Prinnyworld or the Real Regency?

The Word Wenches recently discussed the appeal of the Regency, touching on the popularity of “Regencyland” or “Prinnyworld” as a lovely escape from 21st century stresses.

Which it is. If I’m pampering a wretched cold or for any other reason looking for a light and/or comforting read, I’ll reach for a Georgette Heyer (stories like FREDERICA or COTILLION), a cozy trad, or a sexy Regency-set historical romp.

But that post also made me think about a comment from one of my CPs on a draft of LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE. Much of the plot revolves around London’s Foundling Hospital, pictured above. (There’s a great book on the subject called CORAM’S CHILDREN by Ruth K. McClure). Anyway, I wrote about the fate of unwanted children in Regency London, how they might be abandoned in parks to die of exposure or cast into the Thames. My CP noted that this was very sad; her way, possibly, of making me consider whether I wanted to include such grisly facts.

I pondered it a while. I know many readers want to escape into a lush Regency where nothing worse happens than maybe expulsion from Almack’s. But for this story, I wanted to show the stakes, for the foundlings who appear in the book and for the hero and heroine who care about them. I decided to not pull my punches and left that bit in.

I also included other facts I learned in the course of researching the book that I found interesting and yes, heart-wrenching, such as how many of the children were born to servant girls impregnated and abandoned by their masters or their sons, the real rakes of the Regency, unlike the charming scoundrels many of us write (I’ve written them too). I wrote about how the Foundling Hospital, for lack of room, turned away 1 in 5 infants brought to them. I used the fact that mothers left tokens behind to help them reclaim their children if they were ever in a position to care for them.

As I was writing, I kept worrying that I was going too deep into harsh reality. But that’s where this story took me. I’ve written lighter Regencies, too, like THE REDWYCK CHARM. As far as reading tastes go, it depends on my mood. I enjoy excursions into “Prinnyworld” where I can enjoy gorgeous clothes, beautiful settings, witty dialogue. But I also appreciate authors who have gone for some gritty reality. Mary Balogh and Carla Kelly come to mind. I like seeing Regency romance push some of these boundaries. Lots of interesting areas to explore: the Napoleonic Wars, the Luddites, etc…

What do you think? Does reality spoil the Regency experience for you? How real is too real? If you like the boundaries pushed, where?

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Regency of 2005

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

A lovely post, Elena, and thanks to the wordwenches for having opened up the topic. It’s where we’re headed, I think — well, it’s where I’m headed, no it’s where I started… the tapestry is lovely, but the knots at the back of the fabric are even more fascinating.

But I have to admit that I like interweaving lots of glamor into the rough stuff. Sometimes I feel guilty about that — like now, when I’m trying (for a future book) to imagine the only industrialist in Manchester who lets child labor keep him up at night while also looking like Jeremy Irons (hence all the weaving and fabric metaphors).

I’m feeling pretty good about my forthcoming September book, though, which is about an actual historical Home Office plot to set a provocateur against its parliamentary reform movement — same year as they suspended habeas corpus. Fascinating. And not so foreign as we might hope. And I think I got the glamor/gritty equations right.

And after all, there were those during the Regency who loved digging below the pretty surface — Pierce Egan, Lord Byron, Caroline Lamb. I like the complexities of gutter glamor too.

Cara King
16 years ago

I like all sorts of Regencies, from Prinnyworld to Totally Real. Two of my all-time favorite Regency authors are Barbara Metzger (who definitely writes in a fantasy Regency land, albeit one that still can contain some grittiness), and Carla Kelly, who I think is the most keep-it-real Regency writer I’ve ever read.

BTW, I thought Lady Dearing was quite perfect in published form, so I’m glad you kept those bits in, Elena!

I also love unreal worlds, whether Regency or not, in which all the people are witty and such. Some of Heyer’s, some Oscar Wilde, Bertie Wooster (okay, maybe not witty, but you know what I mean), and lots of other things qualify.

Cara (who couldn’t comment for hours because blogger was down! What’s with that?)

16 years ago

I like reality in my fiction, even in romance. In fact, especially in romance. LOVE the contrast presented by the often gritty details of everyday life in the past and the love that blossoms between two people overcoming both their own conflicts and those outside ones thrown in their way.

I like all the boundaries pushed. In fact, it’s easier to say which I prefer not to push too far – the whole personal hygiene thing *g*.

Therese Walsh
16 years ago

I’d take a dark, authentic tale over a light one most days of the week; though light with lots of laughs can be good too when the mood strikes me.

BTW, your CP’s comment “that’s sad” might just have meant “that’s sad.” Because it is. Sad and sick. But I’m all for gritty reality, and I firmly believe you made the right choices for Lady D.

I would’ve posted earlier, too, Cara, but BUGGER wasn’t letting me. Sheesh!

16 years ago

The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there. That’s why I love both history and historical fiction. But I think you have to take the good with the bad, and least to some extent.

I enjoy touring the amazing stately homes in England. These really were the scenes of glittering aristocracy that are glamorized in Regencies. But they couldn’t have existed without the enormous inequities of British society.

I admire the brilliant men of the enlightenment. But I’m glad we’ve gotten rid of enormous plantations worked by slave labor.

And whenever I feel envy for a “more gracious age,” I remind myself that I’m better off living in a world where one needn’t die of a simple cough, and the simple mechanics of living don’t require unremitting toil.

So by all means, keep a good dose of reality in the fantasy! That way, we can all enjoy what used to be…and be glad for what isn’t anymore!


Kathleen Bolton
16 years ago

Those little tokens break my heart. Glossing their story over does no one any favors, so you made the right decision. The glittering world of Almacks rested firmly on the backs of the underclass . . . it’s so worth it to point that out.

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

This is why we call it Risky Regencies, right?
Go for it, Elena! Write what your vision of the Regency is and show the darker side!

16 years ago

I finally have been able to sit and reply! 🙂 Anyway, I take both, Prinnyworld or Real. Ultimately, I read it for the time period, but at the same time also for simply what the hero and heroine are going through — so if there is reality put in, I guess you can call it the icing on the cake because then I’m getting a history lesson with it. One of these days I have to look in the bookstore for some nonfiction Regency books too. 🙂