Friday, May 17, 2013

Patrice Kindl: Why the Regency Romance?

We're delighted to welcome Patrice Kindl back today as she contemplates the eternal lure of the Regency.

What is it about the English Regency era that writers and readers find so compelling? The period only lasted from 1811 to 1820 – nine years, an even shorter period than the one enshrined in countless cowboy movies and novels, the twenty year time-span of cattle drives and the open range in the United States.

Both eras have a lasting aura of romance: the cowboy hero offers a masculine archetype and the Regency heroine a feminine archetype. These are largely mutually exclusive worlds; it is difficult to imagine what Hopalong Cassidy and Lizzy Bennett would have to say to one another. One genre celebrates civilization, the other strips civilization away.

It is easy to understand that modern men might like an escape from mortgage payments and committee meetings, imagining living out under the open sky with only a faithful horse for company. It is not so easy to understand why modern women, who have achieved a great deal of freedom and power in comparison with their Regency counterparts, would look back on this time with such nostalgia. So, what gives?

I can tell you, at least, some of the things that appeal to me as a writer. For one thing, there’s Jane Austen. I fell in love with this incomparable writer as a teen when I realized that the books were very funny, and were at least as much about money as about love. Then, romance is a durable genre not simply because it involves important human needs and desires, but because it has a shape, a natural story arc. Marriage is a beginning, but it is also the ending of a courtship. Having spent the novel exploring the characters of the two parties involved, it is possible to believe that one can predict their future together.

A romance novel can take place in any age; human beings have bonded and formed families since before they were even human, and presumably will go on doing so in space colonies on alien worlds. However, the Regency Era is, to my mind, precisely balanced on the fulcrum of women’s history. Before this period women had very little choice in marital matters, being disposed of as chattel; after it they eventually came to have so much choice that the decision of whom to marry lost some of its power for good or evil. An unhappily married woman of 2013 can cut her losses and try again. A woman of 1813 was literally taking her life into her hands when she said, “Yes, sir, I will marry you.”

And then this was such a stylish time! The attire for both men and women was classic. Frankly, a hoop-skirted woman negotiating a narrow hallway, or the bearded and mustachioed Victorians who resembled Yetis more than gentlemen, or Marie Antoinette advancing beneath one of those three-foot-tall hairstyles: any of these inspire more derision in moderns than admiration, but the modish Regency couple is all simple elegance. The styles looked better on the young and slender, but what fashion has ever favored the elderly and stout?

Romance is best when the stakes are high, the lovers are drop-dead gorgeous and the path to happiness perilous. The endless rules of behavior and class distinctions are an absolute gift to writers. Pity the poor author who tries to come up with a barrier to romance for a modern couple! Different class, different religion, different race, same sex? No problem! Whereas in the early 1800s there were so many hurdles to leap it was a wonder anybody managed to reproduce at all.

I am working on a sequel to Keeping the Castle, set in a Female Academy in Lesser Hoo, called A School for Brides. The research only reinforces my recognition of how little power these women had. For instance, the backboard, a device nominally intended to improve posture (shown above in the satirical illustration of a school for young ladies), was actually a way to train a girl for a life of subservience and obedience, physically restraining her for many hours a day. Marriage would either be her salvation or her doom, and for the first time in history, she had the ability to choose.

Thank you, Patrice! It's been a pleasure to have you visit this week (I'm still giggling at Victorian yetis). For more info on Patrice and her books, including Keeping the Castle and the upcoming A School for Brides, please visit her website at


Liviania said...

I love Patrice Kindl! It's nice to hear a little about an upcoming book from her.

Patrice Kindl said...

Well, I love you too!

With affection, Patrice Kindl

Leandra Wallace said...

Yay, a sequel! I just pulled down my copy of Keeping the Castle last week to reread the ending again.