Thursday, March 29, 2007

Regency Romances

The RITA finalists for 2007 have been announced and this year there will be no 'Best Regency Romance' awarded at the Romance Writers of America's RITA ceremony. The guidelines for this category were as follows:
Best Regency Romance
Romantic historical novels with primary settings during the Regency period, typically 1795-1840. The word count for these novels is 40,000-85,000 words.

Judging guidelines: The category includes comedy of manners as well as darker stories, and the books may contain a variety of story elements, such as sexual content, paranormal elements, mystery, suspense, adventure, and non-traditional settings. (RWA)
According to The Nonesuch, 'Signet had the longest running Regency series, beginning in the late 1970s and ending in February of 2006' and 'Zebra began publishing Regencies in the mid-1980s. [...] Zebra stopped its traditional Regency line in October 2005'. Given the disappearance of these print 'traditional Regency' lines it presumably seemed more practical to include any shorter regency novels in the 'Best Short Historical Romance' category since 'The word count for these novels is 40,000-95,000 words'.

The tone and content of Regency romances was summarised by Jo Beverley in a piece at AAR which focused on this sub-genre:
Beverley says that before the birth of the Regency historical,"It was a given that books set in Regency society were in that sub-genre 'Regency Romance.' This sub-genre was marked by storylines that were located within the English upper class (rarely if ever were the principals Scottish, Irish, or Welsh) and character behaviour that stayed within that society's rules, more or less. If characters behaved otherwise there were consequences, or at least the risk of consequences, so they had to be discreet. This led to there being very little explicit sex as most books were courtship books, but limited sex became a mark of the genre and I'm not sure why. I think it has to be because the roots were clearly Heyer and more distantly, the Austen angle on the Regency."
Jo Beverley's got some short stories on her website and although they're much shorter then a traditional Regency romance, they have a very 'trad Regency' feel to them. The Duke's Solution and The Christmas Wedding Gambit are both very Heyer-ish and both feature characters who are not quite what they first seem. Beverley's Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss, as its name suggests, pays homage to Austen.

The traditional Regencies haven't vanished for ever, though. Many of the older Regency romances are being republished by Belgrave House in ebook format (they also offer a free novella, Lady Bountiful, by Laura Matthews, though you do need to email them an order before you can read it). Some new ones are still being published by Harlequin/Mills & Boon, while other new Regency romances are appearing in e-book format. Cerridwen Press has a small Regency line named Cotillion. Lesley-Anne McLeod has been published in ebook format by Awe-Struck E-Books and Uncial Press, and she has some free short stories here.


The illustrations are of a lady wearing 1815 walking costume, from Ackermann's Repository (at Wikipedia), and a sketch of Lord Grantham by J.A.D. Ingres, 1816, also from Wikipedia. In this context I think the lady looks as though she's been highly distressed by the ending of the Regency romance lines, or it may be that she's upset that Lord Grantham isn't paying her any attention.


  1. I'm wondering how much the eroticization of romance has to do with the "demise" of the category Regency lines. If the hallmark of Regency is "very little explicit sex as most books were courtship books," then does the creeping eroticization of romances from epubs bleeding into even categories mark the demise of the "traditional" Regency? I've read so few Regencies, either category or single title in the past few years, I have no idea how "sexy" books like Eloisa James' romance are. Hrm.

  2. Eloisa James writes Regency historicals. The historicals are generally more sexually explicit than the trads. In the article about them at AAR that I mentioned Laurie Gold said that 'the most sexual trad would be categorized as "Warm" (and most fall within the "Kisses Only" or "Subtle" categories)'. For comparison, at AAR Eloisa James' novels are mostly listed as 'Warm', with a couple listed as 'Hot'. AAR's 'Sensuality Ratings Guide' is here and gives explanations of what's meant by those terms.

    Trads are also quite short novels (category romance length) and they tended to use a lot more Regency slang and detail (so they sounded Heyer-ish) than most of the Regency-set historicals. That perhaps meant that the trads put off people who weren't interested in learning slang about 'ape leaders' (old maid), being 'blue devilled' (in low spirits) etc. Candice Hern (who writes Regency historicals) has a list of Regency vocabulary she's used but in a trad you'd expect to find lots of such words, including many not listed by Hern. Fans of the traditional Regencies could get very picky about historical details and accuracy and Susannah Carleton says that: 'Traditional Regencies are a lot richer in details of etiquette, customs, clothing, and scenery than historicals'. I've never encountered a 'wallpaper' trad Regency, because the historical details were/are very important in this sub-genre (which is not the same as saying that every author got every detail correct, but if they didn't, their readers would tend to feel cross). And as far as I can tell the authors also seemed to make more of an effort to make the way the characters talk sound accurate to the period, or as Edith Layton says in the AAR piece, 'Dialogue and description in a traditional Regency should be monstrously clever and even, sometimes, a little arcane'.

    So yes, I'm sure the fact that the Regency-set historicals were sexier did play some part in the decline of the trads but I think there were other factors which maybe made the trads something of an acquired taste.

  3. As an author of contemporary (online) fiction, I've occasionally thought about trying my hand at something historical but have been put off by the perspective problems.

    Not only is it necessary to get the historical details right but one must need to get right inside the mindsets of people who were living in times when there were no computers, televisions or motor cars and when human values (rights of women, freedom of speech etc) were probably very different.

    On the other hand, I read an article about an author (conventionally published) who had written a novel about a very technical area who admitted that it was all smoke and mirrors and he'd very little understanding of the subject. The novel, however, was a great success.

    Bye for now


    (Rob Hopcott - online author contemplating being a righter writer)

  4. I've always loved Regencies -- I think because the language is more arcane and stylized. And the good authors to tend to write more witty dialog than you get in most contemporary novels.

    I'm glad you brought up Regency slang because I've been wondering something -- I feel like a motivated person could write a very interesting thesis on the evolution of Regency slang in contemporary fiction. That is, it seems to me that various terms go in and out of fashion in romances, despite the fact that the real-world use of the language is two hundred years out of date. (I'm sure similar things have happened to Latin, another language that's been kept alive artificially.)

    For example, one day I noticed a book that had the word "cicisbeo," and then suddenly it was everywhere. And it used to be "bosom bow" but now I see "bosom beau" more frequently. Or "dun territory" versus "river tick," and the like.

    All languages change over time, but I wonder what the difference is between a live language and one that's on life support, as it were? What about the people who "speak" Klingon or Elvish? Are they stuck with the limited vocabulary that's been created for them?

  5. Rob, the 'smoke and mirrors' approach in historical romance probably does work, particularly for people who don't know much about the historical period. There are lots of readers who prefer 'wallpaper' history.

    it seems to me that various terms go in and out of fashion in romances, despite the fact that the real-world use of the language is two hundred years out of date.

    That's fascinating, Kimber. I haven't noticed it myself, but maybe I haven't been paying attention. Or maybe I haven't read enough US trad Regencies to notice. The Mills & Boon Regency-set romances I've read haven't (as far as I can recall) used nearly as much Regency slang as the Zebra and Signet trad Regencies did. Have you noticed these changing trends in the historicals as well as the trads?

    But "bosom beau" just seems very wrong to me. "Beau' was

    originally a nickname meaning 'handsome', as borne by Beau Brummell (1778–1840), the dandy who was for a time a friend of the Prince Regent. The word was also used in the 19th century with the meaning 'admirer' or 'sweetheart'. (online Oxford dictionary)

    which makes the idea that you would hold your beau to your bosom rather risqué, and not appropriate if the idea one is trying to convey is that the individual in question is a confidant(e). But Loretta Chase said something interesting about 'bosom bow' recently:

    A couple of books ago, the copy editor queried “bosom bow.” This was a term I’d come across in Regency after Regency. Maybe even in Heyer. I can’t remember. But when I tried to look it up, I found it...nowhere. So I changed it.

    Maybe all it takes for a change to begin is a query from an editor (who presumably edits novels by a number of authors)?

    Incidentally, a couple of weeks ago I came across a 1994 edition of The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence. There's an online version here and I can imagine that if an author came across a new term in a work like that she might be very tempted to use it, and that might set a new trend.