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Recently, I played the character of Celia in a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Celia and her cousin Rosalind are both daughters of dukes who, at the beginning of the play, live in luxury in a palace….until Rosalind is banished. Then Celia and Rosalind run away to the Forest of Arden — Celia disguised as a shepherdess, and Rosalind disguised as Celia’s little brother. Due to Celia’s smart thinking, they’ve brought their “jewels and their wealth” along with them, so they take care of sheep the same way Marie Antoinette did, and have a lot of fun along the way.

So, you’re thinking, what does this have to do with writing Regency romances? I’ll get to that in a moment. 🙂

I wore two costumes in this play. In the first picture here (photo credit: Jesse Sheldon), you see me in a very tight, binding, ouch-my-back-and-shoulders-hurt pale blue gown with a train, a gauze overskirt, trailing sleeves that almost reach the ground, (fake) fur trim, and (fake) pearls sewn all over the gown. I also have a heavy necklace, and a headpiece with a back veil that’s so long it almost touches the floor.

In the second picture here (photo credit: Jesse Sheldon), I am royalty pretending to be common. My green dress still has some trim, but it’s much simpler, and much more comfortable. I skip, I run, I lie down under a tree at one point. I can do pretty much anything but bend forward too far (this dress has a pretty low neckline). 🙂

What I found right away was that the first dress very much changed the way I moved. It kept me upright. It kept me from walking backwards (unless I carefully handled my train while doing so.) It very much restricted how I could move my arms (which I could hardly raise). And sitting on anything was problematic — the “pearls” which adorned the dress are everywhere, so sitting involved sitting on a lot of large beads — rather uncomfortable!

Once I got used to the restricted movement of this gown, I learned its advantages. The long trailing sleeves made smooth, graceful arm movements very dramatic, and highlighted any hand gestures beautifully. The train, sleeves, and long veil clearly stated that this was an important person — and a wealthy one. It was true conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure in one costume.

This leads me to think about the aristocratic ladies of the Regency period. I think one’s first impulse is to assume that all of those empire gowns were just so comfortable. But if you think about it, some of them were fussy…some had trains….some had huge headpieces with feathers…some were probably quite tight…and the stays certainly would have kept things like bending at the waist, and certain sorts of twisting, to a minimum…

So our heroines, particularly when dressed up for balls and such, probably moved and stood in a very different way from women who were servants or shopkeepers. Our elegant heroines would know that a small hand gesture or a graceful inclination of the head would speak volumes. Our young, tomboyish heroines might chafe against such restrictive clothing, and keep trying to do things they really shouldn’t (and getting in trouble.)

I’m sure none of this is new to most of you — but it’s the sort of thing that wearing a costume can make one ponder yet again! So what do you think the advantages and disadvantages of Regency costume were? What character or plot elements might a heroine’s costume cause, or reveal? Can you think of any dress-related plot points in Regencies that you’ve read?

All comments welcome!

Cara King,

Posted in Research, Writing | Tagged , , | 8 Replies

I am finishing up my revisions for my Governess and Marquess story, now titled Born To Scandal, due today, so I’m recycling an early blog of mine. It first appeared in June of 2006 (Have we really been doing this blog for so long?), but my thoughts about Regency Heroines are much the same.

Here’s the recycled blog:

Several weeks ago when I had the good fortune to join Risky Regencies (this was an early blog!), I prosed on forever about Regency heroes, fictional and those appearing on cover art (not to mention GB*Gerard Butler*). It is time I spoke about Regency heroines.

When I conceive a story in my head it almost always starts with the hero. Heroes are so much easier for me. Apart from the obvious reason that I love to fantasize about dishy Regency guys, I think it is because the men in those times were able to lead such interesting lives, while the women had very few options, unless they were willing to risk social ostracism or give up on respectability altogether and live in the demimonde.

In some ways I love to explore women who were willing to risk being shamed (Morgana running a courtesan school in A Reputable Rake, for example; Emily gambling in The Wagering Widow. I like even more to imagine what life would be like for those women outside of respectable society (Maddie, the ruined girl, in The Mysterious Miss M). My next Mills & Boon features a singer as the heroine (that would be Innocence and Impropriety).

All of these heroines require a mindset quite different from today’s woman, and it is sometimes hard to find that point where the modern reader can identify with the Regency woman’s predicament. Why be afraid you are going to wind up a prostitute? the modern woman might say. Why not just get a job?

The reality was, the Regency woman could not just get a job. She had to have references, even for such lowly positions as house maid or shop girl. And once ruined, any respectable employment was denied her.

There are plenty of weak, victim-like Regency heroine stereotypes – governesses (writing one of those now–but not stereotypical!!), servants of any sort, impoverished vicar’s daughters, ladies companions, abused wives – but I think today’s reader wants the heroine to be strong, not a victim. I truly believe there have been strong women in every era of history, certainly in the Regency as well. I like to explore how women of the time period rose above their constraints and refused to be victims.

You know what else? It is hard finding reasons for Regency heroines to engage in “intimacies” with those hunky Regency men. I think the Regency woman’s mindset about sex had to be quite different from our own. She’d worry about pregnancy each and every time, no doubt. No respectable man would want a society girl if she went and had sex with another guy first.

I’m rambling because I need to write proposals for my next two books and I don’t know who the heroines will be! My next Mills & Boon has a marquess for the hero (that would be The Vanishing Viscountess). I want to devise a strong heroine for this hero, whom I know down to the birthmarks on his—

So! What kind of Regency heroines do you all like the best? Which ones are you tired of? Do you want that sexy read or doesn’t it matter?


(expect a brand new episode next week!)

This week, we’ve been wowed by the Research Nerds (Cara and Elena), Amanda’s cooking larks, and Janet’s quest for inspiration. Today I woke up with a vicious, pre-flu headache, which necessitates my bringing the tone down a bit for today’s post. Discussion follows the quiz:

Oh dear, you are Bookish, aren’t you? You are a highly intelligent and witty bluestocking, whose beauty is hidden behind spectacles. Your dress sense is eccentric and a little unfashionable, and you consider yourself plain. You have very little use for men, who find your knowledge of Shakespeare, interest in politics and forthright speech formidable. You are undoubtedly well-off. The only reason for your presence in a novel of this kind (which, I might add, you would not dream of reading, although you have occasionally enjoyed the works of Miss Austen), is your mother, who is absolutely determined that you will make a good marriage. Rather than defying her directly, you are quietly subversive, dancing with anyone who asks you, but making no attempt to hide your intellectual interests. The only person who can get past your facade is the man who is witty enough to spar with you, and be amused at your blatant attempts to scare your suitors away. While you will, no doubt, subject him to a gruelling cross-examination to find out whether his respect for your intelligence is real or mere flattery, you may be sure that he is your match, and that you, he AND your mother will all live happily ever after,

The Regency Romance Quiz: What kind of Romance Heroine are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Okay, so probably a lot of romance readers would get the same result. Most of us are, by definition, bookish. But is that the kind of heroine you like to read about? For me, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ I love the intellectual, forthright, opinionated heroines who aren’t afraid of saying what they know. I don’t mind reading about feisty women, but they also have to be intelligent, not just spirited. Amanda Quick’s heroines are usually this type of bookish miss, and I love them. Loretta Chase’s heroines are often a good deal smarter than the hero (or at least it seems that way). Many traditional Regencies feature governesses, companions, scholars’ and vicars’ daughters, and I like reading their transformation as they develop a passion for love as well as for books.

So–which personality types do you most like your heroines to have? Do you consider yourself a “highly intelligent and witty Bluestocking?” And which heroines best demonstrate the qualities you like the most?

Thanks for sharing!


Posted in Frivolity, Reading, Writing | Tagged | 8 Replies

TSTL. Too Stupid To Live.

It’s an acronym that pops up in romance discussion-land way more than us authors would like.

Running into the dark, scary castle wearing only a nightgown? TSTL.

Forgetting to charge your cell phone before embarking on a trip with some dodgy nationalists and a rugged, dangerously handsome SEAL? TSTL.

In Regency-land, our heroines can, and do, do stupid things. Like believing a random piece of gossip told by a sketchy person rather than believing the gorgeous hunk who’s been getting her all steamed up for 100 pages. How about thinking she’s completely ugly because she’s got the wrong color hair, even though there’s a gorgeous hunk who keeps popping up from behind the potted palms at Almack’s to ogle her? And what about thinking no-one will ever love her because she’s (eek!) smart.

Well, people are stupid in real life. This is not to defend the TSTL heroine, but to admit I’ve been there.

For example, I am the most gullible person in the world. That time when someone told me “gullible” wasn’t in the dictionary? Fell for it. And later on, when I was purportedly an adult, someone convinced me that survivalists used frozen fish sticks as weapons. Yes, you read that right. Frozen fish sticks. That orange netting construction companies put on the sides of big buildings when they’re getting worked on? Another person convinced me it was to protect suicidal stockbrokers when they jumped out of buildings during stock market crashes.

So–who’s your favorite TSTL heroine, and why? What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?

Thanks for sharing–


Posted in Reading, Writing | Tagged , | 14 Replies

It’s Mischief Night, and it got me to thinking about making mischief and taking risks. In my personal life, I am the dullest person imaginable: never caused my parents any stress (at least, I don’t think so–they were usually causing me stress), never pulled an all-nighter, never had a wild period. And no, the purple hair does not count as a wild period.

Which, I guess, is why I write fiction. In fiction, I get to create all kinds of mischief, from heroines disguising their true motives to heroes going determinedly after what they want, to villains not playing fair. After all, how much fun would it be to read about characters who do exactly what they’re supposed to? Not much fun at all. Boring, in fact.

So I like my characters, whether I’m writing or reading them, to be a little bit wild. Mischievous. Risky. If I could be a character from Regency fiction, I’d probably pick Jessica Trent from Lord Of Scoundrels. Actually, I’d probably be happy being any one of Loretta Chase’s heroines: tough, no-nonsense women who are uncharacteristically flummoxed by the hero. Yum.

Who would you like to make mischief as?

Posted in Reading, Writing | Tagged , , | 4 Replies
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