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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beyond Jane Austin: The Real Regency Romance

Award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes has wanted to be a writer since knowing what one was. Her first book won the National Readers Choice Award in 2007, and her third book was a Carol Award finalist in 2010. Her first book with Baker/Revell, Lady in the Mist, was picked up by Crossings Book Club, and six of her books have ben chosen for large print editions by Thorndike Press. She has been a public speaker for as long as she can remember; thus, only suffers enough stage fright to keep her sharp. In 2002, while in graduate school for writing fiction, she began to teach fiction in person and online. She lives in Virginia with her husband, two dogs, and probably too many cats. Contact Laurie Alice on her website here



Beyond Jane Austen: The Real Regency Romance


To prepare for writing this post, I asked Regency writers how they would define a Regency novel/romance. Then I asked readers, most of whom had never picked up a Regency novel, what is their immediate reaction to the term Regency romance or Regency novel. My conclusion is that the writers of the genre know it inside and out. Readers opinions lie at both ends of the “unlike” to “love it” spectrum and all the areas in-between. Amidst th

ese observations resides the reason why early nineteenth century Great Britain is my time period of choice for reading and writing.


What is a Regency Novel?


Most people believe that Jane Austen defined the Regency novel. After all, she lived in and set her books in the time period when George III was mad from an illness and his son became the Regent ruler of the country. This is specifically 1811-1820; however, for publishing purposes, the time period extends from the French Revolution as far as to the end of George IV’s reign in 1830 for reasons I won’t get into in this post. My point here is that Jane Austen did not write Regency novels.


“Jane Austen,” says Tamela Murray, an agent with the Laube Literary Agency and author of two Regency novels and one Regency novella, “wrote contemporary novels. Austen did not have the perspective of whole picture insight into Society.”


Today, we have access to information about the working classes, the disastrously poor, the urban lives, and the place Great Britain played on the world theater. Now, we e

njoy thousands more resources than Ms. Austen could have found or afforded such as private journals, many newspapers, and other original sources such as military documents and scores of other books written during her time. Austen wrote of her microcosm. She wrote rather cynically of her microcosm. Her novels were no different than the author from a small town in America without television or the Internet, writing about the people and events of that town—perceptive regarding human nature, often witty, more often than not snarky, ultimately a view no broader than what one can see through a set of binoculars.


Because of the movies and numerous spin-off novels with Austen’s world, readers responded to my query with, too often for this regency writer’s pleasure, “Boring,” or “Not my favorite”.


So let us, bored and disinterested reader, leave Jane Austen in her contemporary and narrow little world and leap forward about a hundred and ten years to the advent of another English lady onto the scene—Georgette Heyer. I haven’t read her biography, so don’t know a great deal about her personally. I do know, however, that she was brilliant and a fabulous author and a huge influence on my writing and thus my life. Heyer brought the Georgian era alive with everything from swashbuckling romances, to drawing room comedies of manners, from mysteries, to gothic novels set from the 1740s, to 1820.


Georgette Heyer set the stage for the modern—Post Modern to be literary—Regency novel. She gave us a perspective of the haut-ton, the highest of society, to the middle class and even glimpses into the darker side of that fascinating era. She gave us a broad spectrum of the Napoleonic wars and dashing, sometimes dangerous, heroes, with spirited but never anachronistic heroines.


“In my mind,” says Rita award-winning author Diane Gaston, “what defines a book as a Regency is the setting. Is it set in the "Regency World?" To me, the Regency world means that it is written from the British perspective, about the places, events, and people who lived in Great Britain or were British during roughly 1790 to 1830. The setting could include British India, British characters in Europe (such as British soldiers in the Napoleonic War--like in my Three Soldiers Series ), or even America (War of 1812, for example), but it is about British characters and involved in British social, political, or economic concerns. Mostly, though, the stories take place in Great Britain and are about the social world of the privileged, although some of my Regencies have been about characters who are not of the aristocracy, but whose lives are more peripherally involved.


Shannon Donnelly, an award-winning Regency author, responds to my ques


tion with, “it was an era when style mattered more than almost anything else. Good "ton" mattered -- wit and fashion.” (Note: “Good ton” means having a respectable reputation in Society.)


I think of gentlemen and ladies, fashion, glitz, glamour, and society,” replies Kristi Ann Hunt, fan of the genre and writing her own Regency novel. “I think of the wonderful interest created by a period in such transition - the shift of power among the classes where society and family history still reigns supreme, but money can buy you a place, too. The horse is still the main form of transportation but the train is making an appearance as well. Even indoor plumbing is making its way into buildings. Mostly I think I'm going to read a book that takes me to a place that is either a world in transition or one where reality is still covered with a sheen of old society. I expect characters that are at least aware of the strict social rules, even if they choose to break them. I expect men to treat women like ladies. I like the clothing of the time period.”


All of these ladies and the scores of others who responded to my questions sum up the subgenre of historical romance novels in this same fashion. Wholeheartedly, I concur. It is an exciting time in history with a world of opportunity for romance and adventure, grief to overcome and joy to share, advancement in science and a powerful need to carry the grace of God to a society that went to church out of obligation and habit and not a need to w

orship.


Although Jane Austen’s endurance into the twenty-first century brings readers to an awareness of the Regency period, her novels barely scratch the surface of everything going on in that world. Georgette Heyer and those who followed in her footsteps—Clare Darcy, Patricia Veryan, etc.--took the genre one, two, a dozen steps further.


In writing inspirational Regency romantic adventures such as my espionage plot in A Necessary Deception, I wish to open a whole new world to readers—the realization that the people of the Regency era needed more substance. It was a world of constant seeking after entertainment and pleasure, concern about their shoes and clothes and appearance, leaving little room for God. . .


Sound familiar?


Yes, the parallels are often eerie and enough for another blog post. Let us just say that, through writing a spiritual aspect into the Regency subgenre, I, like my predecessors, the late Jane Orcutt and beloved Marylu Tyndall, and my co-Regency authors Ruth Axtell Morren, Louise M. Gouge, and a handful of others, wish to open up a new horizon to readers of Christian fiction and Regency romances.



A Necessary Deception


When young widow Lydia Gale helps a French prisoner obtain parole, she never dreams she will see him again. But just as the London Season gets under way, the man presents himself in her parlor. While she should be focused on getting her headstrong younger sister prepared for her entrée into Society, Lady Gale finds herself preoccupied with the mysterious Frenchman. Is he a spy or a suitor? Can she trust him? Or is she putting herself and her family in danger?


Discover a world of elegance and intrigue, balls and masquerades as Laurie Alice Eakes whisks you into the drawing rooms of London Society on

this exciting quest to let the past stay in the past—and let love guide the future.

Buy A Necessary Deception at:

13 comments:

Kathrine Roid said...

Yes! Someone else pointing out that you call a book what it would have been when it was written, not would it would be if it had been written now. Most commonly people call something that is contemporary fiction historical fiction, but recently I saw someone call Jules Verne the original author of steampunk. Are you kidding?? The guy was writing hard science fiction.

Ok, /rant.

Well, I learned something new today: I like regency novels. Before today I didn't know what the term meant. Now I'm curious. If it is so commonly a mis-defined genre, is it good to use the term? Wouldn't it elicit the wrong response from your audience?

Dina Sleiman said...

Hi, Laurie Alice. Great article. I like Regencies that show all facets of society. Too much upper class and parlor talk and I get bored, which is probably why I've never actually finished an Austen novel. But in general I do like the period and find it fascinating.

Kristi Ann said...

Hey, Laurie! Glad I could help with your article. ;) hehe

It's a great article. It makes a very good point about Jane Austen. So many people, even authors of Regency novels, think of her as the quintessential regency author. Personally, I think she is such a fabulous author because her plots are so timeless, as evidenced by the huge number of recreations of her work. I never thought about how narrow her written world was before, but I really see it now that you pointed it out.

Patty Smith Hall said...

Great article, and thank you for being here! I have to say that I'm one of those people who never considered Jane Austin as anything other than a Regency writer. But you're right--she was writing contemporary fiction.

I'm a big fan of regency romance, particularly Christmas stories. Don't know why, but I start reading them around this time every year. Guess it starts the Christmas season for me.

Blessings,
Patty

Walt M said...

Laurie Alice, I've never thought about the fact that a writer should be classified based on the time period when they were writing as opposed to the time period they were writing about. Thanks.

Walt M

Kessie said...

Oh! I never knew what that time period was called! The Temeraire books are set in the Regency period, so take all of the above and add dragons. :-)

DebbieLynne said...

Hey Laurie Alice,
I think I'm a minority, but I don't like Jane Austen novels. I read one, thought it so boring, tired of the endless parlor talk and at times it seemed she went on and on about something as simple as a sneeze. But I was persuaded to give her a second chance and read another of her novels. I did. Well, I still don't like her style. Now, I LOVE regencies. I get lost in them. I love what some of today's authors do with the time period, the intrigue, the struggles, the different classes. A friend of mine thought I didn't like Regency because I didn't like P&P or S&S. No, I just don't care for Austen. Today's Regency writer is nothing like reading an Austin novel in my opinion.
PLEASE no hate mail. heehee I know I'm a minority. Austen maybe a good writer, I'm not denying that. She just doesn't appeal to me.

Anonymous said...

LAURIE ALICE EAKES SAID:
Debbie Lynne is posting this for me as I have a difficult time with captias.
___

Kathrine, you are exactly right about JV. He inspired contemporary to us stem punk, and he was science fiction of his day such as JA was contemporary fiction of her day and inspired the Regency genre. Nice analogy.

Kessie: Another Temeraire fan? Yea! I just love those books and so fun to find someone else who reads them. About ¾ of the way through the fifth one.

Debbie Lynne and Dina, I’ll confess that Jane Austen doesn’t do it for me either. Well, I like Emma and Persuasion is pretty good, and those are usually people’s least favorite. P&P is inflated, and Mansfield Park is something I swould say should possibly not have been published. I haven’t read S&S and don’t intend to. Northanger is just silly, and it’s meant to be satire, so I accept it as is. I just read the others in the last ten years, after I’d already fallen for the genre.

There. True confession.

Patty, the Regency is a wonderful mix of the traditional English Christmas pre trees and all, and it being a religious ceremony, which it is. This makes Regency Christmases lovely. I am going to see if I can make my next one I’m writing fall over Christmas at least in part.

Walt, yes, I never thought of that either until my agent Tamela pointed it out.

CDeesBooks said...

I will watch anything Jane Austen, but the only book I could make it through was P&P. I also like North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

However, my absolutely, all-time-favorite Regency author is Georgette Heyer. I fell in love with Regency stories because of her, and I regularly re-read her books. Favorites include: These Old Shades - Devil's Cub - Simon the Coldheart - etc. (Hmm...now I'm in the mood for a Heyer book.)

I also like Clare Darcy and Patricia Veryan, and I have Necessary Deception downloaded and just begging to be read. Maybe I'll put off rereading Georgette Heyer until I get ND read. :-)

Ramona Cecil said...

Hi Laurie Alice. Fabulous article on Regency Romance! I read some Georgette Heyer back in the '70's, but as you know, since then, Regency has not been my go-to genre choice. I think it had much to do with the self-centered nature I often found in the characters. But you and Louise Gouge are enticing me back to the genre with your wonderful stories and characters who are both "real" and sympathetic. I liked the point you made about how the mindset of that era and class in England intrinsically encouraged self-centered thought, drawing people away from God. I especially liked your hinted correlation between that era and the times we now live in. Very interesting! Nice job!

Patty Smith Hall said...

Someone mentioned not liking Jane Austin--I guess I would be in that group. Though I love the movie adaptations, I found the books pretty dry. For that century, I would pick Louisa May Alcott hands down--not regency, but to me at least, the writing was better.

Laurie Alice, thank you once again for joining us here at Novel Rocket. We appreciate it.

Ruth Axtell said...

Great post, Laurie Alice. I LOVE both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. To me, novels about the regency are about that wonderful wit in their language. For later regency authors, I always enjoyed Dawn Lindsey's Signet regencies, and Marion Chesney's. I love entering that world of the 'haut ton' and observing their mores and how they overcome the limitations. Too often in today's 'historical romances of the regency period', too many liberties are taken with the period. This doesn't happen in your novels, Laurie Alice, since you are a stickler to historical accuracy.

Dave Morris said...

I agree Jane Austen doesn't feel like a Regency writer. She feels modern in the way that Shakespeare feels more modern than Marlowe, say (indeed, more modern than Wycherley, come to that) or Dickens more modern than Wilkie Collins - because they are not writing about the minutiae of a specific society, but about human concerns that appear timeless.