’ chaperones.
But there is another kind of Regency romance, like the ones I write, that bear little resemblance to the novels of Heyer or Austen, where Regency England is portrayed as a sort of Disneyland, where all the characters are extremely wealthy and extremely beautiful. In these novels, the clothes and the settings come from the time period between 1811 to 1820, but little else remains of the years when the Prince Regent ruled the Empire in his father’s stead. For the most part, we fanciful novelists do not muck about in the realities of the time, when the men were coming back from the wars against Napoleon, the economy was plunged into chaos as the Industrial Revolution marched on, the factories in the North beginning to change the world.
We romance authors stick to the magical, fictional world of the wealthy and titled, focusing on the escapism of beautiful women falling in love with impossible men. The entire time I am writing, the entire time anyone is reading one of these novels, we are fully aware that they are fantasies. Whereas the lady who began it all, Jane Austen herself, wrote romances to reveal something of the world she knew, the world she lived in. The Prince Regent hosted Miss Austen once at Carlton House and from her letters afterward it seemed clear that she was not impressed with the prince or his extravagance. It is that very extravagance that we focus on in modern Regency novels, crossing over from the realm of historical fiction into historical fantasy. We revel in that fantasy, all the while knowing that the real world of Regency England was very different from the one we portray. I must admit that I enjoy both.
Christy English is the author of the historical novels THE QUEEN'S PAWN and TO BE QUEEN, both about the ever-intriguing Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her most recent novel, HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE is a re-telling of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew set in Regency England. Please visit her on her blog at http://www.ChristyEnglish.com