What Is It About the Regency?

We’ve covered this before on Risky Regencies, many times in many ways, but I just want to go over it again. Maybe it is because I’m starting to write a new book. Maybe it is because I’ve heard some readers say they are tired of the Regency. I don’t know.

What is the appeal of the Regency in romance novels? Why do you like to read novels written in this era?

Is it the fashions?

The drama of the Napoleonic War?

(like how I stuck in my bookcover?)

The manners?

Georgette Heyer?

Jane Austen?


Or are we more intrigued by the Regency as a time of social transition? The wealth and power of the nobility is diminishing as the lot of the common man is rising.

What is it about the Regency that appeals to you? Why do you think some readers are tired of it? What part of the Regency do you like most in your Regency romances?

Blogging at DianeGaston.com

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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12 years ago

It’s a turning point; industrialism hasn’t quite taken hold, but it’s now inevitable. It’s on that cusp when a man truly could know all that there was to know. It’s also a very brief period of time, so brief it is often overlooked. As to people being bored, I’ve never considered that a reflection on “it” but the person; people change. Fashion changes every season and with the newest superstar. Publishers only want what sells, so they create “The Formula,” in an effort to assure themselves it will sell. “The Formula” is boring after you’ve read it a few times.

12 years ago

I think we like them because it is a very structured society, but the lines are beginning to blur. The war in Europe offers many varied plot lines. The wealthy are still wealthy, but there are now more roads to earn wealth and be influential.
I am not tired of Regency, but it is nice to see books coming out which take place in other time periods and places.

Kim in Hawaii
12 years ago

Paraphrasing an excellent article from Mary Jo Putney, Regency is far back in time for a nostalgic look at history but not too far that readers can’t relate. Plus the Regency produced heroes demonstrated honor, valor, and chivalry (but at least bathed once a week).

Just consider Viscount Nelson. During the Battle of Trafalgar, he signaled his sailors,
England expects that every man will do his duty.

His quote has inspired others:

– Napoleon ordered the French translation, “La France compte que chacun fera son devoir”, to be displayed on French vessels

– During the battle of Lake Champlain, Commodore MacDoungh of the US Navy expelled the Brisith Navy on September 11, 1814. He rallied his sailors by flying the signal “Impressed seamen call on every man to do his duty”, turning Nelson’s words around to draw attention to the English impressment of U.S. mariners

– Japanese Admiral Togo studied naval science in England from 1871 to 1878. He signalled his fleet: “The fate of the Empire depends upon today’s battle: let every man do his utmost”

Elena Greene
12 years ago

What appeals to me? Everything you mentioned.

Perhaps readers are not so much tired of the Regency as tired of some Regency plots that have been overdone.

Enid Wilson
12 years ago

Definitely Mr. Darcy for me. But your red coat hunk looks gorgeous.

My Darcy Mutates…

12 years ago

It’s all you mention But I think It also the the slow pace of the courtship.It also takes us to a different time era for a while .An escape to relax and not worry about things going on around us.

Karen H in NC
12 years ago

I agree with the other posters who said it is the turning point in history. I love history and love reading about it but there are certain time periods that I just don’t care for…most of those being prior to the time of the American Revolution.

I especially love Jane Austen and of course Mr Darcy!

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Judy, I like that about the Regency, too–It is before the Industrial age, but you can see it coming. And I think why some readers get bored is that there are story lines that repeat over and over – the trick is to find something new about an overused story line (my present challenge)

librarypat, I think the blurring lines do make the era fascinating!

Kim, Mary Jo’s perspective makes a lot of sense. I often repeat that as if it is my own idea!! Bathing is good, too.

Elena, isn’t it hard to not repeat plots? I was working on a new proposal and just knew my plot was not original enough. But now I have a new idea….

Enid, way to get in a plug for Mr, Darcy Mutates!! (now that’s an intriguing title)

Karen, I agree with you about certain time periods. There are some I am just not interested in. It is a matter of taste. But Regency seems to have wide appeal so it must touch on something special. (of course, there is Mr. Darcy!!)

Susanna Fraser
12 years ago

I’m drawn to the Regency because people’s ideas and worldviews were getting close enough to our time’s that I can relate to them more easily than people from earlier periods, but it’s still a low-tech time. A few decades later, once you start getting rapid travel with trains and steamships and rapid communications with telegraphs, I’m not so interested. I’ll still read it, but I don’t want to write it.

Oh, and the clothes were wonderful. I think men’s clothes have been going downhill ever since.

I’m in two critique groups, one online and all Regency, the other local and multi-genre. When I was working on my alternative history, I took some of my research books in to show the local group what the people I was writing about really looked like. One of them kept commenting how contemporary they looked, especially the men. I thought, “I dunno, they look pretty of-their-times to me.” But then I saw what he meant–compared to their powdered and bewigged fathers or their sons and grandsons with their extreme Victorian beards, you could imagine the Regency men blending right in to a modern business meeting if you just got them out of their high collars and cravats and into a suit. So I wonder if that’s part of the appeal to readers–Regency people look pretty “normal.”

I’m interested in most historical eras, but the only other two I have a strong urge to write about are the American Revolution and the Greco-Persian Wars. Not sure what links the three, other than the obvious war theme. But the world is full of wars, and those are my three.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

I think that is a great point about the people of the Regency looking fairly “normal” by our standards. It is one of the things that blocks my fantasies of the Victorian era–can’t get past the men’s fashions. Or the Georgian period for the same reason.

Another time period I’m attracted to? WWII. I think it has a lot in common with the Regency.

Elena Greene
12 years ago

Diane, I know there’s a saying that there are no new plots but just as you’ve proven (with your new idea) there’s way to make them fresh. I also think there are some plots that have been so popular they need a rest. It’s scary because it seems like it’s boom or bust. A few years ago an editor asked me if I had a courtesan story. My mind froze, I think because I’d recently read some very good ones and I couldn’t think of a worthy variation.

Isobel Carr
12 years ago

I write books set slightly earlier than the Regency, but I think the appeal is the same. In fact, it was the entire focus of the author’s note in my first book:

The late 1780s is a period which fascinates me. It’s tumultuous on multiple fronts, multiple continents, in ways both micro and macro. 1787 marks a major milestone for the still fledgling United States: The signing of the Constitution. Uranus, Oberon and Titan are discovered by Herschel. Mozart’s Don Giovanni is performed for the first time. In 1788, England’s George III experiences his first bout of madness, ushering in the Regency crisis which will last for the next the twenty-plus years. London’s Daily Universal Register becomes the Times. The first convicts are transported from Britain to Australia, and Sydney is founded. 1789 marks the beginning of the Revolution in France, and the world will never be the same. The guillotine is invented. Mrs. Radcliffe’s first horrid novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, is published. Fashion is also undergoing a major transformation, the likes of which will not be seen again until the flappers burst onto the scene more then one-hundred years later. Hoops have been discarded in favor of false rumps, and soon even those will be gone as the fashion turns towards a Greek ideal. Vigee Le Brun has already painted the scandalous portrait of Marie Antoinette in her Robe a la Reine and the fashion has taken England by storm. The Duke of Devonshire is openly living with his wife and his mistress (the duchess’s best friend). The young Price of Wales is illegally married to the Catholic Mrs. Fitzherbert, and has likely already sired an illegitimate son. The Whigs and Tories are locked in combat in Parliament, each marshaled behind their leaders Charles Fox, and his former protégé, William Pitt.

Basically, it’s basically what Judy said in the first comment, LOL! It’s far enough in past for us to be able to romanticize it, close enough to able to really connect with the social mores, and to imagine ourselves being able to live there, and it’s familiar enough (mostly due to Jane Austen) that you don’t have to have a giant history lesson to enjoy a book with a Regency setting.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

I’m not surprised the late 1700s is a time period that fascinates you, Isobel. I think we Regency writers like to pretend it is part of the Regency, at least in its fashions and art and decor (as Janet has pointed out before!)

Isobel Carr
12 years ago

Well, the first Regency crisis takes place in 1788, so I feel entirely justified in cramming the late 18th century into the “Regency”, LOL!

Keira Soleore
12 years ago

For me it’s the push and pull of the outer versus the inner. The outwardly elaborately polite society (that’s tending towards Victorian in its strictures) versus the inner Georgian let-it-all-hang-out urges.

Dresses were getting simpler and plainer for the younger set while the older ones still enjoyed their colored weskits and knee breeches. And yet the amount of money spent for parties and entertainments was still just as much. Again, push and pull.

This is reflected in some of the nobility wanting to try their hand at mechanical things while other sniffed at the stench of trade.

Nobility also did not have endless pockets, so marrying into the Cits was happening also dabbling in trade.

Similarly, the political commoners were gaining prominence thereby making the lordly overrule less and less complete. Feudal system was giving way to democracy (a mere 600 years after the Magna Carta–heh).

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Hey, that works for me, Isobel!

Keira, that was so well-put!!! I agree on all counts!

12 years ago

For me, the appeal of the Regency lies in the contrasts within society — blue bloods looking down their noses at the nouveau riche, extreme poverty and extreme wealth, the drama of war and revolution and the culture of “let’s pretend it’s not happening,” the developments in science and technology and the growth of factories and industrialization — and the effect all this has on individual people. I love exploring what happens when society starts to change and people fall through the cracks.

12 years ago

I love the fashions, the coaches, the balls, the nobility, and almost all of my books have plots that relate to the war. I like books set in other time periods as well, but I always get thrown in Victorian books when the author mentions photographs or railroads or something else that seems more modern. I completely agree that the Regency is the past but not too far in the past for readers to relate to.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Anne, I love the contrasts, too. I think contrasts are typical of transitional periods in history.

Shana, I also love the beauty of the period, the fantasy that things were more beautiful before industrialization.

Jane George
12 years ago

Marrying for love!

As a reader I’m not tired of the Regency, but I do pass up tired plots set in any era.

12 years ago

I read historicals for the differences between then and now, actually. I have to be able to relate to the characters, of course, but I love reading about lives and experiences are so different from my own. I get transported, I suppose.

Of course, the hoary old plot chestnuts get tiresome, as do the ‘wallpaper’ regencies where the author just throws in a few ‘spensers’ and ‘Gentleman Jack’s’ and then proceeds as if they’ve never read a social history book.

And I read them for Mr. Darcy, too LOL


Diane Gaston
12 years ago

elysemady, you are making great points!