In the early 1980s, I had never read a book by Jane Austen nor heard of Regency romances. I was working as a reporter at the Associated Press in Los Angeles when PBS aired the BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice (the one starring Elizabeth Garvie—I also enjoyed the later miniseries featuring Jennifer Ehle).
I was hooked, bordering on obsessed. Despite an odd schedule at the bureau, I managed to watch repeats two or three times a week, and this was before I owned a VCR. Then I read the book, followed by more Austen novels. One day, while passing through the library, I spotted a paperback whose cover featured a young lady in the same sort of costume. What was this? I wondered, and promptly fell even deeper under the Regency spell.
To clarify, the English Regency period covers the years 1811-1820, when the Prince of Wales ruled in place of his father, King George III, who had been deemed mentally unfit. In 1820, when the king died, his son was crowned King George IV. However, the Regency era is sometimes loosely considered the decades between 1795 and 1837, ending with the ascension of Queen Victoria. This expansion allows authors more leeway with settings and current events.
The Regency was a time of turmoil—including the Napoleonic Wars—and of change. Women’s rights and women’s fashions began to modernize, certainly compared to the preceding Georgian and subsequent Victorian periods. Men’s clothing, influenced by Beau Brummell, abandoned rich colors and velvet for a more tailored, elegant and masculine appearance. Powdered hair and stiff wigs were tossed aside for men as well as women, save for members of the British judiciary (an amusing article on that topic may be found at http://www.cardozo.yu.edu/life/spring1999/wigs/).
After reading as many Regencies as I could find, I began to research—in books, since this was before today’s convenient Internet--and to write them feverishly, in every spare moment. Until then, I had written plays, scripts and children’s fantasy novels, receiving a writing grant but never achieving professional status outside journalism.
After completing two manuscripts, I approached publishers, working my way through the alphabet in The Writer’s Market before selling my first Regency, Lady in Disguise, to Walker and Company. Still working fulltime at AP, I wrote and sold a total of five. My sixth, A Lady’s Point of View, was rejected by my editor, but later bought by Harlequin and published with only minor revisions. After Harlequin canceled its Regency line, I became discouraged about writing in the genre and moved on to contemporary romantic comedy.
It never occurred to me to put sex in my Regencies. I realize that people had sex in Olde
England, and that some unmarried women, such as widows, had sex outside wedlock. Personally, I have no objection to such conduct “as long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!”, to quote actress Beatrice Stella Tanner Campbell (1865-1940). Mrs. Campbell, by the way, was the first Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. I think someone later made it into a musical. (Don’t write me. I know it was My Fair Lady).
When I first read a Regency that contained consummated sex, I was, if not shocked, decidedly taken aback. Did it not occur to this nitwit heroine that she might be impregnated? What about her reputation? Yes, Mary Shelley ran off at age sixteen (in 1814) with the married Percy Bysshe Shelley, but it raised quite a scandal. Only her intellectual pedigree as the daughter of women’s rights reformer Mary Wollstonecraft and her own talent—she wrote Frankenstein, thus inventing the genre of science fiction—saved her from complete ostracism. Also, she later married Shelley.
Since I encountered that first steamy Regency, the genre has provided larger and larger servings of passion. There are many wonderful Regency authors plying their craft today, and I don’t wish to disparage them or their readers, but I do wish more traditional Regencies were being published.
To me, the fun of a Regency remains its Cinderella-like innocence. I treasure a heroine of spirit, wit and modesty. While I wouldn’t deprive her of sensual yearnings, the notion of her lifting her skirts and discovering what lurks beneath the hero’s buckskin breeches seems a violation of her moral code. Also, it strikes me as profoundly foolish, the sort of behavior one might expect from Elizabeth Bennet’s giddy sister Lydia, who was only saved from disgrace by Mr. Darcy’s kindness.
Some popular authors of sweet Regencies that I recommend are Georgette Heyer, Joan Smith and Candice Hern. My own half-dozen novels in the genre continue to sell smartly on Amazon and other sites.
I’m thrilled that there are still readers who prefer tradition. Long live Eliza Bennet!
Bio: Jacqueline Diamond has sold more than 95 novels including romantic comedies, Regency romances, supernatural thrillers and mysteries. A former Associated Press reporter and TV columnist, Jackie received a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times magazine and has twice been a finalist for the prestigious Rita Awards.
Today, Jacqueline is offering one of her Regency ebooks from Smashwords to one commenter. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition. Just let us know you want to be in the drawing.