At the Back Fence Issue #205Dabney2017-06-23T08:29:49-04:00
From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:
At the Back Fence Issue #205
August 1, 2005
For a couple of years now, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop…it dropped this summer, initially when Zebra announced the end of its traditional Regency Romance line, and then again last week when Signet made a similar announcement. That’s right, for all of us who’ve read and loved trad Regencies, this seems to be the end of the line – for Zebra next month, and for Signet, the end of the year. And it’s a shame, a damn shame. (Just as we “went to press,” so to speak, with this column, one of our RWA conference reporters phoned in to say she’d heard conflicting reports during her days in Reno about whether Signet was truly ending its Regency program…we’ll let you know if and when we hear more.)
This column is devoted to the Regency Romance, and all three ATBF columnists will celebrate it differently. Each of us are trad lovers, and though I’ve read them for fewer years than either Anne or Robin, I’ll kick things off.
Raving About Regencies (Laurie Likes Books)
I came to the trad fairly late in my romance reading. For several years I simply didn’t “get” them – each time I tried, I’d say to myself, “Gee, that would have been good had it been a full-length historical.” It wasn’t until I read Patricia Oliver’s Scandalous Secrets in 1999, more than five years into my romance readering experience, that I finally understood how good a trad Regency could be, how powerful a statement it could make, and how sensual a reading experience it could be even though the most sexual trad would be categorized as “Warm” (and most fall within the “Kisses Only” or “Subtle” categories).
Patricia Oliver has the distinction of being not only an author who turned me on to a sub-genre, but years earlier she’d also been responsible for turning me off…the very same sub-genre! My very first Regency Romance was her 1995 release, Roses for Harriet, which I disliked, intensely (I had a less negative reaction when I re-read it years later, and would actually have loved it then had it not been for the final few, extremely bizarre chapters, but that’s another story). Because of my strong negative reaction, I was extremely wary of reading any trad until 1999, when I was assigned Scandalous Secrets for review. For the following two years I dabbled with other Regency authors, but glommed Oliver.
In 2001, due to the influence of Anne Marble and Ellen Micheletti, I discovered two wonderful trads – Donna Simpson’s Lord St. Claire’s Angel and Anne Gracie’s Tallie’s Knight. Both were DIK reads for me, and set me off on a multi-year glom of trad Regencies…when I went to the UK later that year, the only books I took to read were Regency Romances, and they made not only the reading experience richer, they enhanced England for me as well, and in a way that reading only historicals never could. If I’d just, two years earlier, paid closer attention to Anne’s review of the former, in which she wrote: “Psst, Laurie, is it too late to change my vote for best Regency of 1999?”
There’s a mistaken idea that all trad Regencies are light and frothy reads. While it’s true that a couple of my favorite trad authors (Kasey Michaels and Nonnie St. George) wrote humorous trads, most of my favorite trad authors and their books feature dark writing, intense emotionality, and poignant stories. Although the writing in a Regency is more formalized and, for some authors even stylized, than the writing in historicals set in the Regency, many of the titles you’ll see below are two-hanky reads.
I’ve discussed many of my favorite trads – as well as my trad glom – in previous ATBF columns, but did want to at least list those that made the greatest impact on me. I went deeper than I generally do when providing a list of favorites of a particular type of book, but because this is a celebration of an entire sub-genre – and indeed, possibly the end of an entire sub-genre – I wanted to use the same parameters as we do at AAR when reviewing books. Remember, any book that receives a grade of at least B- is a recommended read.
A Rogue’s Rescue by Donna Simpson from Untameable anthology
What many of my favorite trad Regencies share are premises. Those of us who enjoy marriages of convenience, arranged marriages, nanny and/or governess romances, and other traditional “romance novel” story lines – including those wherein a hero “saves” a friend or relative from the clutches of a so-called fortune hunter, a bereaved husband needs to give his children a new mother, a plain-Jane heroine wins the heart of a dashing rogue, or a hero who marries an “unsuitable” heroine to spite a relative (or prevent one from deciding his future for him) – will find a treasure trove of stories from which to choose. That’s not to say my favorite trads all fit traditional story lines, because they don’t. While Diane Farr’s Once Upon a Christmas, for instance, and Donna Simpson’s Lord St. Claire’s Angel may have been built upon fairly basic premises, the former’s Fair Game and the latter’s A Matchmaker’s Christmas were wonderful stories, and wonderfully unique as well. Both Farr and Simpson are among my favorite trad authors, along with Mary Balogh, Melinda McRae, Kasey Michaels, Patricia Oliver, Nonnie St. George, and, to a lesser extent, Shannon Donnelly and Rhonda Woodward.
I’m lucky in that I have dozens of unread trads – by authors who made my list (and others too) – to get me through the cold years now that there will be no more trads published. Will they ever come back? I like never to say never, but I’m not hopeful that we will see their return. It’s a shame for a number of reasons, first among which is that many of the best full-length historical authors started out as writers of trad Regencies in much the same way that many of today’s best single-title contemporary authors started out writing series romance. To be sure I’ve been disappointed as many of my favorite trad authors moved on to full-length books, the training ground offered for a whole wealth of authors in the trad sub-genre most assuredly helped hone their craft.
Then too, for those of us who want the romance to be paramount to the story, the length of a trad requires ensures more of an emphasis on character and relationships than plot (although some wonderful trads have strong mystery sub-plots, for most the shorter word count as compared to a full-length historical eliminates the need for a couple to hare off on an adventure to recover some antiquity, deduce who killed the earl from the neighboring estate, or determine whether or not Lord So-and-So is really spying for Napoleon), as well as a strong feel for the period. Of course, some long-published trad authors seem more concerned with seemingly obscure historical detail than the creation of vivid characters and well-told stories, but we’re here today to celebrate what’s best in this sub-genre, not what’s worst.
Another draw, for me at least, is that when I read a traditional Regency Romance, I don’t have to worry whether the book will tease and not deliver, or if there will be multiple scenes of coitus interruptus. I won’t have to wonder if it is the love scenes in and of themselves that propel the story, or even if it is the love scenes themselves that keep me reading a particular book. While several of the authors on my list have written wonderful books that provide exquisite sexual tension, most with a bare minimum of sex, in each of their books the love scenes are integral to the story in a way that’s not always the case in a full-length historical romance. And what some of these authors can do with a kiss or two, or a caress – or two – is as sensually gratifying as many a hotter full-length book.
In other words, “it’s the romance, stupid!” that best describes the trad Regency. To be sure, authors as varied as Mary Jo Putney, Mary Balogh, and Karen Harbaugh have pushed the envelope in expanding what’s acceptable in a Regency Romance. But whether the hero is an alcoholic (MJP’s The Rake and the Reformer), the hero is unfaithful to the heroine (Mary Balogh’s The Obedient Bride), or the author brings in paranormal elements (Karen Harbaugh’s The Vampire Viscount and Cupid trilogy), the hero and heroine and their relationship takes center stage in my favorite trad Regencies, and since that is what draws me to Romance in general, for the past several years it’s been a perfect match.
Because of my experience with the Regency Romance, I’ve come to consider it an “acquired taste.” I generally do not counsel giving authors multiple attempts before giving up on them, but it’s not the same with sub-genres. I would encourage those of you who haven’t found the trad that “fits” you to try again when next you browse the UBS, perhaps using the lists that Anne, Robin, and I included. I don’t imagine all of you will become trad lovers, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if you found just one buried treasure trad?!
Both Anne Marble and Robin Uncapher take a more in-depth look at the traditional Regency Romance – Anne’s segment provides reader and author views on the sub-genre while Robin took the pulse of AAR’s readers and staff, but first, Anne on her favorite trads:
Anne’s Regency Picks:
Emma Jensen’s Best Laid Plans – I think the regard with which I hold this Regency can be shown by the number of times I’ve gone to Amazon.com and marked a particular review as “Not Helpful.” (But that reviewer completely missed the point of the book!) While I like farces in movies and plays, I usually don’t like them in books because farce is a visual medium. Yet Best Laid Plans works for me, probably because it is character-based humor with both outrageous moments and subtle ones.
Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake and the Reformer – I don’t remember if this was the first Signet Super Regency I ever read, but it’s the one I remember the best. MJP took the villain of one of her earliest trads and made him into the hero of his own book. Yes, even though he was an alcoholic with a troubled relationship with his father. This worked because MJP gave him a heroine who could stand up to him. I’m sure some might argue that when the alcoholism was addressed, the language verged on being too modern at times. But the book was so good that I didn’t care. Also, the first Regency I ever read was MJP’s The Would-Be Widow
Donna Simpson’s Lord St. Clair’s Angel – This has become one of my favorite governess romances. Who would think that a hero who starts out thinking having a fling with the plain governess would be a favor to her would turn out to be such a great hero in the end? Celestine is also a classic “quiet strength” heroine – after all, being feisty would simply have gotten her fired. While I’ve read stories with heroines who were in more dire straits than Celestine (see The Poor Relation below), this is still one of the most poignant Regencies I have ever read.
Mary Balogh’s Dark Angel and Lord Carew’s Bride – I’m cheating by listing these together. After all, they are related. Yet although they are related, they are very different books. Dark Angel is about a man who uses the heroine to get revenge against her betrothed, and then has to deal with the consequences of his revenge. Lord Carew’s Bride is a rare bird, a romance about people who start out as friends before becoming lovers. Both books feature the slimy Lionel Kersey as their villains. There are other Baloghs I love, and others I am saving because I know I will love them.
Karen Harbaugh’s Cupid’s Mistake – This story combines some of my favorite things: an intelligent heroine; the paranormal; and a tormented hero who actually has reasons to act that way. At times, he was distrustful and jealous, but this was one of those times when that worked for the story. The heroine also has a sister who is strong (and smart) enough to stand up to a Greek god! So don’t tell me that Regency heroines are simpering misses.
Jacqueline Diamond’s Lady’s Point of View – This one has a soft spot in my heart because it was one of the first Regencies I read after MJP. In fact, I think it was recommended to my at a booksigning by MJP! When I heard it was about a nearsighted heroine, I couldn’t resist. In this story, the heroine’s mother won’t let her wear her spectacles when she’s out in society, so the heroine accidentally gives Beau Brummell the cut direct. Her mother sends her off to the country to live out the scandal. However, because she’s so nearsighted, the heroine ends up on the wrong carriage and winds up becoming the hero’s governess by lying about her identity. Of course, she holds back telling him the truth, until it all blows up in her face. Would this book hold up today? I don’t know and I don’t care.
Anne’s Guilty Pleasures
Marion Chesney’s The Poor Relation – Sadly, I’ve never been able to get into Chesney’s Poor Relations series, but I loved an earlier book she originally wrote under another name. It’s a pure guilty pleasure with a heroine who finds out her family is suddenly poor. Rather than burden her fiance, she breaks off, telling him she is marrying someone else for money. In reality, she is Cinderella rather than Jezebel, forced to work for ungrateful relatives for a roof over her head. When they meet again, they have to get over their pasts and all the mistrust and secrets that have come in their way. I’m a sucker for the “heroine learns she is penniless and leaves her fiance so she won’t be a burden to him, and then lives in poverty with awful relatives until they meet again and clash over the past” plot, and this is a classic of that sub-sub-sub-genre.
Margaret Westhaven’s Widow for Hire – This is yet another story about a heroine who meets her true love after ending up in dire circumstances. Earlier in her life, the heroine jilted the hero, being forced to marry someone else instead. The husband turned out to be a jerk, and he died leaving her only a few coins. The ton assumes she did something scandalous to deserve this, but of course, he was just being nasty. She meets her true love again when she is sponsoring a debutante. Of course, he is ready to condemn her for everything she did in the past. Which, for me, makes it the perfect guilty pleasure.
Anita Mill’s The Duke’s Double – Besides the poor relation plot, my other favorite heartwrenching guilty pleasure plot is the one that goes like this: Happily married heroine becomes scandal-ridden when her idiot husband thinks she’s sleeping around and divorces her. She marries his friend to escape the scandal but never forgets the idiot. After her nice husband dies, she meets the idiot husband again, and he sneers and barks at her until he realizes he was being an ass. I read the original Regency version of Anita Mill’s The Duke’s Double and the expanded version, and I liked the Regency version better.
Reader & Writer Views on the Regency Romance? (Anne Marble)
The demise of the traditional Regency lines has been predicted for some time, but when the romance world heard that Zebra was dropping its trad line this year, it was still a shock. Not long after that came the news that Signet, long the major player in the traditional Regency line, would drop its line in December.
So what exactly are trads, and why are so many readers upset that they are going the way of the Gothic romance lines of the 1970s? They’re just short historicals with really bad covers, right? Fluffy stories about people whose only concerns were what dress to wear for the ball, right?
Different people have different conceptions of what makes a Regency. Edith Layton describes a Regency Romance as “a book of about 65,000 words, set in England at the time of the Regency, where the traditional mores and manners of the age are shown correctly, the dialogue is clever, the historical details right, and the characters (usually noblemen and women) fit their time. The focus must be on the romance, and special attention must be given to language. Dialogue and description in a traditional Regency should be monstrously clever and even, sometimes, a little arcane. And of course, there must be a happy ending.”
In terms of marketing, Karen Harbaugh agrees that Regencies are usually short. However, she reminds us that Georgette Heyer, considered the creator of the modern day Regency Romance, wrote books that were much longer than today’s Regencies. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that trads are just those drawing room comedy books. Karen says, “Stereotypically, Regency Romances have been seen as ‘drawing room comedy of manners’ but the truth is, they come in various settings and degrees of seriousness, and for that matter ‘comedy of manners’ doesn’t mean humorous, it means a story that deals with social mores and attitudes, usually with a happy ending. Jennifer Crusie’s novels, for example, are comedy of manners, as is a lot of Chick-Lit stories. They can be suspenseful, even serious books.” For example, she points to Georgette Heyer’s Regencies, which range from mysteries and adventures to funny books to serious books, and which have a variety of settings. Karen also compares the world of the Regency trad to the worldbuilding done by Fantasy and Science Fiction writers.
When I read Karen’s comment about SF/F, I had an epiphany. I wasn’t the only one who thought this way! When I first started reading Regencies, something hit me. The setting was like being in a different world. I had read science fiction and fantasy novels with so-called alien societies that were less alien to me than the world of the Regency ton. Sure, I could relate to the people – after all, these were the precursors of our society. Yet at the same time, I knew that if I time traveled and ended up in Almack’s, I’d be sent off to Bedlam, as quickly as crewmembers of the Enterprise tended to get themselves arrested for breaking weird rules on alien planets in Star Trek. Ironically, I’ve read plenty of SF/F novels where the characters acted like my neighbors, despite the fact that they lived on spaceships or in castles. Yet in the heyday of the Regency, few characters stuck out like sore thumbs. They were truly a part of their society, to the point that some modern day readers have a hard time accepting their actions.
When Settings Attack
Having a lot of worldbuilding and a complex society with lots of rules can mean that new readers will struggle with your story. When I first started reading Regencies, I was distracted by the word ton, of all things. I figured out what it meant from content, but I wasn’t sure how it was pronounced, or where the word came from. Had there been an AARList then, I could have asked other readers! Other readers have had the same problems. Regencies are one of those forms that you have to “get” before you can enjoy them. And not all readers can do that.
When the first futuristic romances came out, some fans hated them because they simply couldn’t “get” the settings. Other planets? Spaceships? Crystals of power? What was up with that?! I think Regencies are the same, in a way. Some readers may avoid Regencies because they don’t like the extra effort of immersing themselves in a new world. But the reward can be well worth it. Edith Layton once got a letter from a reader who bought her Love in Disguise (a long Regency), but then found it “too hard to read.” At first, she “closed it in disgust.” But because it was too late to bring the book back to the store and she wanted to read something, she persevered, with a dictionary at her side. Once she finished it, she liked it so much that she wrote to the author and told her that she loved it and was glad she’d tried again. Edith Layton doesn’t think, however, that Regencies are hard to read once you get into them. “I think the Traditional Regency has an undeserved stuffy image. And the language seems daunting. It’s not, once you get into the pace of it, and some Traditionals have language which is a breeze to read.”
On the other hand, Karen Harbaugh thinks that some trad authors go overboard on the research sometimes. To make books more accessible, she thinks writers should concentrate on making “them real, so that anyone who reads them will understand where your characters are coming from, regardless of the societal rules of the time. I think the biggest mistake that Regency writers make is focusing too much on the teeniest historical detail instead of creating memorable characters. I mean, really, who cares whether a Regency fork had three tines or four, unless it has a significant effect on the plot?” Also annoying to her is that most of the discussions on Regency writing lists are about research, rather than how to integrate those details with the plot or characters. While research is important, it’s not the only thing. She writes, “”There is much more to the traditional Regency than the doggone research. There is the art of the writing, getting the style down pat without bogging it down with jargon. There is the structure of the Regency society within which the characters must operate, and from which some pretty innovative things can be done, but unfortunately are not. I almost never, ever see any of this discussed. Just the doggone research.” Harbaugh adds that this is a “hot button” for her and argues that while “good research is vital, it should never, never take primary place over solid storytelling and characterization. The research should serve the story. If research is a writer’s primary goal, the for heaven’s sake, write nonfiction.”
But Aren’t They All Light and Frothy?
You haven’t read many of Mary Balogh’s Regencies, have you? Or many of the other Regency trad authors in my collection. I’ve read trads about alcoholism and drug addictions; rumors and scandal; heroes scarred by the war; once proud heroines forced to live in poverty (that’s one of my favorite themes!); and artistic or bluestocking heroines forced to fight for their rights. There have also been Regency Romances with mysteries, ranging from crimes such as theft to outright murder. (Joan Smith specializes in this form.)
Karen Harbaugh points out that since the times of Georgette Heyer, there have been serious Regencies, not just fluffy ones. “But people keep trying to stuff Regencies into that light and frothy box, and claim those that don’t fit in that box can’t be real Regencies. Sheesh. Go read some Georgette Heyer, for heaven’s sake, and then try to tell me that She Who Started It All didn’t write real Regencies.”
Karla prefers her Regencies to be serious, thank you very much. For that reason, she’s been lukewarm about the more recent trads, finding that they don’t involve her emotionally. She agrees that in the current crop, many of the books are light and frothy, and for her, that often means “boring and silly.” She does like Nonnie St. George’s humorous Regencies, but that’s about it. “I guess I have very specific expectations of Regencies. While I might tolerate a mystery subplot in historicals, they are a big turn off in Regencies.”
Like Karla, I tend to prefer serious Regencies – and preferably no mysteries, please (unless you’re Joan Smith). But when it’s done right, there’s nothing wrong with light and frothy. I haven’t read Nonnie St. George yet, but when I remember where I put those [email protected]#$ books, I will be sure to read them. And one of my favorite trads ever is Emma Jensen’s Best Laid Schemes. Until I read that book, I would never have though that a trad author could write a story with an incontinent monkey, of all things, and yet still give readers a book with witty dialogue and subtle humor. Like the best Regencies, the book celebrates wit and intelligence because of the way it relies on subtle turns of phrases and assumes that its readers are well-read. All that, and it’s a love story with a stuffed shirt hero, too!
Of course, even “light and frothy” reads often have a serious story at their core. Just as Julie Quinn’s Regency historicals are often about her characters learning to love each other, even the fluffiest of Regency trads are about people learning to love each other. The hero in Jensen’s Best Laid Schemes had to realize that the “perfect spouse” he was looking for would only bore him to death, and the only woman for him was the “infuriating” heroine. And Mary Balogh’s The Famous Heroine was more than just a trad about a disaster-prone heroine who thought the hero was gay. It was also a story about a man who had to get over a lost love and wake up to the fact that he loved the woman he had married.
Karen Harbaugh thinks that Regency authors can take more chances because the form isn’t a big moneymaker. “If the top you’re going to sell is 25,000 books anyway – if you’re lucky – the publisher simply hasn’t invested all that much in your books in the first place, so they’re not losing much if you goof up with your experimenting. Once a publisher has invested a lot in an author’s books, they become concerned if you depart from the expected.” I’ve seen this apply to other genres as well. Many fans think that the best season of the classic SF television series The Outer Limits was its last season. According to lore, the show had very low ratings and was frequently threatened with cancellation. Because of the low ratings, executives didn’t really care much about what they did as long as they didn’t spend a lot of money. The writers could get away with a lot more, and it showed. After all, this was the season that showcased Harlan Ellison’s famous Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand. Sometimes, being the red-headed stepchild can engender incredible creativity.
On the other hand, there are restrictions. Try to find a Regency where the hero isn’t a part of the nobility. Are you still looking? OK, you might as well come back now. Only a few writers (such as Carla Kelly) can get away with that. Compare that to Regency-set historicals, where heroes can be nobles, but they can also be merchants, inventors, scientists, actors, explorers, and even, now and then, rat catchers.
The Coming of the Regency Historical
So if Regency trads so great, why have they been stuck a mortal blow? Many people think that the Regency historical did them in, although the end was slow in coming. It’s odd that while so many Regency writers turned to writing historicals, not enough readers sought out Regencies to get that “historical fix.”
Jo Beverley points out that before about 1990, there was no “Regency historical” sub-genre. I quibble somewhat with this date and instead of using 1990 as the beginning of the Regency historical, I’d push it back a few years, but the setting really was rare for most historicals. If you’ve been reading romances for a long time, think back and remember what you were reading then. If you read historicals, chances are you read about pirates and privateers, cowboys and frontiersmen, Vikings and Medieval knights, but very rarely about Regency era dukes and earls. Judith McNaught’sWhitney, My Love and Johanna Lindsey’s first Malorey novel, Love Only Once, were published in 1985, followed by Julie Garwood’sRebellious Desire in 1986, with Catherine Coulter’s bringing up the rear in 1987 with her Magic trilogy, but for the most part historicals set in the Regency in the late 1980s tended to be about highwaymen and the like rather than society.
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.” While Coulter, Garwood, and McNaught started to change this, it was the success of Jayne Ann Krentz as “Amanda Quick [who] broke the mold, writing books that had much of the feel of the Regency but the action and sexuality levels of a historical, and doing it regularly and successfully so that publishing noticed. Good gracious, books could be set in English high society and more or less paint within the social lines and have the larger numbers and success of historical romances.”
After these authors popularized the Regency period, publishers wanted more of this sort of success. They looked toward their Regency authors for this…indeed, Catherine Coulter, whose first Regency-set historical appeared in the late 1980s came out of the trad Regency tradition. Many other Regency authors turned to writing historical novels, and because of this, Jo points out that many established authors left trads forever. She also believes many readers followed their favorite writers to Regency historicals and never looked back. To some extent I was one of those readers. I first discovered Mary Jo Putney as a writer of trads, and when she moved to historicals, I followed her. Heck, I would have bought her shopping lists. I also followed authors such as Mary Balogh and Anita Mills to historicals. Other trad writers who went on to write historicals include Joan Wolf, Susan Carroll, Marjorie Farrell, Anita Mills, Michelle Kasey (aka Kasey Michaels), Elizabeth Thornton, and eventually, authors such as Coulter and Putney began to rewrite some of their early trads so they could be sold as historicals.
So if someone can rewrite a Regency and turn it into a historical, surely they aren’t all that different, are they? Oh, but they are. So what are the differences? Length is the obvious difference – although that wasn’t always the case. (Jo Beverley points out that her Company of Rogues books, which were published as trads, ran longer than most historicals today.) The extra length in the Regency historical gives the write more room for subplots, secondary romances, and of course, sex. Yes, sex is also an obvious difference. While Regencies are no longer chaste, they are more likely to have no sex scenes, yet almost all historical romances do have sex scenes. As Edith Layton says, trads can have love scenes, “but it would be weird to have pages and pages devoted to lovemaking.” She also sees the language and the setting as two important differences. “The trads can have lush descriptions, obscure references and language. The Regency reader knows a lot about the period, so references to commonplace things of the time, just for example: Astley’s Amphitheater, Gentleman Jackson, the Beau, etc. don’t have to be explained in detail. The Regency reader brings a lot of knowledge to the book, where the Historical reader reads about many eras, and so such things have to be explained.”
Karen Harbaugh sees sex and history and behavior as some of the major differences, and they are all related. First, the sex, because that’s often what we like to talk about first. Today’s Regencies tend to be “sweet.” When trads do have love scenes, they are not graphic, while most historicals have detailed love scenes. But it’s more than just the sex, it’s also the historical detail, it’s also the way the history becomes a character and influences how the characters act. “The characters act and react within and to the confines of the mores and manners of the society. For instance, it might be possible for a young lady to have an illicit affair in a traditional Regency Romance…but appearances have to be maintained, and she just can’t run off and be independent of the society in which she’s been raised without dealing with the consequences. That’s working outside the comedy of manners framework.”
Also, the characters themselves can be different, and often are. According to Edith Layton, some of today’s most popular heroine types “…just don’t fit. The ‘feisty’ heroine, so recently beloved of editors, doesn’t fit in a Trad Regency. A ‘kick-ass’ heroine wouldn’t work either. Such a female in that era would have ended up in Bedlam, under restraint. Female fishmongers at the Billingsgate market were known for their boxing and brawling. Not ladies, or any women of good taste. And the Trad Regency is all about good taste, even when it’s detailing sex, murder, or mayhem.” This doesn’t mean the heroines are pushovers. Edith reminds us that the most clever women during this era learned to obtain what they wanted by being smart and subversive and resourceful. They were brave without being “kick-ass” and “in your face.”
In trads, Karla loves the way the stories are about “how society and the ton affect the characters and their developing romance. The characters are experiencing internal change and turmoil but must keep up appearances in society. The romance also, usually, develops quietly and at a slower pace than it does in an historical.” While she also enjoys Regency-set historicals, she loves the way trads are truer to their time.
Karla has a point because some of the best Regencies are those where society has a huge effect on what happens to the characters. When I am looking for trads in a bookstore, I am often drawn right to stories about characters affected by scandals or gossip. Maybe one reason fans are pulling away from the Regency is because there are now too many stories where unmarried, unchaperoned heroines go off trying to solve murders or find spies on their own, never mind the stringent rules of society. Heck, if I wanted to read something like that, I’d pick up another Regency-set historical!
Maybe one reason I am more accepting of those “heroines of quiet strength” is because I read so many Regencies when I was starting out. I realized that heroines could be strong without having to carry a sword or gun or trying to run around and solve a mystery on her own. The best Regency heroines have the sense not to run out into the dark and look for the spy on their own!
What About Longer Regencies?
If length is one of the biggest differences… Why not just publish longer Regencies? Wouldn’t historical fans turn to those? Well, it’s been done. And while the result was that some classic stories were written, the longer form was eventually abandoned by the publishers. I think that was a mistake myself. Some people argue that a longer Regency can’t take the place of a historical romance. In a way, they’re right. I’ve read long historical romances that were pieces of fluff, and long Regencies that were complex and peopled with fascinating, tormented characters.
When historicals started to become popular, Signet came out with a Super Regency line. These were longer Regencies, often quite a bit longer than the other trads. For example, while Mary Jo Putney’s shorter Regency, The Controversial Countess, ran 283 pages, her Super Regency The Rake and the Reformer ran 351 pages. Zebra also published longer Regencies during this time. Jo Beverley’s The Unwilling Bride, published by Zebra, was also exactly 351 pages long. (How did they manage that? Did they both get the same memo?)
I was a huge fan of the longer books myself. It seemed to me that the authors got to do more in these books. For example, Mary Balogh’s Secrets of the Heart, a Super Regency, was one of the first romances I read where the heroine had been a victim of sexual abuse before the story started. OK, the hero was a jerk when he found out she wasn’t a virgin, but he was no more of a jerk than many of the heroes in the romances I was reading at this time. And then there’s The Secret Pearl, which starts out with the heroine becoming a prostitute out of desperation, and meeting the scarred hero as her first client. Even more shocking (in a romance, anyway), he is still married.
Karen Harbaugh thinks that historical romances took the place of Signet’s Super Regency line. She also thinks that the “the Super Regency came a little too late and was published in response to the rising popularity of the historical romance. If the publishers had just allowed Regencies themselves to be as long as, say, the ones Georgette Heyer wrote, then you might have seen them last longer than they have. Maybe.”
Edith Layton doesn’t quite see the Super Regency in the same way. “I liked the Super Regency, but in truth, it was really neither fish or fowl. The language and settings were too “Regency” for a Historical, and there was more sex and violence in it, so it didn’t quite fit either genre. I don’t think the Regency genre suffered when the “Supers” stopped being published. But while the Historical set in the Regency took the place of the Regency, it didn’t replace it.”
As for myself, I miss the longer Regencies. There’s only so much that you can do in a short book, and not every long Regency is a historical in disguise. Some are just Regencies that had more to say. And now, the Regency itself, both short and long, is on its way out.
What Went Wrong? And What Can Be Done?
Unfortunately, the traditional Regency is in deadly peril, if not effectively dead. Not enough people bought them in recent years to make them viable. Years ago several houses published Regency lines, and as readers drifted away, the publishers dropped their lines, one by one. There are a lot of reasons for this, and opinions vary on whether we should blame the publishers, terrible covers, or a dearth of new authors, or lousy distribution. The end result is that before we knew it, the field was down to two publishers – Zebra and Signet – and their lines weren’t looking too healthy.
Lynne Connolly says the trad is dying because “the publishers aren’t pushing them in any way. The death of the Regency is largely self-predicting. No promotion money is being put into revamping the genre, so nobody knows they’re there. With yet another Pride and Prejudice version due, you would have thought that was a Godsend, but I’d bet it won’t be used at all. Not one little bit. Because the editors have lost interest, and the marketing departments have decided the Regency Trad must die. So it will.”
And the covers! Lynne also thinks the publishers should do something about those covers. “Really, some Regency Trads are more embarrassing to carry around than the clinch covers! Really dreadful.” Sadly, I have to agree there. I’d rather carry around a book with Fabio on the cover (at least he’s attractive) than some of those insipid Regency covers. zzz In the past, Regency covers were similar to what we have today, and yet they were different. They were interesting. The men were handsome, rather than looking like wimps no one would want to date. There were some covers that made me appreciate the tailoring of Regency clothing. (Hint: Wow!) The covers attracted the eye. Today’s trad covers attract only readers who already know that the lines exist, and probably turn away a lot of potential readers.
But let’s face it, some of the Regencies out there just don’t live up to the Regencies of the past. There are some great authors out there now (such as Donna Simpson), but there are also lots of silly books. For example, I recently read a Regency (well, I started to read it) where the heroine not only danced the waltz before she was allowed to do it but also danced it with a notorious rake and then let him kiss her. As if this hadn’t ruined her enough, she later waited for him outside White’s, and that’s how she met the hero. I don’t remember much of the meeting. I don’t even remember if I made it that far. It was too hard to believe that a woman of her class didn’t know how many rules she was breaking or that she wasn’t aware of the consequences. It’s possible that many of the current writers and editors don’t know, either.
Like me, Lynne Connolly has become frustrated with the way some trads now ignore the importance of the mores and manners of the society. She begs, “No more ‘we’ll just get married for a year and then divorce’ stories, or anything that is impossible. The improbable is interesting, the impossible is a waste of time.” She believes that historicals should also be accurate, but that trads should be even more careful about history because they depend so much on society and mores. She wants to read stories that deal with the realities of life in their time period, rather than those about the impossible fantasies. “A story about a dashing highwayman interests me less than a love story between a Cit and an aristocrat, or a man damaged by war and the woman he falls in love with.”
Karen Harbaugh agrees that the trads just aren’t what they used to be, arguing that in recent years they have “suffered from a lack of good writing and a lack of pay for good writing. You get what you pay for. It doesn’t take much to write a larger book and make it sensual, and if you get paid more than twice for a historical than for a Regency, who isn’t going to go for it?” Because of the money issue, the best trad writers began to write historicals, and though she believes there are “plenty of good new authors, they’re just not going to have the chops of veterans like Putney, Balogh, or Layton.”
However, could the form be saved? Karen thinks there are things that could be done. “Publishers could change the covers. Zebra was coming out with some great covers in the past year or so, and some Regency authors have noted that when they had those alternate covers, their sales went up for those books. So that most definitely makes a difference. I’d see about marketing some of them to teens as well. In fact, I do think that a lot of traditional Regencies would work just as well as YA books.”
Jo Beverley believes that the death of the trad Regency is more than likely the result of “natural forces at work,” adding, “The world has changed and there aren’t enough readers to provide the authors of traditional Regency Romance with anything close to a reasonable return for writing a book.” She does wonder whether we’d all be “better off in the long run if publishers would be willing to expand the types of historicals they publish to include classic Regency Romance style but with more length and complexity.” She reminds us that her Company of Rogues books, published as trad Regencies, were longer than most historicals today (at about 110,000 words), and “quite complex, but the characters stayed within the rules of society.” In the first three, the sex was within marriage. Sex began outside marriage in the fourth of this series, “but then the rules of society ruled the plot.” Both that book – Forbidden, and the book that followed, Dangerous Joy, were released not as trads but as historicals set in the Regency. When interviewed at AAR nearly a decade ago, Jo indicated that the change in this series “was a drift rather than a plan…a question of letting the characters tell the story.” Even as they “became a bit wilder,” Jo endeavored to stay “inside the lines of consequence and approval (i. e. how other characters regard what’s going on) but then I try to do that in all my historicals. To me, it’s much more interesting than assuming anything goes.”
And sometimes, readers have their own blocks to reading Regencies. Karen Harbaugh argues, “For some reason people have a habit of thinking that books – and other people for that matter – freeze in time. They think that they’ve stayed the same even though decades have gone by. Someone who is twenty is not going to be the same as when they’re forty, in body, mind, or soul. The same thing holds for books. The Regency Romance in 1970 is not the same as the millennial Regency Romance [any more than] the entire Romance genre is the same now as it was thirty years ago.” Is there a reader among us who would say today’s romances are the same as those published fifteen years ago, let alone thirty or 35? So, Karen asks, “Why do people persist in thinking that somehow the Regency Romance is exactly the same as it was then and has never changed?”
I think Karen and I have met some of the same people! I once mentioned romance novels to someone who responded that she’d read one while in line at the grocery store and decided that they weren’t for her. The whole genre?! Yup. She clearly had no idea that one book was not representative of the entire genre. (When has it ever been?) Never mind that she read Science Fiction novels herself, and probably would have been infuriated if someone had suggested that the novels of Marion Zimmer Bradley were in any way similar to those of John Norman. She would have decided that anyone who thought that was ignorant. Exactly!
Edith Layton says, “I think lots of readers would enjoy trads! People who love a good literate read, who would never dream of picking up a Romance, much less a Regency. I guess the first thing I would say would be to urge publishers to ditch the trad covers! The traditional Regency needs a new image, and it would have to start there.” She urges the reader who has avoided Regencies so far to try one – “But please – start with a great one!”
Goodbye, Trads! (Robin Uncapher)
Years ago my brother-in-law wrote a poem about how surprising it can be when something happens that you expect. That phone you have been watching, and willing to ring, suddenly does, and the shock almost knocks you off your feet.
That is the way I felt when Laurie called to say that Zebra and Signet were both getting out of the Regency publishing business. We had known for years that, as a business, traditional Regencies were going downhill. Fewer stores and fewer bookstores carried them. Authors complained about small print runs, poor sales and pitiful advances. Most of the best, experienced, Regency authors had given up writing them, and talented newcomers like Nonnie St. George stayed only long enough to publish one or two books. But knowing that Regencies are going downhill and facing up to the fact that there will be no more are two different things. I am sad to see the end of traditional Regencies because as long as the lines were in place there was always the possibility that that magical thing would happen, as happened when Donna Simpson came along with Lord St. Claire’s Angel, that a new, wonderful writer would reinvigorate the sub-genre.
And those new authors have been sorely needed. Like it or not traditional Regencies had gotten into a rut that probably explained the poor sales as much as anything else. Many of the older authors repeated scenes of modistes’ shops and Almack’s balls – replete with watery lemonade – endlessly. There is only so much Regency cant one can take. It was one thing when Georgette Heyer had a character exclaim that she had “made a cake of herself.” It was quite another when a far less talented author strung phrase after Regency phrase into deadly dialogue.
In the past five years, almost all of the authors who had made the traditional regency what it was, had left the field. Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley, Jean Ross Ewing and Loretta Chase were all sorely missed. Carla Kelly continued to write, but never enough for her fans (we are a greedy lot). Diane Farr, Nonnie St. George, Donna Simpson, Andrea Pickens entered the field but, except for Donna Simpson, they too began to write historicals. Barbara Metzger continued to write, as did a number of others, but more and more, the pickings for Regency readers were mighty thin.
As a lover of traditional Regencies, I’ll admit that I was pretty frustrated with the sub-genre. Authors told me that their editors said that Regencies appealed to too old an audience and that was the reason for poor sales. But did anyone, young or old, like some of these books? Most of them were simply not of the quality Regency readers, no matter how dedicated, were looking for.
But now that trad Regencies are going out entirely we can look back at them as a whole and see what was truly wonderful about them. Laurie asked me to think about some of my very favorite Regencies and talk about them, and also to talk to some Regency authors and readers about the sub-genre.
I asked some Regency writers to comment on the sub-genre, to tell us about their favorite Regency plots, and what made the books special. Carla Kelly wrote that she likes road romances and, “stories where people are thrust into situations where they have to rely on character and ingenuity to get them out.”
I think of Regencies as stories set in the Pride & Prejudice era. When I define them that way for people who haven’t read one, but who know English Lit, they usually nod and understand. I sometimes add the Peninsular War Era, although it ended sooner than the Regency.
The attractions? These were people bound by codes of conduct (or at least, they should be). It’s fun to explore the possibilities within the restrictions. When writers totally disregard the restrictions, then a Regency becomes just a costume drama and lacks the feel of the era. It’s also an era of witty conversation, and this is fun to attempt. In an era of e-mail, witty conversation could dry up. What a pity.
Regency romances are known for being more subtle, when it comes to sex, than many historicals. Kelly, whose books have included more sex than the most conservative trad writers, but certainly nothing like that of many mainstream historicals, said that she suspects that, “the polarization of extremes happened because too many publishers insisted on too many books with gratuitous sex, thinking (wrongly) that everyone wanted this. Not so. Until my last breath, I will give the reader credit and believe that what she wants is a well-told tale. If it involves sex, fine; if it doesn’t fine, again.”
To that I say, Amen.
Many of my AAR colleagues are lovers of trads. Cheryl Sneed came to Romance through the Jane Austen-to-Traditional-Regency-to-Historicals route. Trads have always assumed a prominent place in her romance reading. Cheryl adds, “When it got so that I was reading mostly historicals, I would read trads as ‘palate cleansers’ – as a break from the sturm und drang of the tortured, angsty, spying, kidnapping historicals to the ordered, beautiful, regimented world of ballrooms and tea and drives in the park. A break from the heroes who only have to look at the heroine to ‘spring to life’ as it were, to a place where a touch of the hand spoke volumes, where the use of one’s Christian name was an act of intimacy.”
One quick note, I am not going to talk about Georgette Heyer here for three reasons. First, Georgette Heyer is not going away. Her books will continue to be reprinted in all kinds of bindings. Second, though Georgette Heyer invented the Regency as we know it, she did not really write genre fiction. Heyer quickly corrected anyone who accused her of writing romance, telling them she wrote historical fiction. Lastly, when Georgette Heyer is introduced into any conversation on Regencies comments on her books dominate the conversation. For this column I want to give the attention to the authors that came after Heyer.
How does one pick one’s favorite Regencies? For me it was easy. The best ones are never out of my office. They pick me up when I am down, like my old copy of Pride and Prejudice. I read them and then wait, impatiently, until I can forget enough about them to enjoy reading them again. Here is another thing about them: I remember the stories. That may seem like a small thing but, as someone who has read hundreds of romances, I have found it is the absolute test of a Dessert Isle Keeper. When I write about my reading at the end of every year I usually have to go through the books to refresh my memory. Sometimes a book I enjoyed has completely disappeared from my brain ie, no plot, no hero, no heroine. Without a quick scan of the back cover I am lost. With these books no refreshing is necessary, the characters are like old friends.
Robin’s Regency Picks:
With this Ring by Carla Kelly – Everyone who reads Carla Kelly has a favorite. I seem to be in the minority with With This Ring but I found it an absolutely magical book. It is the story of Lydia, a young woman who joins a group of wealthy young people on a kind of sightseeing expedition though a church filled with wounded soldiers. Unlike the others in her group, Lydia has the sense to be moved by the soldiers’ plight and offers her services cutting their hair. What she gets back for this act of kindness is the love of one of the most wonderful heroes I have read, Major Samuel Reed, or Lord Loren. With this Ring feels like a 1940s movie staring Stewart Granger and, a very young, Greer Garson. It takes place in the Regency period but you can’t help feel the author’s deep respect for the British people of the twentieth century, and their matter of fact dignity and courage.
Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly – Yes, I can see that you are already spotting a trend here. Carla Kelly is my favorite Regency writer. She has never written a bad book in my humble opinion, and that is some kind of record. No romance writer that I know writes like her (except perhaps Laura Kinsale in parts of My Sweet Folly). If I had my druthers I might simply list every one of her books, but I won’t. Still, I cannot not mention Reforming Lord Ragsdale, the story of an aristocrat whose life is desperately in need of reform. He gets it, in the surprising person of an Irish indentured servant whom he rescues from an American ready to sell her.
In her post on the Potpourri Message Board, Wylene shared just why she loved Reforming Lord Ragsdale: “No one creates characters like Carla Kelly; they have such substance, such credibility. There’s never a false note. I love the redemption theme of this one, I love that Emma and Ragsdale make me laugh and cry and believe wholeheartedly in them as people, and I love that just when I think a happy ending just this once is impossible that Kelly comes through with a beauty.”
Almost everyone who reads Carla Kelly comments on the uniqueness of her style. LeeB writing of the short story, An Object of Charity , wrote that she, “was taken by Ms. Kelly’s writing voice and the realism of her characters. It was quite a revelation”
Mrs Drew Plays Her Hand and The Lady’s Companion, both by Carla Kelly – I’ll spare you the gushing on these two. Suffice to say that if you run out and find them you will never regret it and may find yourself pressing them onto startled friends who do not read romance. I once insisted that a good friend, who does not read romance, take Mrs. Drew home and read it. She lost the book! Yes, she did. It is a testament to our friendship that we are still close, but let me tell you, this was a real test.
A Precious Jewel by Mary Balogh – Blythe Barnhill once wrote that “Mary Balogh has never met a prostitute she didn’t like.” I laughed at that until I cried. I suspect Ms. Balogh did as well. But whether Mary Balogh loves stories about fallen women, or not, this is a remarkable book and not your mother’s usual one-night-as-a-mistress-and-then-he proposes books . It is about Prissy, a girl who works as a prostitute in a, well there is no other way to say it, a whore house. And it is about Gerald, the rather dull, unimaginative man who sets her up as his mistress.
Whenever I think about A Precious Jewel, my mind goes back to the opening scenes, which feature Priss and Gerald in their first meeting. Their coming together is completely unemotional and clinical. A lesser writer than Mary Balogh would have described a special chemistry in the meeting. The hero and heroine would have been powerfully attracted, while resisting their feelings and denying overwhelming emotion. Mary Balogh does none of that, which is what makes the scene so shocking and sad. Priss and Gerald have no emotions but Priss has a powerful desire to please that sounds like the modern customer service. It’s a bit embarrassing and not a little creepy. Yet, as the book continues we begin to understand Priss and her need to gain some kind of self-esteem from what she does. This is so sad, so tragic, that we begin to hope that the dull Gerald will give her what she wants, which is love.
In a long (and very interesting) post on the Potpourri MB, sherryfair commented on A Precious Jewel and the way Balogh used sex in key points of the story. “Love and tenderness works its way into the sex gradually, changing the existing relationship. Balogh does this partly through the way she depicts their sex scenes, a brilliant use of sex to reflect the changing nuances in the relationships. So the sex is integral to the whole of the story, never just pieced in.”
The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh – I always think of this as “the stalker book.” In the opening pages of this book, Mary and Edmund (two strangers) impulsively have sex in a terrible thunderstorm when she is in the throes of a panic attack. For the heroine, a widow, this behavior is completely out of character. She wants to forget it and to forget him. But to the hero, a “notorious rake,” the sex is a revelation. Here is a woman who enjoys sex. He barely knew it was possible and is so astonished and, in a way, traumatized, by the experience, that he cannot leave her alone. He counts the hours since the sex occurred. He has trouble taking no for an answer and feels, in some way branded by this one experience. Our managing editor Blythe Barnhill, a lover of Regencies, has often said that this book is her favorite trad; high praise indeed.
I loved this book in part because it demonstrates the powerful way that sex can drive emotions – even for people who are used to discounting its value. Mary Balogh is one of a small handful of romance writers to realistically explore this. Thank heaven she is still writing what I would call “Regencies in disguise,” that is books which are classified as single title historicals, but have the structure and feel of traditional Regencies.
The Obedient Wife and Lord Carew’s Bride by Mary Balogh – Once again, as with Carla Kelly I must force myself not to simply list book after book by Mary Balogh. These two books are gems so, though I won’t recount everything about them, I will recommend them very highly.
The Reward series by Jean Ross Ewing – Jean Ross Ewing wrote, what is, in my opinion, one of the finest series of traditional regencies ever published. My favorite is Love’s Reward, an arranged marriage story about Fitzroy Mountfitchet, Viscount Tarrant, who dutifully marries Lady Joanna Acton, a young woman with whom his rake brother has eloped but not married. This marriage, between two strangers, is one of my favorite Regency plots. The other books in the series – including Rogue’s Reward, Folly’s Reward, Virtue’s Reward, and Valor’s Reward – are all wonderful. If you can find these books, buy them. Though there will be no more trads from her, Jean Ross Ewing has made the successful transformation to historicals as writer Julia Ross. Jean/Julia wrote me that that was fine as, “since I’ve always written stories with lots of complexity and depth, the longer historical format has been a very natural fit for me. It definitely gives me more room to develop my characters (along with all that Regency wit, of course) – especially my tortured heroes – and the stories are more openly passionate, as well.”
The Mad Miss Mathley by Michelle Martin – One of the few funny Regencies to make my list of favorites, it is the story of Miss Mathley, an heiress who is so rich she is scandal-proof, and her handsome “fiancé of convenience” …who is not. In this book the plain Miss Mathley enters into a false engagement with the most inappropriate man possible, to call her father’s bluff, in his insistence that she marry. After reading the first chapter of this book, Cary Grant jumped into my head and took his place as Lord Peter Carlton. He never left. This is a book about two incredibly witty people who belong together.
Mark, an AAR reader who often comments on the humor in Regencies, named this one of his top favorites, loved the humor in this book, and wrote that, “the developing rapport of the hero and heroine is especially good, though very subtle.”
Snowdrops and Scandalbroth by Barbara Metzger – What could be funnier that a pure-as-the-driven-snow Regency virgin who is also a hero? After reading Snowdrops and Scandalbroth, I could not imagine, because I laughed all the way through this book. The hero is such a fussbudget prig that you cannot believe any one would want him. Yet you do, because this man is so endearing, so honest and genuine that you love him and admire him for his commitment to virginity.
The Company of Rogues series by Jo Beverley – Like the Jean Ross Ewing’s Reward series, this is a group of books I could not put down but my very favorite book is An Arranged Marriage, the story of a couple brought together when one twin marries a woman his brother has assaulted. When the heroine discovers she has unwittingly fallen in love with a husband who has a hidden life, the result is heartbreaking and wonderful. Like so many arranged marriage stories, this one does a wonderful job of exploring the odd situation of two strangers suddenly bound together.
I asked our AAR staff to comment on the end of Regencies and to share some of their favorites. Rachel Potter’s favorite is Elizabeth Mansfield’s Regency Sting. She loves the opposites-attract plot, and thinks the “banter between the supposed American hick hero and the uptight Englishwoman [is so] delicious [that] by the end,” she’s always smiling. Rachel interviewed the author (whose real name was Paula Schwartz) a few years back and saved all their email correspondence. She recalls, “Paula was so friendly and gracious, and it was such a treat to tell her how much happiness I’d gotten reading her books over the years. She was my very first auto-buy. Now that she has passed away, those emails are even more poignant.”
Other favorite trads Rachel wanted to mention include:
The Clandestine Betrothal by Alice Chetwynd Lee – 1967
My Dear Duchess by Ann Fairfax (Marion Chesney pen name) – 1979
Minerva by Marion Chesney (1st in the Six Sisters series) – 1982
Lady Jane by Norma Lee Clark – 1982
The Runaway Debutante by Elizabeth Chater – 1985
Miss Armstead Wears Black Gloves by Marian Devon – 1985
The Clandestine Betrothal was the first Regency Rachel believes she ever read. She describes the plot thusly: “Susan, the heroine is very young; she’s just finished girls’ school. She has a huge crush on Beau Eversley, her friend’s brother, and winds up claiming a betrothal with him to one-up her cousin in a fit of annoyance at said cousin’s showing off.” Apparently the plot of Miss Armstead Wears Black Gloves is very similar, adding that “Frances, the heroine, thinks she’s safe in her lie because her claimed fiancé, Lord Greville Wainwright, naval hero, is supposed to be dead. Only of course he isn’t. This was a more farcical take than The Clandestine Betrothal, mostly because Frances is quite stubborn and not a young blossom like Susan.”
Jane Jorgensen has the fondest memories of Caroline Courtney’s Duchess in Disguise! as well as Signet Regencies written by Joan Wolf and Sheila Walsh. Her all time favorite is Joan Wolf’s A Difficult Truce which, she says “has more then held up to the test of time.”
Ellen Micheletti had a number of favorites and she focused her comments on writers rather than individual books:
Carla Kelly. She is the best of the best. I knew when I read With This Ring I had to read everything she ever wrote, and I did. I have all of her books, have re-read them many times and enjoyed them over and over again. She can make even a minor character real and vivid with just a phrase or an action. Her short stories have a depth and richness that some full-length epics lack. Read Make A Joyful Noise from A Regency Christmas Carol and you’ll see what I mean.
Diane Farr. Her traditional Regency Romances were some of the most charming, warm, gentle and endearing I have ever read. She has the magical ability to capture a character with one phrase, and her plots are sheer delight. Once Upon A Christmas is my favorite.
Allison Lane. Most trad Regency authors depicted the London Season as a glamorous time filled with parties and new gowns. But Regency Society could be very strict and a young woman who did not follow the rules could be in very deep trouble. Allison Lane showed the dark side of society in her books. She could sometimes go over the top, but when she was at her best, she was very compelling. The Rake’s Rainbow shows her at her best.
Donna Simpson. I’ve read so much that it takes an exceptional book to move me to tears. Donna Simpson did it with Lord St. Claire’s Angel. It’s the story of a handsome rake who falls deeply in love with a plain woman, and it could touch the most callous heart.
Mary Balogh. Almost all Regency Romances I have read are sweet, but Mary Balogh’s have sex in them. But it’s not gratuitous at all. There is no writer who can use sex to illuminate the character’s relationships like Balogh. A Precious Jewel is a perfect example.
Nonnie St. George. She has only written two Regencies, but they are two of the funniest books I have ever read in my life. The Ideal Bride is an ideal comedy.
Anne Gracie. The Cinderella story is a popular one in the Regency Romance, and it has seldom been done as well as it was with Tallie’s Knight by Anne Gracie. When the hard-hearted Magnus holds a child in his arms and finds himself wanting some of his own, I was immediately hooked. Then he meets the poor relation Tallie and I settled back with total contentment. This is another book I re-read many times.
Joan Wolf. Her trad Regencies bend the rules a bit but her characters never seem anachronistic. In His Lordship’s Mistress, the heroine needs money and rather than running off to be a spy, or dreaming of becoming a caddy at St. Andrews, she uses her looks and speaking voice to become an actress. Yes she has every intention of snaring a rich patron, she had no idea she’d fall in love with him.
Sandy Coleman, who read trads regularly until about ten years ago, says she began with Georgette Heyer and that when she had devoured all the Heyers she set out to try and recreate the experience, only to “unfortunately detour into the nauseating world of Barbara Cartland.” She admits to having read upwards of fifty Cartlands “even though just about all of them told exactly the same story. (Poor-but-noble girl, handsome remote nobleman who feels as much pity as love for her, kisses in which the heroine is so moved she has to grasp the back of a chair to keep from swooning, Big Misunderstanding, happy ending.)”
But then Sandy discovered Laura London (aka Sharon and Tom Curtis), and young as she was, she immediately realized these books were something special and perhaps “maybe even compared favorably to Georgette the Great.” Though it’s difficult for he to pick a favorite, Sandy settled on Love’s a Stage, a very funny story about a prickly young miss, a decadent but brilliant nobleman (he’s a playwright) and his eccentric family. I loved this book because it was as funny as it was romantic and . . . well, it just spoke to me on about fifty different levels.”
Sandy said she has fond memories of Marion Chessney, Barbara Hazard, Joan Wolfe, and Janette Raddcliffe, and while she left the trad Regency behind a decade ago, she is as sorry as everyone else about the news.
Though I began my Regency Romance reading with the accidental find of Carla Kelly, my love of trads really began with my discovery of AAR reviews, especially those by Blythe Barnhill and Ellen Michelleti. Because she has been such a devoted fan of the sub-genre, Ellen’s comments are particularly telling. And so I am going to let her have the last word:
Traditional Regency Romances take the reader away to a pastel past where the women are beautiful, rich, well-dressed and witty, and the men are handsome, rich, well-dressed, and gallant. Everyone knows where they are in the social order, everyone follows the rules, and everyone lives happily ever after. That’s not to say that there can’t be conflict and bending of the rules, but if the author colors too far outside the lines, the books lose the sense of place and time that mark them as a traditional Regency.
Maybe the demise of the Regency Romance is a good thing. With so many being published every month, authors had to resort to not just bending, but shattering the rules to make their books stand out. We had time-travel, ghosts, talking animals, witches and heroines who behaved in totally anachronistic ways.
Lately I had to really search to find a trad that satisfied me. After being absent from the scene for years, I’ve noticed that gothics are creeping back in. Perhaps that will be the fate of the traditional Regency. In the meantime, I have several large boxes of favorites that I will re-read – and I promise to read Georgette Heyer before the year is out.
Time to post to the Message Board
Let’s hear your rants and raves on the trad Regency:
Do you read Regency Romances, and why?
If you used to read trads but stopped, why?
Which have been your favorite titles and authors, and why?
Which have been those you didn’t care for, and why?
What are the premises that particularly excite you when you read a Regency Romance, and why (and vice versa)?
What was the first trad you ever read, and what was your reaction?
What route led you to the trad – was it through Austen and or Heyer, through historicals, or did you come to Regencies later?
Which authors who used to write trads did you follow into historicals…and which, if any, do you wish did better with the trad than they now do writing historicals (and vice versa)?
How sad are you to see the death of the trad Regency, and do you think it’ll come back?
TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
Laurie Likes Books, Anne Marble, & Robin Uncapher
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