Sunday, October 24, 2010

Are Regency Romances Paranormal by Definition?

What does paranormal mean as a genre, really? I’ve been thinking about that lately vis-à-vis Regency romances. No, not ones with vampires or werewolves or sea monsters, but how the romances themselves conform to a paranormal paradigm. They’re all basically human stories played out against a background with unspoken rules and tropes. With vampires, the tropes include sucking blood, no reflection in mirrors, and intolerance of daylight; with werewolves, it’s changing form to a wolf, the full moon, and the transformative bite. Regency romances often have nothing at all to do with the reality of the historical Regency period, but they have their tropes as well – the obligatory mention of Almacks, Gunter’s ices, Vauxhall pleasure gardens, the scandalous waltz, the oh-so-tight top coat and the shiny Hessian boots. And, of course, there’s the issue that apparently there must be dozens of handsome, unmarried dukes (all rakes, but underneath completely honorable and noble) standing around on every streetcorner!

My most recent release, Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, didn’t follow the some of the Regency romance rules. I decided to show a few darker details of Regency life, though it’s still in truth a whitewashed version and definitely a happily every after story. I left out most of the tropes and replaced them with genteel poverty, the limited future for unmarried women, and a few images of how Regency men tended to view women. All pretty minor, to tell the truth, but I’ve been hearing about them from shocked readers.

In one of my earlier books, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World, Elizabeth Bennet ends up married to Mr. Darcy when she still believes him to be ill-tempered, proud, and selfish. At one point during a quarrel, Elizabeth flinches away from an angry Darcy because she’s afraid he’s about to hit her. Oh, my, the indignation that provoked from readers! How could I possibly have Elizabeth think such a thing about Darcy? Perhaps because any Regency woman, let alone one as clever as Elizabeth, would expect their husband to hit them if provoked! It was legal, it was seen as appropriate chastisement, and more often than not, the woman would take the blame. Now, we all know that Mr. Darcy would never strike a woman, but Elizabeth has no way of knowing that. But once again, I’d broken the rules for Regency romance.

In a way, the traditional Regency romance really is a paranormal – it’s set in a mutually agreed upon fantasy world that bears a slight resemblence to an actual period in English history, but one in which men are enlightened and sensitive creatures and women far more outrageous than they would ever have dared to be in reality.

What are some of the repeated motifs and rules you’ve seen in Regency romances? What other genres are also para-paranormal?


  1. One rule I abide by consistently though I know it's historically inaccurate: My heroes are all over six feet tall. Yes, I know King Charles II was about six two, Charlemagne and Peter the Great much taller than that and so on, but my research says the average English fellow in the year 1800 was between five foot three and five foot six, and Napoleon's height was not short at all for his time, but perfectly average.
    Even the historical perfectionists seem willing to let Regency heroes benefit from great genes, good nutrition, and literary license.

  2. Yes, and they bathe more frequently in my medievals than they would have. I was reading one where the hero and heroine smelled bad...the author said they smelled, had not bathed, had been in deplorable conditions, and then they made love and smelled delightful (no bathing beforehand) and then smelled bad again... So what did I think of throughout that love scene??? They smelled bad, but they were so hot for each other, smelling bad smelled good. Until after the lovemaking. LOL Then they smelled bad again. :)

  3. I love this Abigail. I write a happily ever after story so do choose to avoid any serious unpleasantness in my novels - for the most part, that is. But it has long bothered me that there is this generalized attitude among some that everyone in the Regency was perfect. They never broke a rule or acted in an unseemly fashion. They never got dirty, never swore, never sinned, never showed emotion. Certainly they never had sex, or at least would never - gasp! - enjoy it!

    The list goes on and to most of it I say, "Hogwash!" People have always been the same, even if the rules were different. And of course an author takes creative license! I am 100% positive that Jane Austen did too!

  4. It's true, most people--and especially the ladies--want their heroes tall. I remember reading a study years ago that society subconsciously ascribes greater heroic qualities to a tall man and historically, because (or as a result) of that, elected politicians are generally taller. I would assume that the same generally holds true for the peerage, since most of the males rose from leader and/or warrior stock where their height was initially admired, and then passed down to their heirs as a genetic anomalies. So taken as a whole, our Aristocratic heroes could be somewhat taller in general without being considered particularly tall by today's standards.

    My own Regency hero--Lord Branderly in A Very Merry Chase--is described as a giant of a man, which--at least in my mind--left him topping the 6' mark by a generous margin. In fact, his height is both a major plot point and a running joke throughout the book. My mostly lighthearted, comedy of errors would not have been the same with a short hero.

    The points made here are all very true. Regency romance novels, do indeed, have rules that readers generally expect to be followed. Those same rules and expectations are why they choose to read Regency romance novels. However, as Regency authors, having researched the matter, we realize that our reader's expectations do not--and really cannot--always accurately mesh with historic fact....

    After all, most Regency romance novels are read for fun, and what would be the fun in reading about a short, smelly hero with bad teeth, or a meek little heroine whose personality is as gray as the color of her gowns the minute she steps out her front door into an ever present blanket of smoke and smog impregnated with the stench of garbage and horse manure?

    As a reader, I'll take the fantasy of my beloved Regency romance novels over the reality any day. :)

    Smiles and good fortune,

  5. I'll probably get myself into trouble here. Maybe I shouldn't say anything. I don't read regencies because of the falsified "too pretty" world. I've read a few (very popular ones) and went gack, why are these all the same and so inaccurate? The rakish duke on every street corner is my main problem. I guess ALL of our English ancestors were rich and titled and definitely rakish. Yes, it's a fantasy, but I like a bit of variety in my fantasy. And if it's claiming to be historical, it should be somewhat accurate. I do understand the necessity to make the hero/heroine clean and not have lice or TB. Who wants to kiss someone coughing up blood or with crawlies in their hair? I know fans of the genre LOVE that fantasy world and expect it to be construed a certain way (and I am probably vastly outnumbered in wanting variety and accuracy), but if you break the rules, Abigail, and portray the world even slightly more realistically than the norm, then I MUST read your book.

    Sharon- They had SEX? And enjoyed it? How scandalous! I MUST read your book, too.

    As for the tall thing. The hero in my third contemporary novel (coming out next year) is 5'6". I guarantee you will love him anyway. If you don't love him, it won't be because he's 5'6". Rule breaker? Me? You betcha. Height does not dictate heroism. Actions do. His heart. His soul. His character. Call me rebel. I don't mind. Really, I don't. I wonder how much hate mail I'll get for making a hero shorter than average. I guess I'll find out.

  6. I like a little seamy underbelly in my Regencies! The aristocracy bores me a little, and the dark corners make all the glittery parts sparkle more brightly in contrast. But it must be difficult to write about a world people have such fixed ideas about.

  7. I write Regencies, so I kind of like a lot of the tropes you mentioned about the genre. I mean, romance novels are about the HEA. Readers pick them up because they want to escape dirty dishes and piles of laundry and maybe even darker aspects of their own lives--like an abusive spouse or not being able to pay the bills. So I say, hear, hear for a little escapism. Nothing wrong with that!

  8. Regency? Paranormal? You betcha! Tall men! Women who bathe and speak their minds! That's not normal for the time period at all ... but it's what makes us like the books. Who wants to read about bed bugs and the smell of the chamber pot? Or who wants to describe endless days of cabbage soup permeating the air? Keep it paranormal! As far as tall men ... I like 'em! But my newest hero is only 5'8" and he's a cocky cowboy! Oh, dear, am I writing paranormal because all cowboys are supposed to be tall? LOL

  9. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about the height issue, since Jane Austen obligingly has Bingley refer to Darcy as a "great tall fellow!" And if that means over six feet in my mind, so be it! And Georgette Heyer has a running joke in The Masqueraders about the extremely tall "mountain" Sir Anthony Fanshawe, so if she can, why shouldn't we? Teresa, it sounds like your book would fit in perfectly!

    I cut my teeth on historical novels from any period but the Regency, precisely because I loved getting some history in my reading, and that seemed oddly lacking from Regency romances. Is wasn't until much later that I realized that was deliberate, and that's what makes the regency romance much more of a fantasy than other historical romances. Not that there's anything wrong with the fantasy regency - I'm lined up to read anything by Mary Balogh, and I know her idea of realism is that not every hero is a duke - some might be a mere viscount! :)

    Olivia, you remind me of one run-in with a reader where I lost my patience after she insisted once too often that the upper classes in the Regency would never have pre-marital sex. After explaining several times that there was a difference in the regency between pre-engagement and post-engagement sex, I finally said that perhaps she was right, and the fact that many aristocratic babies were born 5 months after the wedding date could no doubt be attributed to a change in the gestation period in the last 200 years!

    It's hard, though, for writers of Regencies. The bitter truth is that when it comes to book sales, dukes outsell earls by a fair margin, and a book about a non-titled rich man - like Mr. Darcy - is a contradiction in terms. Readers apparently like the shorthand of "Duke" to describe a man who is rich and important, so editors want all the books to be about dukes. Hence the very crowded streetcorners of London! I'm lucky because I avoid the dilemma by writing with Jane Austen characters, and everybody knows that Mr. Darcy outranks any duke!

  10. I don't write regencies, but I thoroughly enjoy them. Talk about paranormal? I decided years ago, that the regency referred to in the subgenre is not the historical one, but the regency in a parallel universe.

    In that universe live many, many dukes. And women ride astride, and wear their brother's clothes anytime the mood betakes them. Only dukes are observant enough to notice.

    I'm a sci-fi reader from way back.

    Accepting an alternative world is a piece of cake for me. But I sometimes think a heroine who wouldn't give up her virginity, or was horrified to ride astride wold be refreshing.

    As for your tropes. They're everywhere. You wouldn't believe how my SEALs complain when I scrub them up enough to make them fit for the genre--or the flack I get from some readers, who think I don't get them perfect enough.

  11. I've written a few contemporaries where the hero was a cute little guy instead of a big, strapping hunk. They've never been published. Wonder why???? It's because even in today's world, men, and often women, aren't portrayed in a realistic fashion. Contemporary romance can be as much of a fantasy as a futuristic or historical, and yes, a paranormal.

  12. LOL - What a great blog! I've never noticed the height issue. I come from a relatively tall family and married into a much taller one. I have two nephews, one is 6'7" and his little brother is 6'5". My Sisters-in -aw are both over 5'11" so my 5'8" seems short.

  13. Hi Abigail! What a fascinating post, and an accurate reflection of some of the expectations of readers in particular genres. Bravo for your bravery in allowing a bit of the reality of the era into your book. And I always say, there are no rules, only guidelines. :}

  14. Interesting post and I utterly agree about the Regency conventions. I am interested in your contention that it was normal and acceptable for a gentleman to hit his wife. Could you give us some sources on that?