I don’t have much time for historical research these days, which is a shame, because I enjoy the details of how we got where we are today. Unfortunately, my interest isn’t in how styles changed from chemises to brassieres, but how economies changed political structures and led to wars and industry. Hardly the stuff of romance, huh?
But I’m interested in economics and politics and religion because they affect everyone, including my romantic characters. Unlike most little girls, I was never much interested in dressing up my dolls. I wanted their stories. And stories require backgrounds, and that’s how I still write books today. It simply isn’t enough for me to know that Jane Heroine is wearing an elegant patterned muslin with a taffeta bow when she sets out to seduce Dangerous Hero. I think it’s more interesting that Hero brought that muslin back from India on a ship that could cover the seas in less than half the time of a previous decade because American ship captains had developed a racing schooner. And Jane’s father has lost his wealth because he refused to change to the new ships and cargo. Now we have a story.
Which pretty much explains how The Marquess and The English Heiress came about. Sure, we have dark and stormy nights and a forbidding castle and a scarred hero, his mysterious brother, and a pair of terrified heroines running from a killer. But how they got to that place was as interesting to me as how they end up. The clash of two impoverished Americans being flung into the midst of English Regency aristocracy is just too juicy to ignore.
But ignore that world conflict, we in romancelandia do. The Regency era is rife with comparisons to today’s contemporary problems. Young men torn from their families to fight a war defending the wealthy one percent return triumphant, only to live in poverty and shame because once they conquered Napoleon, they had no other purpose. By the Regency era, the aristocracy had grown so distant from their rural roots, that they scarcely knew their tenants. How many of the upper class actually cared for the well-being of the people whose toil had made them rich? But in our books, we show the pretty balls and the romantic horse rides and ignore the homeless soldiers and poor houses unless Jane Heroine happens to sponsor a charity. And touching on the Catholic Problem has practically outlawed Irish romances. So we create pink Disney confections.
I realize we read for escape. But at the same time, we jump all over authors who don’t get the dress code or the marriage and title laws right. Why do we never complain when the rest of Regency reality is ignored? Is it because we lack that knowledge or because we don’t care why our soldier hero is trying to petition parliament on behalf of his comrades? Is the fantasy only about pretty gowns and marriage? Spies are interesting but a homeless hero is not?
I think I probably know the answer to all those questions and what I really want to know is why am I so weird? Maybe I should write a dystopian Regency. But I keep looking for a niche in the marketplace that wants real history and romance, not Disney make-believe. I catch lovely glimpses of it in most wench novels, so I assume wenchly readers enjoy a brush of reality. Share your book finds—who else includes nice touches of history in their romance? Let’s go out and buy their books and show NYC that we like books with depth!