Sunday, July 24, 2011

Regency 101

by Anna Campbell

When I'm whizzing around the traps as I tend to do (traps being the intrinsically exciting places you can imagine!), people often ask me about research.

In fact, they ask me so often, I'm astonished. As anyone who's visited me on a blog or seen me speak in person, I get too much unhealthy excitement out of odd details of Regency life. You know, who slept with whom or who bought their china where.

OK, who slept with whom gets me slightly MORE excited!

Something else people ask me is to give them a primer on a definition of the Regency. I've come up with a nice short explanation - it's the period from 1811 to 1820 when George III was incurably mad and his son Prince George became Regent, effectively monarch in his father's place although without the actual title of king.

I then explain (quickly before eyes glaze over) that in terms of historical romance, the Regency covers anything from the end of the 18th century to the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. I then mention Napoleonic wars, industrial revolution, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Georgette Heyer and men in boots (this last one has the remarkable effect of unglazing all eyes!).

Mention Colin Firth and THAT lake and eyes even reach the point of looking quite bright!

Just in case you've forgotten, I enclose this illustration to prove my point!

So I thought I'd do a quick whizz through some fun books that make a great introduction to the Regency and some of the terms that pop up with Almackian frequency in Regency-set romances.

All of these books (with one exception) are fairly readily available at the online stores like Amazon or the Book Depository. All have the benefit of being entertaining and the sort of history that is more concerned with who seduced whom (and how they addressed them in the morning) rather than who legislated what. I've also included a couple of really beeee-ootiful books that offer numerous glamorous settings for seductions and legislations.

Well, maybe more of the former than the latter!

For the general reader, I highly recommend GEORGETTE HEYER'S REGENCY WORLD by Aussie Jennifer Kloester. It takes you on a whirl through all things like the Season and Almack's and how to cause a scandal (or not). If you're a devotee of Heyer's novels - and I know from my reviews here that a lot of you are - there's the extra fun of how the historical information links to specific stories.

A book I constantly have on hand when I'm writing is Daniel Pool's WHAT JANE AUSTEN KNEW AND CHARLES DICKENS ATE. For really specific Regency questions, this one isn't great as it tends to squeeze the whole nineteenth century together in one big delicious sandwich. But if you want to know how to address that duke you've got coming to dinner and whether to sit him next to Agatha Horseface-Smythe, the bishop's spinster daughter, or the Hon. Letitia Flirty-Pants, it's fabulous.

For more specific 'history' books - you know, what happened when (and who slept with whom - yeah, I know, I'm obsessed!) - I recommend THE PRINCE OF PLEASURE AND HIS REGENCY 1811-20 by J.B. Priestley and OUR TEMPESTUOUS DAY by Carolly Erickson.
Both the Priestley and the Erickson cover the Regency proper (or improper!), between 1811 and 1821.

THE PRINCE OF PLEASURE is the one you might have trouble finding, although it seems to be readily available secondhand. I bought a first edition (1971) fairly cheaply at a used book store here in Oz years ago but only just read it. Wow, what a fabulous piece of social history. And the illustrations in the hardcover edition will have you drooling like George, the Prince Regent, drooled after his dinner (he was a big eater, was George - he was the original for Georgy Porgy in the nursery rhyme!).

Easier to get and extremely enjoyable (although the Priestley is more gossipy) is Carolly Erickson's OUR TEMPESTUOUS DAY: A HISTORY OF REGENCY ENGLAND. What I like about both this and the Priestley is that you get a real feel for the personalities of the era.

One of the best books I've read for years and considerably more exciting than you'd think a tome about the scientific revolution in the Regency era could possibly be (perhaps I could say 'electric'?) is THE AGE OF WONDER by Richard Holmes. This book offers a vivid portrait of the best minds of the time and the way they clashed and sparked off each other and created the modern world that we live in today. Highly recommended! Seriously, a lot of it reads like an exciting historical novel.

And now for some visual gratification...

No, not more Colin Firth (although now you mention it...).

One of the lovely things about writing books set in the Regency is that it was just such a darn pretty era.

I love the clothes, both men's and women's. And I love the explosion of decorative arts that took place in this first third of the 19th century. China, furniture, fabrics, doodads, just name it - they're elegant and beautiful and have lasted through time as icons of beauty and utility.

If you're a decorative arts freak ( like moi!), I highly recommend THE REGENCY COUNTRY HOUSE by John Martin Robinson and REGENCY STYLE by Steven Parissien. I gave the Robinson to a friend of mine and he referred to it as architectural p*rn. More decorously, I'll call these two picture books for adults!

Both are incredibly inspiring for a romance writer who lives too far away from Flirty Pants Hall to check it out in person. Although that's always fun if anyone wants to send me a plane ticket!

Both books are a little unwieldy for reading in bed (especially the Parissien which is both a coffee table book and a book that features coffee tables, Kramer would be delighted!). But they're both so gorgeous, who cares if you have to sit up at a table to leaf through them?

OK, must stop there or I'll still be talking research books till the next Regency! This was meant to be a quick review of four books and you see where that idea ended up!

So do you like to research the background to your romances? Or are you happy for the world of the book to be complete unto itself? Do you have any favorite books about the Regency? And do you prefer your Darcy wet or dry?


  1. Anna,

    I loved your post! I don't think they'll have copies of any of the books you mentioned in our little town. They have a used book store that think the Nancy Drew mysteries are old books!

    I love men in boots but I like even better when their worn with tight pants!

    One reason I read historical romance is so authors like you can do the research of the time period for me! My husband and I took a trip to London and Scotland in the 1990's and he was amazed about the history I knew. He doesn't even complain about all the "research books" (like your books) I buy anymore!

  2. Jeanne, seriously, I hear you on the general knowledge aspects of reading historical romance. I'm a killer Trivial Pursuit player because I've read so much romance. Not just historical - it's all pretty good for odd facts. A friend of mine who is a big Mills and Boon/Harlequin fan and I were talking about this one day and she said her desire to travel (and she's done a lot of it) was sparked by reading all those MandBs where they were always going to fabulously glamorous places. I often think about this when I hear people denigrate romance readers. It's impressive what a regular romance reader knows!

    Oh, dear, you seem to have hit on one of my pet topics! Sorry!

    Thanks for saying you loved the post. I really enjoyed doing it. A bit of architectural pron is always fun!

    By the way, I'm pretty sure libraries would have access to all these books if anyone's interested in following them up and doesn't want to buy them or just can't find them.

  3. Thank you, Anna, for such a great post. I love history and enjoy having aspects of it brought out in the books I read. Since I teach Iowa history, I do try to find fun little tidbits for my students, so am always reading or googling something during the school year.

    I remember reading Harlequins when I was young(er) and I was so interested in England and Australia that I would look up info at the library or in an encyclopedia.

    I think Colin Firth in boots and tight pants is a very mouth-watering image. Hmmm, maybe even tight, wet pants---no, not from moi drooling. ;) Perhaps from riding his horse in the rain to deliver a posy to his lady love. Of course, in my dream, I am his lady love.

  4. Hi Anna!

    I do appreciate research and relevant historical facts in my historial romances. It makes it feel more authentic and therefore easier for me to get lost in the story. At the same time I don't want to be overwhelmed by facts and have it overshadow the characters. I think the characters should definitely shine but with a little help of history bits.

  5. Colin Firth on a horse? Now you're really overdoing the good stuff, Deb! Hubba hubba! Have you read At Home by Bill Bryson? It's full of really quirky little facts of history - I dare anyone not to be fascinated! Thanks for swinging by and saying you enjoyed the post. It was a really enjoyable one to write.

  6. Na, it's a balance, isn't it? I think you can overwhelm the story with the historical background but on the other hand, I always find I enjoy historicals that feel 'historical' more than ones where the historical setting feels very much just like wallpaper. I want to feel these are people of their time not just modern people wearing long dresses and breeches, if you know what I mean.

  7. To begin, I'll take Darcy any which way thank you.

    As a reader I love the intricacies that you read in Historical novels. The etiquette, faux pas, the clothing etc: ALL of it is appreciated.

  8. Mary, I think most of the girls are going to be with you on the Darcy question! I agree with you - I love how social behaviour was such an intricate dance back then. Really adds to the richness of the stories for me.

  9. Anna

    What a great post I am happy for all the wonderful authors to do the research for me LOl although there have been a few occasions when I have googled something that I wasn't quite sure of usually something to do with clothing I like to have a picture in my head when reading a book so I like to imagine the clothing described by the author.

    As for Mr Darcy I will have him wet or dry thanks

    Have Fun

  10. I have the Daniel Pool book which is so awesome. It's a great and light read.

    And I definitely need to get my hand on one of the books about who slept with whom. Like you, I love reading that kind of stuff. A couple of years ago I wrote a research paper on Lord Byron's life and those details were prevalent.

  11. First, let me thank you for adding Colin Firth's picture today. Along with my cup of coffee, that really helps to start my day! ;) I also love someone who digs out the "good stuff" in history. It's not all dry you know. A novel that adds extra gossipy information truly peaks my interest.
    Connie Fischer

  12. I read Regency romance mainly for fun and entertainment so I try not to look too many things up but I have written down all of the books you listed and will probably start getting them from Amazon slowly to further my knowledge of the time period. I prefer Mr. Darcy wet!

  13. Anna, what a fun post! I actually have the book WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND WHAT CHARLES DICKENS KNEW. Great minds think alike, right?! :-)

    I love learning about new tidbits, whether it's through non-fiction, fiction, television or movies. And as for Mr. Darcy, I'll take him any way I can get him. *snort* Ah, but Colin Firth and the lake.... *sigh*

  14. Oh, how I love to do research! Sometimes I have to stop myself from researching more than I write!

  15. Hi Anna! (waving!)

    What a wonderful post! I enjoy historical bits in my historical romances but I don't want them to take over the story. The characters are still first and foremost for me but I do love it when their story is interwoven with what's going on in the world at that given time.

    I'm a Jeopardy junkie and I always get a special little thrill when I know an answer because I've read about the topic in one of my romance novels. *grin*

  16. Hi Anna,
    I loved this post! I was a history major in college, so I share your love of research and learning about what life was like in the past.

    I think the misconception people have about history is that it's dry, and all about memorizing dates and facts. History is so much more complex and fascinating than that. It's about culture, society, politics, economics, religion, and how it affects real people. So it's not about when things happen-it's WHY.

    As for the Darcy question-I'll join those who say I'll take Darcy/CF any way I can get him!

  17. Anna,

    I just LOVE you!!! It doesn't matter what you write, it's all wonderful. You could write the menu selections in the darkest hole in the wall pub and I wouldn't be able to tear my eyes away!! LOL!! :-D

    Much Love,

  18. I usually don't do any more research. I am happy with the world that is given me in my historical romances.

  19. My history classes were quite good about certain events and rulers, so I have a solid foundation. However, sometimes a romance book will bring up something new and if it's interesting enough, I'll do some research

  20. Another fabulous blog, Anna!!! I'm going to have to check out some of these books.

    As to your question about Darcy (in my mind Colin Firth) ... the ONLY way to have that man is wet ... very, very wet ;-)

  21. Helen, nobody seems very fussy about what format they get their Darcy in. LOL! Thought that might be the case! So glad you enjoy the historical details - I must say when they're well done, it's something I really love too. Someone like Loretta Chase really uses the historical details to build the characters and the story.

  22. Antonia, Byron's always good for some juicy details, isn't he? Actually I often think the womanizing overshadows his other considerable achievements, which is a pity. But it certainly makes for some good gossipy reading! The Pool book is fun, isn't it? Glad you're another fan!

  23. Connie, I think if people make history personal - you know, bring out the personalities and the emotions of the people involved - it's always fascinating. So glad you loved the CF picture! I had fun looking for it as you can imagine!

  24. Aha, enough of these fence sitters. We have someone brave enough to choose a wet Darcy! Brava, Maria!!! ;-) Good luck with the books - they're all really readable. And the illustrated ones are luscious!

  25. Gannon, that's SUCH a classic scene, isn't it, when Mr. D dives into the pond to cool his raging passions? Sigh! Pant! Hey, cool you love the Pool (I mean the book, not Mr D's lake!). Yeah, I'm always looking for odd little tidbits to add to the books too. I think it brings the characters alive if you can show them interacting with items of their own time.

  26. Margay, I've had to be really disciplined. The problem with research is it's so interesting and it leads in such odd paths, you can just do it forever and never write the actual book (it's also easier than writing a book which makes it even more appealing). I read a couple of books on the subject and then I stop unless something pops up in the writing of the story that I need to explore further. With Captive of Sin, I could have been reading about the East India Company and the British conquest of India forever.

  27. PJ, I'm a Jeopardy junkie too - wouldn't it be fun to watch it together one day. Got a thrill when I saw my then editor Lucia Macro on as a contestant a few years ago. Yeah, I get a thrill when something I've discovered from a historical pops up too. And it's surprising how often it does!

  28. "I think the misconception people have about history is that it's dry, and all about memorizing dates and facts. History is so much more complex and fascinating than that. It's about culture, society, politics, economics, religion, and how it affects real people. So it's not about when things happen-it's WHY."

    Hear, hear, Lisa! That's exactly it. History is as actual as what's happening today. How could it not be when it's people interacting and suffering and loving and enjoying and doing everything that people still do. I think a really great historian can turn a research book into a story as compelling as any novel.

    Another fence-sitting Darcyite? Titch, titch! LOL!

  29. Wow, Monica! Thank you! That's a wonderful compliment! Quite made my morning - it's very early here in Oz on a chilly winter morning. It had started to warm up in the last few days but last night was FRIGID!

  30. Virginia, I think a lot of readers are with you. There's something to be said for just living in that world of the book!

  31. Penfield, I love the internet for stuff like that. You know, that quick and dirty "Did they do that?" kind of question.

  32. Buffie, you are a saucy wench (which is why Mr. Darcy likes you!). Thanks for saying you enjoyed the post. It was a really fun one to write. The problem was stopping at this many books. Originally I was only going to do four and then the number kept creeping up!

  33. What a lovely Blog and thank you for listing the books. Ah, Mr Darcy, who could fail to love him? I do love him any which way, but wet has a wicked appeal! I'm a big fan of the BBC series, but recently watched the Keira Knightly film version for the second time. This time round I really appreciated the underlying sizzling attraction between Darcy and Lizzie.

  34. What a fabulous list, Anna! I love the Priestly book, and I also have The Regency Country House and Regency Style. Wonderful resources, and you've given me more books to order now. Damn your eyes, madame, for making me spend more money!

  35. Oh, and the Jennifer Kloester's book is great, too. So much fun reading about all those places from GH's books.

  36. Hi Anna & Dishes!

    Gee, I could spend all day reading the books you've mentioned here. I have lots of coffeetable books mostly on architecture, old houses and interior design. I use the and sites to get a feel for my character's environment.

    I have Daniel Pool's book too and some books similar to that on the Victorian and Gilded Age eras. It's fascinating to read about the day-to-day stuff.

    Um...these fine eyes will take Darcy wet or dry. :)


  37. Alexandra, I love the way the movie really concentrates on the love story between L and D. Although I DO wish he'd kiss her in the dawn light at the end. Seems silly that he wouldn't!

  38. Hey, Vanessa, thanks for swinging by. I was kicking myself that I sat on the Priestley so long before I read it. What a great book - it was like a good friend was telling you all about his scandalous associates!

  39. Ooh, Jen, I must check out those sites. I often swing by the National Trust site to check out venues too and when I visit a stately home, I always buy the guidebooks and usually see what I can find in the bookshops. I got a lovely National Trust book on historic interiors that's an absolute treasure - wonderful photos of houses through the ages. Because of course a lot of the houses featured in Regency-set books include older features.

  40. Oh, new books to explore! Thanks, Anna. Sorry I’m late. I’ve been celebrating. :)

    I have read and loved Georgette Heyer's Regency World, What Jane Austen Knew and Charles Dickens Ate, and The Age of Wonder, but I made a note of the others. One of the delights of our modern library system is that if a book is in the state, I can get it through my local library. If it isn't, I can usually get it through ILL.

    History was my minor field as an undergrad, and, like most literature lovers, I am fascinated by the contexts out of which the literature arises and in which it is set. One not on your list that I particularly enjoyed is Passion and Principle: The Loves and Lives of Regency Women by Jane Aiken Hodge, and, of course, Hodge’s The Private World of Georgette Heyer. I’m looking forward to Kloester’s new biography of Heyer too.

  41. The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England by Kristine Hughes is also good for 19th Century society- similar to Daniel Pool's book. Both books have a similar drawback, as well...they do not differentiate clearly which customs are Regency and which are Victorian. A tremendous amount of social change occurs during the Victorian Era, including changes in, for example, medical care, wedding customs, etc. The are both very good for those things which do not change- the different ranks of society, being presented at court, etc. An interesting section in Hughes's book is a list of recipes for home remedies. Do not take any of these books as gospel, however- if it is something important find a second reference! I noticed in Hughes that the descriptions of childbirth customs was not correct and did not have much detail.

    The best book I have found for pregnancy and childbirth customs is "In the Family Way" by Judith Schneid Lewis- excellent reference!

  42. I like the books I read to be researched and contain little tidbits of daily life accurate for the era. These books you mentioned will go on my wish list. Like many others, I like to check up on something mentioned in a book I've read. This often leads to an evening of links from one post to another. I just find it all so interesting.

    As for Colin Firth's Darcy, who wouldn't take him any way they could get him - wet or dry.

  43. Comment #2

    My husband and I have listened to Bill Bryson's books on England and on Australia. Loved them. HAve a couple others to read. We have decided a trip that would follow his steps on both trips would be one we would really enjoy.

    As to the comments about history in historical novels. I was a good student, but I have certainly learned more about history from the romance novels I have read than any class I took. I was in New Orleans looking for the locations Jennifer Blake used in her Masters At Arms series. I asked the ranger at the national park if he knew where one place was located. He had never heard of it and when I told him where I had found out about it he just sniffed and said it's FICTION, none of it is real.
    Ms. Blake spent time in the museums researching maps of the area among other details. I eventually found everything she had mentioned. His dismissive, condescending attitude was more than a little irritating. He should try reading the series, he would learn something. The female ranger was new to the area and not familiar with the series, but at least willing to check it out.

  44. Great blog, Anna! I was looking forward to seeing which books you recommend. I have several books about the Regency: WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND CHARLES DICKENS KNEW by Pool, THE PRINCE OF PLEASURE by Priestley, THE A TO Z OF REGENCY LONDON, and ENGLISH WOMEN'S CLOTHING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY by Cunnington. All are great! I'm very interested in THE REGENCY COUNTRY HOUSE by sounds like one I'd really like. Thanks, Anna!

  45. Ha ha, Janga. Anyone would think it was your BIRTHDAY!!!! Oh, that's right, it is. Hope you're having a wonderful day! Hic! I've read and enjoyed JAK's Georgette Heyer biography. I'm looking forward to Jennifer's because apparently she's had access to a lot of private papers that are new. I'll order the JAK Jane Austen book - thanks for letting me know about that. It sounds fascinating. Now go and eat some cake!

  46. Hey, thanks, C. I'll see if I can track down those books you mention. I like the Pool because it's quick if I want to know how someone's daughter is addressed - as you say, the things that didn't change over the period. And for a general reader, he does a good job of explaining things like the season and the ton. Thanks for swinging by!

  47. Pat, that ranger's attitude is SOOO annoying, isn't it? I remember mentioning Lady Hester Stanhope to someone because I'd read about her in a Barbara Cartland (we're going back many years). I got the same reaction until this person did a bit more digging and realized that Hester Stanhope was quite a significant figure. It's wonderful to be proven right, isn't it? I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson - I love his dry sense of humor. He makes anything entertaining! Hope you get to do Down Under with him as a guide one day!

  48. Andrea, the country house book is just gorgeous. I hope you manage to check it out. I have the A-Z - isn't it fascinating? I found it in the British Library when I visited in 2007. Love picking up obscure reference works in places like that. I must check out the Cunnington - sounds great. Thanks for saying you enjoyed the blog!

  49. Wow, really enjoyed today's chat. Thanks so much to everyone who swung by and gave me their Darcy preferences. Now if I only I had a Darcy to give out as a prize ;-) Thanks as ever to the Dishies for their hospitality. See you all next month!

  50. Hi Anna, I'll take my Darcy wet or dry or any which way I can have him!
    Loved your post and all the wonderful research sources. I'm going to be on the look for them.

    I keep telling my non romance reading friends how much history (and other things!) I have learned in my reading of historicals. They just don't know what they are missing!

  51. Anna,
    Darcy? As long as he's not dead!

    Thanks for the reference books. I have several and delight in the interesting insights into the period.

    I also found a costume book from the Museum of Costume in Kyoto which has wonderful full color pictures of clothing. Really helpful. a large part of the fun of reading historical romances.

    Now, what do you think Darcy wore under those tight breeches?