Why do you write… Regency?

Why write in the “Regency” Period? (My books are technically all set post-Regency, in the period of George IV.)

If you asked readers and authors why such a high percentage of historical romances are set in the British Regency period, you would find most of them pay homage to one of two matriarchs of the genre: Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen. I arrived via Chopin. 

Close behind Chopin, I developed a deep relationship with Franz Schubert, and then of course Robert and Clara Schumann. I veered hopefully into Garibaldi, the Bronte sisters, glanced off Dickens and Conan Doyle, rested with Blake, and settled back to Jane Austen and her contemporaries. I’m not a professor, so I’ve had other historical interests, but for the following twenty years I keep coming back to early 19th century Britain. 

But Christy, you might be thinking, Chopin didn’t compose during the Regency, and he wasn’t British either. How does that have anything to do with anything? I will answer that many of the “Regency romances” published today also did not take place during the actual Regency period either, and that “Regency” is kind of a moving target. Chopin was growing up during that period with those influences, and it turned into the music that he created. What a deep study of Chopin taught me was that the first half off the 19th century was transformative different from the second half, and it is that transformation that fascinates me. When I play Chopin and Schubert, there is a passion expressed through lightness. The notes fly and skitter, they are filled with poignancy in the space between. As the 19th century progressed, everything became more and more. More instruments in the orchestra, bigger chords, strident themes, massive pianos. The rest of the world reflected the same changes: Austen wrote about ordinary people and the qualms of their daily lives; Charlotte Bronte wrote about mad wives in the attic and passionate arguments on the stony heath. Early 19th century women wore simple clothing and lightweight undergarments; late 19th century women wore layers of enormous skirts and corsets that transformed their rib structure.  For me personally, my imagination became less engaged as the art and lifestyle became more lugubrious.

Once I delved into a particular study of the history and politics of the time period, I became fascinated with the early-mid 19th century in particular. I have always been drawn to liminal places and times: that which is neither one nor the other, the changing seesaw which could tip in different directions. Rome always has been Italy and always will be Italy, but what of Trieste? Trieste might be Austrian or even Slovenian, it is the Silk Road, it was Byzantine Empire and the Republic of Venice. Trieste calls to me. When driving from western to eastern Oregon, the rainforest turns to desert within a few miles. The transformation never fails to fascinate me.

From about 1815-1845, Britain was in a similar space of betwixt and between. The Napoleonic Wars and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution had begun to change all of Europe, but it wasn’t yet clear where things would end up. Many people had many ideas, and of course with the 20/20 lens of history, we can look back and see what worked and then backtrack to what led to those changes. But there were just as many ideas that didn’t come to fruition, possibilities that never became history. There was a significant swing towards humanistic, liberal, feminist, thinking, that later reversed in the Victorian times. One example was a change in public opinion and policy on Black people in Britain: buying slaves from Africa was outlawed in 1807 and abolition applied to the entire British Empire in 1834, directly during this period, demonstrating a broad change in public awareness and opinion.

By 1850, the world was set in a new direction of transformation. In 1830, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened, and within two decades rail transit crisscrossed Britain and steamships crisscrossed the major oceans of the world – in the 1820’s, who guessed that steam locomotion could transform so much? Between 1848 and 1861, major revolutions transformed the entire globe, such as the unification of Italy and Germany, India’s rebellion against Britain, the American civil war. Meanwhile the Irish were starving and creating an exodus from Britain, and the American wealthy class began to intermarry en masse into Britain. Changes in import laws and taxation began to favor the growing merchant class, as did advances in chemistry and engineering. The power of the landed gentry and nobility collapsed under the weight of all these changes; it held on by its fingernails for another couple of generations, but within a hundred years it had become a mere tradition rather than the backbone of British society and politics.

My first series of books is set during the span of the 1820’s. There is a marriage in each book, and so the children of those unions would come to age in the 1850’s. I find it fascinating that those children would live in a Britain that was entirely different from the generations of expectations that their parents had, and of course no one knew it yet. Transportation and communication feature highly in several of the books; that was going to undergo a sea change by the time those women are only a little older. Each of the characters holds casual, easy assumptions about the nobility and their own relationship to the upper classes; those assumptions will be turned on their heads for their children. 

In each story that I tell, I find it intriguing to think about how the character relates to their own time period and what they believe is going to happen next. In the Fledgling series, each character (and then each marriage, as they must compromise and work together) is aware of change coming to their world, and they have different ideas of how to address it. I deliberately made all these characters forward-thinking, concerned with the social justice of their time, aware of technology, and guessing that their world is changing. (Since they are all one family and the same characters are pivotal in finding spouses for the others, it is natural that they would share some basic priorities and outlooks.) However, they all have different ideas about how to go about it, what to hold onto and what to change. As an author, I am not saying that any one of my characters has the “right” way of looking at the world and that history “should” have happened the way they envision it. The way they address the future is rooted in their individual backgrounds and assumptions: military, scholar, merchant, nobility, scientist. I am intrigued by the idea of what people would have thought when they were standing at that moment in time, when everything around them was changing so quickly. 

So those are the two reasons I am fascinated by the “extended Regency” period in Britain. First of all, it was a pivotal place in the world in a pivotal moment of history, and I am intrigued by how people who have responded, and how history might have been completely different.

Second of all, that is the music and the art that has settled deeply in my soul.

Tea and stitching and I’m ready to write

Why do you write…. upper class characters?

Because they had the education and believed in the social movements that feel relevant today.

More fascinating information coming soon.

Beautiful parlor at Kenwood House

Why do you write… Black characters?

Because there were Black people in Regency England, in all classes.

Much much much more fascinating information coming soon. I have a lot to say on this topic.

I found this book in a historic house outside of London and it’s been an excellent resource.

Why do you write… romance?

Because relationships and love and connection is at the center of everything.

More fascinating information coming soon.

Tea is essential to writing. Here is a painting of a tea pot that I did with charcoals. It’s a little wonky, but still pleasantly remind-ful of tea. Mm, tea.

How about sex. What’s your steam level and why?

Just right. More fascinating information coming soon.

You didn’t think I was going to upload something steamy, did you? Here’s more tea, and actual writing visible.
This is at my absolute favorite bakery, Camas Country Mill, where I work on my books every Friday through the school year.