Monday, 26 May 2014

Regency Romance - A Love Letter

One summer, before I started university and got a job, I spent the long summer months both trying (not very hard) to find a part time job, and reading between 2 and 3 novels a day. I can honestly say that it was one of the best summers of my life. It started with Georgette Heyer and went through Victoria Holt, Jill Tattersall, and a dozen others beside. But so great was my book gluttony, that when I started university, and they had things like internet which wasn't switched off at night, and - heaven forbid - a ton of work to be done, the reading pace had to slow down.


I never had the opportunity to read like that again. The next few summers I got a job, and while I read as often as I could when I was free, it wasn't like it had been. 

As time wore on and degree stress gave way to work stress, I read less and less. I used to read several books a week, but I've probably only read 5 so far this year. And it isn't that I don't still love it. I have found instead that I turn to regency only when I am very sad and feel in need of comfort. It's the same with Disney films. Historical romances have become my crutch in times of need, and of the five or so books I have read this year, not a single one has been a historical romance. If I need a quick fix of comfort now, I ask OH for a hug or, if he's unavailable, I go to Netflix. 

When I do read, it tends to be quite bleak and Gothic (who'd have thought!) and I read my books in one giant gulp, then brood on them for a few days/weeks (schedule permitting) before starting again. Is that better? Does it matter? All I know is that I miss it. What I am glad of though, is that there is a time -a safe place I can go to when I need to be happy.

That summer affected me so much that a few years ago, when I was trying to get into the writing in the first place, I wrote an article about it. I wrote the following over 5 years ago, which rings out over a decade of Regency love. 

            When I was sixteen, I fell in love. Can I not just leave it at that? Oh, alright then, at sixteen, my life was changed irrevocably, and I have never recovered. It was the beginning of what has become an obsession, a habit, and an addiction. My name is Katherine Holt, and I love regency romance novels. The trashier the better, those ones with couples passionately embracing on the front with half open shirts and ripped bodices are my preference. You know - those ones you can’t read on the bus without a paper cover on. This love has endured for five happy, bonnet-filled years and shows no sign of waning. I remember my first. Who doesn’t remember their first time?

Here on Goodreads!
It was called The Beau and the Bluestocking, by the wonderful Alice Chetwynd Ley. I have just looked and you can still get it on the internet second hand, a fact which fills me with hope for the future of our nation, if not the world. Share the love! Before we get into the who and the why, I feel I must share how this precious tome found its way into my naïve and quivering hands.

My sister and I stumbled upon a dusty old box in our attic. We blew the dust from the top before pulling back the cardboard flaps to reveal a veritable treasure trove of regency delights. There were seventy nine books in total. Seventy nine! We split them in half, choosing our preference by cover artwork and blurb, with the intention of swapping once we had read them all. Of my thirty nine books (well, she was older, we were going to swap in any case, and I could hardly cut the odd one in half), I picked The Beau and the Bluestocking to begin. Why? Mainly because the heroine was excitingly named Alethea, wore a big blue hat, and the hero had some tights with bows on the knees. I started reading it that night at about ten o’clock, just before bed - it was a school night after all - and finished at one o’clock the next morning. I have always loved reading, but never before had a book captivated me so much.

As I turned the final pages, closing the book and resting it on my heavily quilted knees, I recall thinking that I could not wait for study leave for my AS Levels to begin so I could stay up until one o’clock every night reading. That was the only coherent thought in my mind, the rest being taken up with bowing men in breeches and flowing shirts, manners, and the virtue of being a bluestocking. How wonderful it was that I had inadvertently stumbled upon a genre which seemed to be aimed directly at me. And I had another seventy eight books to read. Seventy eight! I resisted the urge to begin another there and then, showing what I feel was a marvellous amount of will power, and reasoned that I could begin another one the next day and read a couple of chapters a night. No hurry. That vow didn’t even last one day. I read one every night and two a day on weekends, my only worry being that I would run out. I passed my AS Levels, but I can’t help but feel I would have done better if one of the exams had been on A Romanticised View of Regency England or The Rules of Ton Society with Emphasis on Etiquette at Almacks.

My love endures, five, nearly six years on. I know these books have their critics, and don’t get me wrong, I read other things as well, but for a pick me up, these cannot be beaten. There are arguments that they promote a submissive female role, an idea which does not sit well in our post-feminist era. Some of the older ones do, that cannot be argued, but for me these books have given me standards, a hope that not all men are lager-swilling louts, and the promise that even if all else fails, I can become a governess.

Where other memories have faded and where boyfriends have come and gone, regency romances have remained. I love these books, and I don’t care who knows it. For the escapism they bring after a hard day, the standards they have helped me set for the men in my life, and the hours of enjoyment they have given me, I send out this - thank you. As I curl up with a bottle of red wine, a heavy heart, and an evening to spare, I raise a glass to you, the romance writer. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a book to read.

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