Now that we’ve established traditional romance and category romances, it’s time to move on to more specific genres. With this in mind I chatted with Regency romance writer, Fenella Miller, who shared her experience of writing about the Regency era.
Great Regency romance writers include Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.
What exactly does Regency mean?
If you want to be exact, the Regency era was between 1811 and 1820 (some sources say 1810-1820). In 1811, George III was deemed unfit to rule (as depicted in the film The Madness of King George), so his son, The Prince of Wales, ruled in his place as Prince Regent, until 1820 when George III died and the prince became George IV. However, it can also apply to a more extended period of time, starting from the latter part of George III’s reign in 1785 until 1837 when the Victorian era began. The Regency era had a distinctive set of morals and conventions, as well as having distinctive art, architecture, literature and politics. It also encompassed big events like The French Revolution and The Napoleonic Wars...
What are the conventions of Regency Romances?
According to Fenella, “Regencies are light and enjoyable and not meant to be taken too seriously.”
However, many Regency romances have been brought up to date, and some may well cast a light on the darker and less salubrious parts of society. For the purposes of this article I am concentrating in the traditional Regencies, but there is nothing to stop any writer from taking these conventions and subverting them.
For the uninitiated, the conventions include the following:
There are often two romances in the story. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which celebrates its 200th birthday this year, the alpha romance is that between Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy. The beta romance is between Jane Bennett and Mr. Bingley.
There may be mention of The Ton (or Le Bon Ton), which was the British high society of the time. They generally hang out in Almacks, which was the place to be seen in London during the season.
The story may also take place in fashionable (for the time) spa towns like Bath.
There will be mention of carriage rides, balls, assemblies and other activities that were popular during the season. Much will be written about the clothes worn to these events, and the behaviour of people who attend them. This is generally done in a witty way.
There may be a marriage of convenience, or the threat of one, and emphasis on the fact that young ladies of the time could not have a profession so were expected to marry well. The conflict may come from the fact that the hero and heroine are from a different social class, though generally all is sorted out by the end.
Regencies also tend to have very sparky dialogue, and when I wrote my own Regency style romance, Imitation of Love, writing the dialogue was one of my favourite parts of the writing process.
The darker side of Regency life may be hinted at even in the lighter romances. So there may be allusions to Cyprians (prostitutes) and the mistresses of rich men (who generally step aside and let the more wholesome heroine take her rightful place at the hero’s side).
I would caution that it is not enough to just throw these things into your story and hope your audience will appreciate it. You need to have a proper understanding of the activities and conventions.
How do Regency Romances differ from other historical romances?
Fenella explained, “They must, of course, be well written and historically accurate but they, like any other romance novel, are make believe. There were only around two dozen dukes in Britain at this time but from the amount of books about dukes, one would imagine there were hundreds.
A mainstream historical novel is usually about something less frivolous and is often based on actual historical figure or event.”
I would add that Regency romances tend to concentrate more personal and family relationships and the social conventions that get in the way of a romance coming to fruition. A mainstream historical romance may have a wider scope, and whilst the romance is central, it is affected by larger events, for example World War II.
How do I write a Regency romance?
I’ll hand over to Fenella for this. She gave the following tips:
“Read as many books in this genre are as you can - including the great Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.
Do your research. Regency romances are hugely popular in the UK and America and your audience will be very knowledgeable so it's essential to get your history right.
Decide what sort of book you're going to write: a sweet romance with no sex at all, something in between, or a no holds barred in the bedroom department sort of thing.
Remember to stick to the conventions of the time; well brought up young ladies did not have sex with their partners before marriage. In fact they would not even hold hands with their intended until they were betrothed.
Write down your plot before you start – that way you won't get lost in the middle. Keep a list of names, titles, places. On the question of titles it's essential that you check how someone is addressed, whether his children will have titles etc.
As with all romances there must be a happy ever after ending.”
I would add to Fenella’s tips by suggesting you watch television series like The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Sharpe. Though not necessarily Regency romances, both are very helpful aids to understanding the era and what was happening in the wider world.
Can’t there be any sex at all?
Modern Regency novels, particularly those published by Mills and Boon, do have sex scenes, and sometimes before the hero and heroine are married. I asked Fenella how she felt about the sexualisation of the Regency period. “I don't like explicit sex in any book,” she said, “but I do like plenty of sensuous scenes and lots of romance. (But) I believe that an author can write what they like.”
Even though certain morals and conventions existed in the era, that does not mean everyone followed them, and there was much hypocrisy. However, you do need to be aware of the consequences of breaking those rules if a character is found out.
How can I make my mark on the genre?
Fenella believes that it’s possible to bring your own voice to Regency romances. “I think every writer has an individual way of writing and this should come out in whatever sort of book they write. (For example) I always have rip-roaring adventures running through my books, an irascible but charismatic hero and no explicit sex.”
So you decide what type of Regency writer you want to be and get writing.
I’d also suggest that you don’t let research get in the way of a good story. As long as what happens is plausible and enjoyable, readers will forgive you.
Where can I find more information?
Fenella Miller: http://www.fenellajmiller.co.uk/
Regency Reader has hundreds of posts on various aspects of the Regency: http://www.regrom.com/
The Regency Era at All Romance: http://www.likesbooks.com/regent.html