The Regency Read

Jane Austen started it all. Ever since Sense and Sensibility was first published in 1811, readers have been falling in love with Regency novels.

Fast forward to 1935, when popular author Georgette Heyer published Regency Buck, her first novel set in the British Regency period (1811-1820). Regency Buck, with its careful attention to historical detail, and Miss Heyer’s subsequent novels that take place during the British Regency, have spawned an entire literary industry: the Regency historical novel. And Miss Heyer, who started it all—possibly in the grand tradition of Jane Austen—has been crowned the undisputed queen of the Regency romance.

The fashionable authoress might have penned her works at a secretaire similar to this one. Image: Ackermann's Repository

The fashionable authoress might have penned her works at a secretaire similar to this one. Image: Ackermann’s Repository

Why is it that this genre continues to attract legions of readers, even 200 years after the Regency originals? A comparison of the works of Miss Austen, who wrote about the era in which she lived, and Miss Heyer, who wrote about that time period within an historical context, reveals several common elements that now contribute toward the Regency historical genre’s enduring popularity:

  • Humor, wit and just plain fun. Many of Jane Austen’s and Georgette Heyer’s books make you just want to Laugh Out Loud!
  • A large cast of distinctive minor characters. Both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer had a great sense of the ridiculous, which found full flower in their novels. Pompous, annoying, and absurd, idiotic creatures positively litter the pages of their works. Consider Pride and Prejudice’s over-inflated Mr. Collins and the ridiculous Mrs. Bennet, or the annoying, well-intentioned Mrs. Jennings in Sense and Sensibility. Georgette Heyer’s own stellar cast of supporting characters includes Sir Nugent Fotherby of Sylvester or the Wicked Uncle fame—a character so over-the-top absurd that Miss Heyer satirized him still further as Baron Macaronio in a novel written by Phoebe Marlow, the heroine of Sylvester.
  • The goal—usually marriage—is always reached, but it’s not the goal that really matters. It’s the getting there. You often know how the book is going to end. But reading the actual novel, with all its more glittery trappings of Regency England, is somewhat like taking a vacation in an exotic locale. It’s pure escapism, and it’s a lot cheaper than a real vacation, too. And in the meantime, a good time is had by all!
  • Hope for the underdog—and for all of us, for that matter. Dowerless young women, penniless orphans, women well past their prime, women with no hope in the world of ever reaching the marital state eventually do manage to snag their man, and he’s usually a prime matrimonial catch. But never mind that the women always get a good man; Regency historical novels aren’t just for deprived females. There is an message here for life in general: No matter how terrible one’s situation in life, no matter how drab and depressing the future appears, one should never give up hope.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on what makes a good Regency historical novel. Write me at to let me know what you think.