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Jane Austen, the Regency era and me – a guest post by @AnneGracie #rwpchat

July 18, 2017

The Regency era (1811—1820) is one of the most popular time periods in which to set historical romances. It is also the historical period most associated with romantic comedy. Why is it so? Here’s my theory.

It all started with Jane Austen. She, of course, wasn’t writing “historicals” — she wrote novels of her own time. But her dry, ironic, sometimes acerbic observations, her deft characterization and her witty dialogue left a strong impression on those who came after her.

Enter Georgette Heyer in the 20th century, noted for her romantic comedies. Strongly influenced by Austen, she set books in a variety of historical settings, but was most successful with her regency-era romances. With witty dialogue, vivid characters and lively plots, she became a huge bestseller and is credited with establishing the Regency Romance sub-genre.

What followed was an explosion of writers setting their books in the Regency era. Then came the various Jane Austen film and television adaptations, which brought Austen to the world. And after them came an explosion of Austen rip-offs — Pride and Prejudice and  Zombies, for instance, and a raft of new novels starring Jane or her various characters.

How ironic that Jane Austen herself made but a modest income from her writing.

I myself came to the Regency era young. I was eleven when I read my first Heyer novel, and not much older when I read Price and Prejudice, and I studied Austen at University, so it’s no surprise that when I started writing historical romance, I set my stories during the Regency. In a way, I feel I grew up in that world. As well, there is so much fodder for a novelist in that time period — the Napoleonic Wars, poverty and great wealth, scientific and technological developments, the growth of the British Empire and much more.

In my book, The Autumn Bride, the dowager Lady Beatrice establishes a literary society mainly so her wards can be introduced to society. The society is not for “clever-clogs show-offery discussion” but simply to enjoy listening to books read aloud—perfect for those with fading eyesight. So which books do they read?  Jane Austen’s of course, though at that time she was simply known as “a lady.” But Austen fans will recognize the snippets read aloud.

Not all of my characters appreciate Austen’s novels, however. In the second book of that series, my hero’s best friend asks him to keep an eye on Lady Beatrice and her nieces while he’s away on his honeymoon.

Freddy sipped his claret thoughtfully, trying to work out a way to wriggle out of what, on the surface, seemed quite a reasonable request.

Max, misunderstanding his silence, added, “Look, it won’t be hard. Just drop around to Berkeley Square every few days, make sure they’re all right, see to anything if there’s a problem, protect the girls from unwanted attentions, take them for the occasional drive in the park, pop in to their literary society—”

“Not the literary society. The horror stories those girls read are enough to make a fellow’s hair stand on end.”

Max frowned. “Horror stories? They don’t read horror stories, only entertaining tales of the kind ladies seem to enjoy, about girls and gossip and families—”

“Horror stories, every last one of them,” Freddy said firmly. “You asked me to sit in on their literary society last month, when you went up to Manchester, remember? The story they were reading then . . .” He gave an eloquent shudder. “Horror from the very first line: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’ Must he, indeed? What about the poor fellow’s wants, eh? Do they matter? No. Every female in the blasted story was plotting to hook some man for herself or her daughter or niece. If you don’t call that horror, I don’t know what is!”

Max chuckled.

“You can laugh, bound as you are for parson’s noose in the morning,” Freddy said bitterly, “but every single man in that story ended up married by the end of the book! Every last one.” He numbered them off on his fingers. “The main fellow, his best friend, the parson, even the soldier fellow ended up married to the silly light-skirt sister—not one single man in that story escaped unwed.” He shuddered again. “Enough to give a man nightmares. So no literary society for me, thank you.”

 

I sometimes wonder about Jane Austen, and what she would think about her huge popularity, 200 years later, and how she has influenced so many. Would she be thrilled, or horrified? What do you think?

Anne Gracie

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