alias_sqbr: Nepeta from Homestuck looking grumpy in front of the f/f parts of her shipping wall (grumpy)
[personal profile] alias_sqbr
I've been pondering this topic for a while, but then came across 5 Reasons why Regency is the Best Romance Sub-Genre and decided it was TIME.

So! I have seen many reasons given for why people enjoy regency romance and my response is usually somewhere between "eh" and "Noooooo".

(I'm not going to bother exploring why I enjoy romances in general because my reasons are pretty typical: Happy stories about women, getting a kick out of resolved romantic tension etc)

Reasons I've seen given that don't work for me at all:

  • Enjoying a chance to revel in racism/classism/homophobia etc (This generally comes from critics of the genre): Um. No.
  • Wanting more like Georgette Heyer: I think she was a racist, classist, sexist anti-semite with unlikeable heroes, an irritting writing style, anachronistic 1930s attitudes with a veneer of historical detail, and unromantic endings, and I despair at her lingering influence on the genre. (aside from the snark, which is great. But other romance genres have that too)
  • old fashioned men: Not really. I like the fantasy of well educated characters who care about Honour, but not the sexism (benevolent or otherwise) and Manliness.
  • the fantasy of getting married and Never Having To Work Again because a rich upper class man will take care of you: Nooo. I like the fantasy of getting rich, and a rich husband is certainly an efficient way for a romantic plot to acheive that, but have enough of sitting around doing nothing as it is. Being a regency Lady was lots of work anyway. I find the obsession with aristocrats a bit wearying, the novelty of imagining being engaged to a Duke has definitely worn off.

Reasons I've seen given that do work for me a bit:
  • The clothes: I do like the clothes, though not that much (note that they are three out of the five reasons given above) I tend to get bored and confused any time a book goes into extended descriptions, and if the characters care more about clothes than each other I dislike them.
  • Glamourous parties: Yeah ok I enjoy these.
  • 19th century England as a sort of fantasy world, with as little similarity to the real historical era as most "medieval" fantasy has to the real medieval era: to some extent. Though the bits I want to gloss over and the bits I want to keep the same don't always match what the genre gives me (I BLAME GEORGETTE HEYER), and I do actually have some interest in and knowledge of the actual time period. Though I'm still fairly ignorant which probably helps my enjoyment :) I enjoy regency-esque speculative settings like the Liaden and Vorkosigan universes too.

Reasons I like regency romance I have not seen discussed much by other fans of the genre:
  • Romance heroes tend to act pretty similarly regardless of setting. Behaviour I find unbearably old fashioned in a contemporary hero becomes feminist and enlightened from a regency one.
  • there is an inbuilt reason for all the characters to care about romantic relationships. If they can't find someone to marry their life may genuinely be ruined! It's much harder to tie a romantic plot to life or death problems in a contemporary setting.
  • I like stories about characters triumphing over social injustice, and the injustices of the 19th century seem soluble in retrospect, so it's easier to imagine the characters triumphing over them. I know on a deep level how hard it is to triumph over the social problems of today. (I know intellectually that 19th century problems were just as hard at the time, but can ignore that for the length of the novel) Also, we can generally all agree on what the right solutions were! A character can be anti slavery and pro votes for women etc and readers will find that sympathetic. Anything dealing with current questions has to either be wishy washy or alienate the chunk of the audience who have different political views.
  • I find 19th century England a really fascinating place. I've read a bunch of Jane Austen and Dickens and the Brontes and while I find old fashioned prose hard to read these days still enjoy adaptations of books from that era (yes even the ones by Andrew Davies :P)
  • the chance to explore the kinds of characters you don't tend to see in actual 19th century books. POC, queer characters, commoner heroes who don't die, women who enjoy sex without being punished for it etc. Though the only one of these regency romances tend to give me is the last one :/

So, fellow regency romance fans, why do YOU like the genre? And yeah, I know most of you do enjoy Georgette Heyer and that's FINE, I can forgive you. I GUESS.

n.b. To anyone who says the only characters who can have any fun in regency era England are rich white straight men (and maybe their wives) I give you The Reason Escapist Time Travel Doesn’t Star Women Is That We Haven’t Written It Yet and the works of Sarah Waters and Beverly Jenkins.

Date: 2013-09-22 08:16 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
Huh, your reason about enjoying characters triumphing over social injustice is one of the reasons why I like (some kinds of) SFF. The issues seem much more soluble with spaceships and magic, or at least complex in not-so-depressing ways.

Date: 2013-09-22 09:37 am (UTC)
sqbr: A happy dragon on a pile of books (happy dragon)
From: [personal profile] sqbr
Yes, that's one of the things I like about sff too. And then there is regency sff like the Liaden books which I enjoy double :D

Date: 2013-09-25 10:56 am (UTC)
kerravonsen: a woman and a man's hand, barely touching (SSHG-hands)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
Oh yes Liaden!!!

there is an inbuilt reason for all the characters to care about romantic relationships. If they can't find someone to marry their life may genuinely be ruined! It's much harder to tie a romantic plot to life or death problems in a contemporary setting.

I hadn't thought of that, but now that you point it out, it is a reason I definitely agree with.

Both Regency and Liad have cultures where the characters have to walk a social minefield, one where wit and poise are what save the day, rather than physical prowess. I like that very much.

Other reasons I like Regency romance...

* there's less chance of it being a lust-at-first-sight story; or at least, it provides the opportunity to write such a story more than modern romance does. What I want in my romances is emotional intimacy rather than physical intimacy. (So I definitely don't agree with the "bodices" reason given in the article!)
* 19th century England as a sort of fantasy world, with as little similarity to the real historical era as most "medieval" fantasy has to the real medieval era - to a degree, yes, I approach it as a kind of fantasy in the same way that the SCA is a fantasy.
* Wit, poise, intelligence, honour, moral courage, kindness, graciousness, generosity -- like in a good fairytale, these things are rewarded.

Date: 2013-09-22 02:31 pm (UTC)
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (eyebrows of inquiry)
From: [personal profile] skygiants
It's an interesting question! I think both the "rebel against social injustice and social conventions in vaguely achievable ways!" and "no, but the romance has stakes, no, like ACTUAL REALLY SERIOUS STAKES" are part of the draw for me. I also think there's a certain fun in knowing what the "rules" are that have to be worked around -- it's like a puzzle -- whereas in contemporary romance, I either don't know/care about the rules, or think they're silly. (I mean the rules in historical romance are obviously not not silly, but it's the stakes thing again;-- they're silly but desperately important -- and also the cultural difference that means I don't get frustrated the way I would about something from a culture that I'm theoretically supposed to identify with.)

I mean I am not a super romance reader in general, at least not in the classic genre sense, but on the occasions that I do pick one up it tends to be historical; contemporary romance really doesn't have any id attraction for me at all, and historical does.

Date: 2013-09-22 07:53 pm (UTC)
hl: Drawing of Ada Lovelace as a young child, reading a Calculus book (Default)
From: [personal profile] hl
Difficult question!

I never could finish a Georgette Heyer novel, though. I'm told the one I started (don't remember which) was a bad idea because it wasn't her best, but meh.

More seriously, I'm not sure I want to analyse why I like the genre. I think partly for me it might be about wallowing in the privilege of straight male richdoom a bit with some distance to allow me to enjoy it.

Date: 2013-09-23 10:15 pm (UTC)
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)
From: [personal profile] oyceter
I think my reasons are more reasons for preferring historicals over contemporaries, since I don't have a particular like for Regency stuff. And in fact would prefer more non-Regency historicals, because I get really sick of Seasons and whatnot.

But basically, it's that the time period is removed enough for me to buy into the fantasies or the tropes involved. Like you said, the overbearing hero is more palatable in historicals than in the modern day, and a lot of time, what authors use to spice up contemporaries (glamorous careers, which I guess is akin to all the nobility; convoluted reasons for marriages of convenience; etc.) work MUCH better when set in a historical.


Date: 2013-09-26 01:20 am (UTC)
silverflight8: bee on rose  (Default)
From: [personal profile] silverflight8
I like your list! As a reader, I do not read fiction for my self-education regarding history, philosophy, social justice, etc. I'm sure there are people who do, but I am not one of them

I read Regencies for about two years straight I think. I just generally really like historical fiction--even rather glossed-over historical fiction that Regency is!--because I am not a fan of contemporary settings. Stuff that is mundane life is just unappealing; I'd rather have dragons or spaceships or dinosaurs or, you know, Victorian England. And I think the setting jives well with things I like to read. The need to get married provides really great tension, like you said, and also furnishes all sorts of interesting tropes (arranged marriage) to explore. It's a way to get out of this contemporary set of morals, expectations, etc and see a new one. It is also the most popular historical-romance genre (I'd love to read a lot of medieval ones but they are sadly much harder to find.) Finally I just really like seeing variations on a theme; there's everything from mundane ton to spies and soldiers and sekrit missions and stuff, it just depends on the book.

Date: 2013-09-27 09:40 pm (UTC)
elspethdixon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elspethdixon
Stuff that is mundane life is just unappealing; I'd rather have dragons or spaceships or dinosaurs or, you know, Victorian England.

+1 My preference for SF or historical fiction or mysteries over non-genre fiction carries over into romance, where I far prefer historicals, paranormals, and stuff with action/suspense/mystery subplots over regular contemporary romance.

I suspect medieval-setting historicals were more popular in the 80s/90s than they are now - Catherine Coulter wrote a whole string of them earlier in her career, but unfortunately most of her heroes are even bigger alpha male jerkasses than is normal for the genre. Elizabeth Lowell's also written a bunch, but again, my one experience with a book by her (a contemporary set in Hawaii) also involved a hero I loathed.

Laura Kinsale has written two that I've seen other people recommend, and I really liked all of Michelle Willingham's dark ages and medieval-setting romances (the MacEgan and MacKinloch books) as well as Sophia James's Lady with the Devil's Scar. My mother used to really like Elizabeth Chadwick's medieval romances, and since I suspect she's probably even more allergic to non-con/dub-con-in-the-name-of-love than I am, they're probably pretty light in the asshole-hero department.

Date: 2013-09-28 03:58 am (UTC)
silverflight8: bee on rose  (Default)
From: [personal profile] silverflight8
Catherine Coulter *shiver* I read one of her books, DNF'd, and have avoided her ever since. I'm sorry but I can't take you seriously when you call a penis "his bad boy". SORRY.

I think I read a Laura Kinsale! It was pretty good. Should look into that. Thank you for all the recs! I think one of the things I built up while reading romances was a very high tolerance for bullish and arrogant people. I think my tolerance for the phrase "Hessian boots" went down though. I don't object to the visual description, but I wish authors would find new words!

Thank you for the recs though! I will definitely look into them.

Date: 2013-09-29 04:47 pm (UTC)
silverflight8: bee on rose  (Default)
From: [personal profile] silverflight8
I remember reading Shadowheart vaguely; all I remember is the part where she tells him to put his hands on his head and not move, and everything else a blur. I should probably revisit that.

Date: 2013-09-29 04:58 pm (UTC)
silverflight8: bee on rose  (Default)
From: [personal profile] silverflight8
Well, I definitely get interested in subjects such as history or a branch of X other discipline because of books, but I think novelists--well, the aim is usually to write a good story. To give plausibility, not truth; to be entertaining, not to hold completely true to what's happened (in the case of historical fiction). Sometimes you twist things to make the story better, and I accept that as a reader: I'm in it for the interestingness! So I doubt a little, even when authors do a lot of research, and anyway I'd rather do my own historiography than rely on one person's synthesis. (Suppose you only knew medieval Europe from Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire *shudder* In the arena of fiction, I would jump at the chance to read a novel set in his version of Frankia, but no way would I uncritically swallow what he said regarding history.) Fundamentally I think that many concepts are too complex to be easily condensed into soundbites, and I think that translates to my inability to believe fiction like that. There's always more complexity, but a book has to end somewhere and be entertaining somehow. If that makes any sense. I think that novels and research try for two different things, and neither are better or worse, only different.

o/ Chalk me up as one! According to Wikipedia genre fiction doesn't cover historical fiction (huh, I wonder why? Historical accident, or a deliberate choice?) but it's all the same vein for me: "not mundane". Mundanity is the one thing that truly does nothing for me ;)

Date: 2013-09-30 09:20 pm (UTC)
elspethdixon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elspethdixon
one I read from the POV of an escaped slave

You wouldn't happen to remember the tile of that one, would you? It would be a refreshing change to read a regency that wasn't about a titled peer (going by regencies, England was apparently drowning under the weight of thousands of dukes).

Date: 2013-09-27 09:18 pm (UTC)
elspethdixon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elspethdixon
I have a shameful addiction to historical romance (it keeps company with my shameful addiction to Transformers fanfiction that turns Seekers into Mary Sues, except historical romances have redeeming qualities), but the reasons that don't work for you don't really work for me, either.

I do love the clothing, though. Especially when novels feature The Scene Where The Heroine Gets An Entire New Wardrobe. Yeeeessss, trade your drab governess clothing/drab widows' weeds/the frilly pastels forced on young debutants/whatever for stylish attire described in loving detail! Lots of detail! Feel free to describe the hero's clothing in detail, too! Maybe he can get a new wardrobe as well!

Shallow appeal aside, part of what I like about Regencies in particular is the comedy of manners aspect (which, granted, some writers do much better than others), obsession with honor, and social stratification. (And on that note, I wish more writers than Jeannie Lin would set novels in imperial China or medieval Korea, which wuxei movies and K-dramas that are likely about as historically accurate as most regencies have taught me also have all three of those factors + pretty clothing).

Like another commenter pointed out, it's like the characters are playing an elaborate game, except with serious dramatic stakes, and there's an odd element of wish fulfillment in reading about characters who are so good at recognizing and responding to and keeping flawless track of such tiny social nuances - for me, it's similar to reading about characters like Daniel Jackson who can speak eleventy-zillion languages in terms of "impossible magical skills I wish I possessed in the same way that I wish I could fly or time-travel or fire-bend."

•Romance heroes tend to act pretty similarly regardless of setting. Behaviour I find unbearably old fashioned in a contemporary hero becomes feminist and enlightened from a regency one.

This is big part of why I like historicals in general better than contemporaries, especially when it comes to category romance (I eat up Harlequin Historicals, but I won't touch Unacknowledged Dub-con Kink FTW! Harlequin Presents with a ten foot pole). Controlling, possessive, or patronizing behavior that would have me rooting for the heroine to dump the hero and run for the hills in a modern setting becomes far less objectionable in a medieval or 18th/19th century setting, where the bar for "less sexist than average" is set much lower. Plus, the weird obsession so many het romance writers have with conception, pregnancy, and babies feels less jarringly out-of-place in a setting where having an heir to inherit is seen as a necessity. ("Suddenly pregnant oh noes!" and "I thought I was barren til true love got me knocked up!" both also make a lot more sense in a setting without reliable birth control or modern medical knowledge)

Date: 2013-09-28 02:17 pm (UTC)
copracat: Avon from Blake's 7 with the text 'Love is Whatever you can still betray' (avon valentine)
From: [personal profile] copracat
I enjoy romance in general for the same reason I like fan fiction: I'm not going to be surprised by the ending, I am going to be entertained.

I've never worked out why but though I enjoy Regencies, I do not generally like Georgian romances or stories where the hero is Scottishly Scottish. It may have something to do with spelled out accents, though. Is there a term for that? I've tried reading Heyer's The Masqueraders several times but I just can't comprehend what anyone is saying in the first few pages. Considering how much I love a cross dressing story with romantic hijinks, this is a pretty major self-block.

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