I think it was the fine folks over at Dear Author who coined the phrase “Mistorical” to describe historical romances that are, for lack of a better term, light on the accuracy. “Wallpaper Historical” is a similar term. Mistorical, I believe, is intended to describe not just books that are light on the factual accuracy, but books that appear to be set in a world that never existed. It’s a Meta-Regency setting as opposed to an actual-Regency setting.
The term mistorical is a bit perjorative in that it implies something that is wrong — hence the Latin prefix mis. There is a suggestion in there that perhaps the author is not aware of any errors. Although I think that’s true for some authors, I’m not sure about that as a blanket statement.
The meta-Regency is, for me, a world that never existed and, moreover, is a world that the author and reader very likely both understand did not exist. The stories are built on a set of Regency signifiers that the savvy reader instantly recognizes and navigates.
It’s a world where a woman’s Empire gown can be removed by unfastening a few hooks, no one goes to Church or is genuinely afraid for their immortal soul, and no one blinks an eye when a woman demands to know why she can’t go to Oxford, as if the unfairness ought to be patently obvious (even though, historically, the “fairness” of that prohibition was so obvious as to not need discussion). Reform is in the air and the hero supports it. There may well be sexy lingerie, even though sexy underwear didn’t exist. There are horses and carriages, slippers and ballrooms, eleven o’clock tea and the use of the word “rather” in place of the modern intensifier of “fucking.” I rather think that’s awesome, my lord instead of Dude. That’s fucking awesome.
A Less Meta-Regency
Then there’s the historicals that exist in a Regency constructed through use of a greater set of known facts. In this sort of historical you are unlikely to find a heroine who decides to dispense with her corset in the name of fashion. This heroine might recognize the unfairness of not being allowed to go to Oxford, but she will also be aware that the weight of public conviction is against a change in the policy.
These books tend to explore the impact and meaning of these very real power legal and cultural imbalances and the ways in which the hero and heroine can both transgress those boundaries.
While I enjoy and tend to prefer historicals that are strong on the history, I also enjoy historicals that appear to be set in this Meta-Regency period. I have read and re-read certain “Wallpaper” historicals multiple times.
I’ve reached the point, however, where I don’t feel these two kinds of books should be lumped together at all. When I’m in the mood for the Meta-Regency, I wish I knew a quick way to find one, other than by author name. And when I want a book that gives me a more historically accurate grounding, I wish I could more easily find them, too.
There’s nothing worse than finding out you’ve just paid money for a Historical romance only to find you have a meta-Regency world instead.
So, where do you stand? Do you have a preference? Do you care? Opine in the comments.