A Regency Romance

What explains the enduring appeal of the Regency Romance? (Question arises from the latest audio book I’ve narrated, already successfully released in USA 10 days ago, by a subsidiary of over-mighty Amazon).

Why has that period in history lent itself more than any other to our fantasies about courtship and social acceptance? The origins of its potency lie older and deeper than the comedies of manners written prolifically by Georgette Heyer, the doyenne of Regency Romance fiction, and the costume rom-coms of the film and movie industries of the last hundred years.

Regency Romance is written to a winning formula nowadays, some of it blissfully unconcerned with syntax or history, but millions of women had fallen in love with Classic Literature’s Mr Darcy for nearly two centuries before the BBC got him wet.  Members of all sexes have obsessed over the period’s dead poets with a sense of connection that felt stronger than many real relationships. Many a girl and boy have thrilled to Byron’s “mad, bad and dangerous” celebrity, or pined to be the one to soothe Keats’ fevered forehead, rather than inadequate Fanny Brawne.

We are all touched by the Regency, even those of us who have never read a romantic novel or would know a pelisse if it arrested us.

John_Arthur_Douglas_Bloomfield,_2nd_Baron_Bloomfield_by_Sir_Thomas_Lawrence

John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield, 2nd Baron Bloomfield, already a career diplomat at the age of seventeen, a pillar of the Establishment trying desperately to look like poet, libertarian political writer and social outcast Lord Byron, painted at full Romantic throttle by Thomas Lawrence, 1819. (National Portrait Gallery. Image: Wikipedia).
The Regency created its own romantically sexy myth long before it was appropriated by later generations.

The Regency period looks more modern to us than either the preceding 18th century age or the following Victorian age. The style of clothes and short hairstyles are still around – even the men’s tight-fitting trousers have been revived as jeggings.

Regency architecture, interior and garden design still provide some of the most elegant home improvement options available today.

EdmundBlairLeightonOntheThreshold
Edmund Leighton: On the Threshold (1900). Manchester Art Gallery. Image source: Wikipedia
Love the wrought iron and lead roofed porch. And his boots….

A late Victorian nostalgia for Regency style packaged the romance of consumerism, in which props and set dressing are more prominent than feelings. You’d never guess from later illustrations that there had been a war going on, in fact several wars, about ideology, trade, territory and ideas.

Women’s clothes in the neoclassical Regency period, for three decades after the French Revolution, were more comfortable, more symbolic of personal freedom, than later 19th and early 20th century fashions. By the late 1820s, tight lacing was back and got tighter. (Traditional stays had never really gone away for every woman in Regency times, and were superseded by the much-maligned corset which, correctly fitted, is far more comfortable and good for posture than its reputation allows. And some of us are comfortable and happier in high heels, just as some people have sea legs – but that’s for another battle at the Last Post.)

The female body of the following four generations was squeezed in and padded out, satisfying somebody or other’s fetishes, some of them as weird as Comic Con costumes.

At the time Edmund Leighton was turning out his chocolate box historical genre scenes, and C.E. Brock was producing his fairytale illustrations to Jane Austen, fashionable women’s bodies were trapped in S-shaped cages which they only started getting out of shortly before World War I. The Regency looked like a time of rationality and enlightenment in comparison.

Bingley&Jane. Brock

One of the later (1907) watercolour versions of C.E. Brock’s original 1895 illustrations to Pride and Prejudice: the sugary colours signal the export of Jane Austen’s “two inches of ivory” world to the arch land of Regency Romance.

to be continued

The AUDIO VERSION of THE CAPTAIN’S WALLFLOWER – A Regency Romance by Audrey Harrison, read by Pippa Rathborne – is available now on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

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8 comments on “A Regency Romance

  1. They may lead nowhere, but nowhere is a terribly difficult spot to get to. I think you are providing a delightful service. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life trying to get nowhere and I always, sometimes lamentably, end up somewhere.

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  2. PJR says:

    Thank you, Thomas. I’ve missed a certain reader who sees through me. Your name evokes a 16th century philosopher or practitioner of the dark arts who has chosen to visit the over-developed 21st century. Thank you for following my blogs, but I’m afraid they lead nowhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hmm… Very interesting. I’ve missed this sort of historical analysis dearly! Glad to hear your audio book is doing well. I did happen to hear a “lost” demo of you doing a reading of some weird piece by an odd fellow by the name of Eric something or other.

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  4. PJR says:

    Can’t we have sanctions against Jane Austen adaptations? The only one I’ve liked is “Clueless” – because it borrowed from, rather than traduced, “Emma” – though I admit the Saint Emma / Ang Lee “Sn’S” was emotionally truthful….Everything else is a tritification of Austen.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, you’re right, and I hadn’t thought about it before, that the Regency period does seem more modern than the periods following it. That time period really does seem like a rational one. I’m going to keep that in mind the next time I see a millionth re-make of Pride and Prejudice.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. […] Source: A Regency Romance […]

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  7. Fascinating, Pippa, and what you say makes absolute sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. beetleypete says:

    Good luck to you both with the book, Pippa. I see that it has thirty-one five-star reviews already on Amazon, so that bodes well.
    Best wishes as always, Pete. x

    Liked by 1 person

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