Sick of the Regency?

Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_AdieuLast week on my Diane’s Blog, I mentioned the discussion on Dear Author titled  We Should Let The Historical Genre Die.

At the end of the blog Jane says:

I’m not going to launch a historical romance campaign.  I think I’m actively looking for the historical romance genre to die.  For Regency dukes to molder into dust.  For dashing  earls to be crushed.  Only then can the genre reinvent itself.  I don’t want to save the historical romance genre. I want it to die and from the ashes, maybe then, a new and fresh historical voices will arise unconstrained by both reader, editor and agent expectations.

Of the 122 comments, several remarked about being tired of Regency and blaming the “demise” of the Historical Romance on the fact that the vast majority are Regency. One commenter said:

I have tried writing Regency but, as you pointed out, there are no original plots and the readership for this period is so knowledgeable I wouldn’t dare get the slightest flick of a fan out of place!

Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_CourtshipNo original plots? (and I try so hard….)

Other commenters complained about what we’ve discussed here many times, the “wallpaper” historical, one that puts the characters in costume but has them acting in 21st century ways. Can’t disagree with that personally, although I know some readers prefer this sort of Regency.

The discussion apparently began with a blog on All About Romance, asking Where Have All The Historical Romances Gone? with some of the same points made, especially in the comments.

Evangaline Holland joined the debate in her blog post, The Trouble With Historical Romance. In the comments she remarked that other romance genres ebb and flow with changing tastes and audiences, but she cited this parenthetical example:

(look at how quickly Harlequin’s contemporary romance lines shift and morph based on audience response, whereas Harlequin Historical–once in danger of being axed completely–shifts at a comparatively glacial pace).

I must remark that saying this about Harlequin Historical is a misconception. HH has never given up Westerns, even when other publishers did, and they’ve experimented with lots of different time periods and settings: Jeannie Linn’s Chinese historicals, Ancient Rome, Vikings, Irish Medevials, Amanda’s Elizabethans and more.

Suffice to say that I found all these discussions about historical romance very interesting. The various opinions about Regency Historical Romance was often daunting and discouraging–I also thought they were at least partially true.

380px-Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Weeping_Woman_(F1069)That little anxious mini-me who lives inside my brain was wailing, “What’s the use!” Her chin was on the floor and she was halfway to believing that nobody liked Regencies anymore.

Until my dh and I went to Old Town Coffee Tea & Spice in Alexandria with a friend. We were there a long time, picking out lots of loose tea, so we were getting pretty chummy with the salesclerk, a woman in her 50s, I’d guess.

My dh asked her, “Do you read romance novels?” (I was as surprised as she was at the question. My dh is not usually my publicist!)

She responded, “Yes.” She paused for a few seconds. “But I only read Regencies.”

Next time we go, I’m bringing her a book!

So what do you think?
Do you think the Historical Romance genre should die so it can be resurrected into something better?
Do you think Regency plots are over done? If so, which ones?
Do you think the problem with Historicals is there is not enough diversity of time periods? If so, what time periods and settings would you like to see more of?

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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31 Responses to Sick of the Regency?

  1. Evangeline says:

    I love that Harlequin Historical is willing to publish non-Regency settings and I turn first to the line when I want to read historical romance because of this. To elaborate on my statement, Harlequin Historical does not change the way the contemporary category lines change (e.g. readers want hotter romances, and HQN first introduced Temptation and then Blaze; Duets came about during the chick-lit boom; Bombshell when urban fantasy rose to prominence, etc).

    Granted, if the Regency is what readers want then Harlequin Historical is keeping abreast of the market! My observation was simply rooted in how swiftly other genres respond to readership trends, and also how swiftly non-romance genre historical fiction meets the needs of the average reader who likes Downton Abbey or The Borgias. Then I ponder if the dominance of the Regency setting will effect the growth of historical romance’s audience.

    On the blog post topic, I don’t mind the Regency setting. Traditional Regencies were my gateway to historical romance, and many of my favorite romances are set in the early 19th century and many of my favorite voices write Regencies. But I do seek non-Regencies when I desire different characters and different scenarios, and unfortunately, many times I am forced to find it outside of the historical romance genre completely.

    • diane says:

      Sorry, Evangeline! I guess the misconception was mine.

      As you can imagine, I’m a little over-sensitive about Harlequin Historical, which I feel often gets totally overlooked when Historical Romance is discussed. (and also when Harlequin does its promotional efforts!)

      You did mention it and for that I’m very grateful!

      • Evangeline says:

        No apologies necessary! It’s so easy to leave a comment and forget that others may read it differently if I don’t fully elaborate on my thought-process. 🙂

        I also completely understand the sensitivity over HH being underestimated! It’s been a quiet force since 1977, which makes it easy for many to forget to mention the line.

  2. Evangeline says:

    Well shoot, I keep coming back. 🙂

    I just popped over to your blog post and saw this comment (apologies to the commentor, not singling you out): “…I wouldn’t normally just start out with a new (unknown)historical author that was non-Regency.” That is the challenge non-Regency/Victorian/Scottish historical romance writers face, and it has little to do with the quality of the storytelling. Which is frustrating to say the least.

    The gist of Jane’s argument is that the unfamiliar needs to be consistently sandwiched between the familiar in order to expand the adventurousness of historical romance readers. If–or since-this does not happen, Jane feels the only recourse is to shock the market by rebuilding it from scratch. I can’t say I can envision such a sturm und drang measure, but I’m excited that her stridency–sparked by Lynn’s column at AAR–has created more chatter about historical romance than what I’ve seen in a long time.

    • diane says:

      I thought that part of Jane’s argument (the unfamiliar needing to be sandwiched between the familiar) made a lot of sense. And I thought the whole discussion quite stimulating. Obviously! This is my second blog about it!

      I totally agree with you about being excited that the Historical Romance genre is getting this attention! Thanks to you for that, as well.

  3. pamela1740 says:

    I love non-wallpaper Regencies, and am a loyal and enthusiastic reader of both established and newer authors writing in this space, from frothy to risky, to dark and angst-y. But I confess I was also part of last week’s sturm und drang discussion that Evangeline aptly characterized as the Trouble with historical romance — I do think there isn’t enough diversity and that there are a lot of books that may look much of a muchness — gowns, tiaras, dukes, runaway heiresses, etc. — to readers who are new to romance. And there don’t seem to be as many new westerns or medievals at the bookstore these days, though it’s true that if you know where to find them, you can.
    It’s different for readers who have been reading romance for decades and know what they are looking for in a good read; for my part, whether it’s a Regency or a Medieval – or even a paranormal — I’m looking for a strong story, and I am drawn to many of the same underlying heroic themes and traits across all the subgenres: honor, loyalty, boldness, kinship, courtliness, charm & wit. I wrote a post on my own blog suggesting a kinship between two incredibly disparate authors — Lynn Kurland and J.R. Ward because I think some of what’s made paranormal romance so incredibly popular is its use of historical romance themes and conventions. Lots of my favorite Regencies evoke these themes too. I thought the discussion that took place from AAR to Dear Author, and on Evangeline’s blog and elsewhere was incredibly rich and really exciting to have so many voices in the mix expressing such deep respect and affection for historical romance.

    • diane says:

      I agree, Pamela! I love the discussion (that’s why I’m perpetuating it)

      And I also agree that there are a bunch of lazy Regencies out there that deserve the criticism! But I think that this is true of any genre. There are good books and there are not so good books.

  4. VERY quick comment before I’m off to work, possibly a prelude to a longer post on this topic Friday…

    …I don’t think the time period is the problem. I’d far rather read a thoughtful, creative approach to a Regency setting that makes good use of the specific history of the early 19th century than a book set in, say, the Victorian era that could just as well be a typical Regency except that the heroine is wearing bigger skirts and she and the hero occasionally travel by train as well as horse and carriage.

  5. HJ says:

    I haven’t had much Internet access over the last couple of weeks so I didn’t see and haven’t read the articles you cite, or their comments.

    My immediate reaction is that I do not want the Regency historical to die, and nor do I think it is dying. Insofar as there is a problem with it it is probably that some people who want to write a romance, and have read a few Heyers and other Regencies, think that they can just knock them off without much care and attention. But I would argue that those are not true Regencies and therefore should not be counted. They would be criticised for being poor romance novels whatever period they were set in; but because Regencies are perceived to be both easy and popular that type of author writes them as Regencies.

    It is no more valid to say that there are no original Regencies than it is to say the same about contemporary romances, or about any period. Whatever the time period, there are a limited number of things which can happen between people, and it is difficult to write something which is both new and realistic. Why should it be supposed that if a story was set in Victorian times, for example, it would somehow be better than if it was a Regency?

    So I don’t think that you should take these comments to heart, or as personal criticisms. I think they’re aimed at different, more mundane writers. The sheer volume of Regencies means that one can find more bad ones more quickly, but that doesn’t mean that they are all bad!

  6. I’m afraid my thoughts are terribly disjointed, today, but here are a few things that came to mind as I read:

    “Do you think the Historical Romance genre should die so it can be resurrected into something better?” There will always be those who complain, who aren’t satisfied, who want to change things to their way because they know best. If you want to make it better, write it/support it. There will always be authors who are lazy and those who do their homework. As long as readers are willing to put up with lousy writing, nothing will change. Writing is nothing without the readers.

    I don’t care if there are dozens of dukes because they are written by different authors. They are not related stories. The glorifying of the life of a courtesan baffles me. They usually died young and of nasty diseases. What is romantic about that? I loath stories that take 21st century characters and drop them in a historical because it drags me out of the story. I don’t read as much medieval because they’re notorious for doing exactly that or they feel the need to give me every detail regarding hygiene. I know it was different. Part of the reason I read historical romances is because I love the language and the setting. When a writer is lazy, failing to do their homework, it takes me out of the story and the reason I bought the book is defeated.

    Regency is a bridge between the past and the present. It’s the verge of the industrial revolution. There’s enough that’s familiar to what we know now, whereas anything much earlier is a strange new world. I think it’s why Regency is the gateway to historical romances. It’s long enough past to be different but not so long past it’s difficult to relate. For some readers, it’s as far back as they want to go, or they discover they don’t want to go back even that far.

    A reader knows what to expect in a contemporary. Anything else is exploring not simply a new relationship, plot, but new setting, new rules of conduct, new language… it can be intimidating or boring.

    • diane says:

      Laurel, I think that you make a great point about Regency being a gateway. I think there are good reasons why Regency is a popular historical romance period.

  7. I don’t want the historical romance genre to die, nor do I hate Regencies. I just want to see more authors explore other time periods. Like Evangeline, I regularly check out Harlequin Historicals every month to see what books might be out in other time periods. I would love to see someone write a romance where the heroine is a Harvey Girl or more romances set during the Restoration. I’m amazed that after Nicola Cornick’s wonderful Edwardian romance, there weren’t more of them! I grew up reading authors like Barbara Ferry Johnson and Patricia Gallagher who were marketed as romances but who today would probably be considered historical fiction. And I absolutely adored Miranda Jarrett’s American Revolution novels, as well as Susan Johnson’s novels set in 19th century Russia.

    • diane says:

      You’ll get no argument from me for more books set in other historical time periods. I think there are many readers who would love them.

  8. Isobel Carr says:

    I think part of the problem is that some readers can’t see the trees because of the forest (yes, that’s backwards, but it’s what I mean). The sea of Regency-set books just swamps them and they really don’t see the full bounty that is out there, nor are they able to distinguish between all the Regencies and find the ones that might appeal to them.

    • diane says:

      Good point, Isobel.
      I also think that when a reader comes across a book that is a stinker, they assume all books in that genre are stinkers. I know that when I read a book I really don’t like, it takes a lot for me to read another book by the same author.

  9. Ella Quinn says:

    When I consider the breadth of Regencies on the market, I was flumoxed by Jane’s statements, and I still don’t understand what she’s looking for. There is practically anything you want. In fact the only thing really missing is stories about the middle and lower classes exclusively.

    • diane says:

      Of course, Ella, reading about the middle and lower classes of the Regency isn’t part of the fantasy. At least not for me.

      I think readers want the same…but different. And we authors should aspire to give it to them.

    • Well, my July release, A Dream Defiant, has a hero who’s black and an army corporal, and the heroine is a soldier’s widow who was an ordinary village girl and a housemaid before she married. They come into something of a mini-fortune after the Battle of Vittoria, so they’re not poor anymore, but they don’t have any aspirations to gentility, either. And I’m working on a new manuscript where both hero and heroine would probably be considered middle class, though the hero has some distant connections to an aristocratic family.

      • diane says:

        You do push the envelope, Susanna! And I applaud you for it. You are proof that there are a lot of daring, good books out there that are different. And you show that one can write about the Regency in new, fresh ways.

    • Evangeline says:

      Jane, and most of us, just want a variety of setting and characters, without one setting (Regency England) or social group (titled aristocrats) dominating the genre.

      I for one would like the phrase “unusual historical” to disappear because a wide and consistent selection of settings and characters should be the norm rather than the exception. I’d like for someone who likes ward/guardian romances to be able to pick up books with this theme that take place in 870 China, 1675 France, 1803 England, or 1845 New York. Or, if you’re searching for a typist heroine, you can find her in a more period correct era (1880s- ) instead of being an anachronistic Regency era heroine. 😉

      • diane says:

        I agree, Evangaline, that there are a lot of fresh ways to write historicals, but I don’t think that a variety of time periods is necessarily what all readers are searching for. Some readers like to stay in that familiar world.

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  11. Caz says:

    I wrote a blog post for AAR yesterday, in which I freely admit to liking 19th Century England as a setting. Not that I wouldn’t object to other time-frames and locations, I just wanted to stick up for the Regency/Victorian era and point out that a good story is a good story and that I like a bit of actual history in my historical romance.
    I was unfortunate enough to read rather a lot of poor HRs towards the end of last year – the majority of which had been put out by major publishing houses – which I will admit had me fearing for the future of the genre. Luckily, I’ve read some absolute gems recently, so my faith has been restored 🙂

  12. Elena Greene says:

    I would agree that it would be cool to see more different settings and different types of characters and plots. It sometimes bothers me when I read a Regency-set historical by an author who seems to be trying to cash in on the popularity of the sub-genre without actually loving the setting enough to do her homework. I wonder if those authors would be happier writing something else?

    There are so many of books out there with similar covers and “Boinking the Duke” style titles. I don’t have time to read enough of them to be sure, but I’d bet the contents aren’t always as generic as the packaging.

    Publishers wouldn’t be putting out so many of those titles if there weren’t a lot of readers who buy and read them. And happy customers are usually less vocal than those who feel something is missing. It doesn’t mean that either group is right or wrong, just that the ones who want something different aren’t necessarily representative of the whole. The readership is diverse. So the books should be, too.

    The “unusual historicals” are out there, some of them may be hidden in the usual generic packaging, and some of them are from indie authors and more adventurous e-publishers. I’m looking forward to reading Susanna’s book. But it may also be harder to find those books because there is so much out there.

    Also, as to “death of the historical genre”, I have been hearing that for over 10 years. Using words like that is just more dramatic and exciting than talking about fluctuations in the market. But if drama sparks discussion, maybe it’s a good thing.

    • diane says:

      I think that needed to be said, Elena. The books out there do sell. And isn’t it great that there are so many chances for books with diverse eras and settings to reach readers today?

      Fluctuations in the market? How well I remember attending the 1999 RWA conference and all its publisher spotlights. They ALL said they were not taking any paranormal.

      The good thing about publishing today is you can find almost anything if you are willing to read ebooks and willing to search.

  13. bettielee says:

    ALL HAIL THE REGENT! ALL HAIL THE REGENCY! They can take my regency romances from me when they pry them from my cold dead hands!

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