There is something wonderfully comforting about reading a novel in which the most exciting element is a rather chaste kiss – the first of many, we are to believe, because nice women don’t kiss men who aren’t going to be their husbands. A place where good men are trustworthy and cads are harshly dealt with. A place where a woman’s main job is to find the perfect husband. A place where a happy ending is guaranteed.
When I’m looking to be transported to a simpler and happier place than the world in which I live, I know I can turn to the guilty pleasure of a Regency Romance. Apparently I’ve needed a bit of “transportation” this summer, because I’ve read two such books in the past two months, and enjoyed them thoroughly.
My first was Georgette Heyer’s Frederica, a delightful if predicable story about the strong-willed young woman who comes to London for a season in search of a successful match for her beautiful but slow-witted younger sister, Charis. She employs the help of a distant cousin and confirmed bachelor, The Marquis of Alverstoke, to ease Charis’ way in society. The Marquis goes along with the plan to annoy his conniving sisters, but gets more than he bargained for when he unintentionally becomes the protector of Frederica’s exuberant brothers and their bad-mannered dog, “the Baluchistan hound.” Frederica is resigned to her role as spinster and guardian to her young brothers, but I had enough faith in the genre to figure that wasn’t going to happen. Still, the energetic brothers and the Marquis’ scheming sisters make for some interesting plot twists. Nothing taxing, but still thoroughly enjoyable.
I enjoyed the first Heyer so much that I downloaded another on my Kindle, The Masqueraders, based mostly on its high goodreads ratings. When I finally got to it, I realized how lucky the choice was – the book was way more complex than the first, including not only a disguised brother and sister (masquerading as gentlefolk of the opposite sex, no less) and a pair of interesting romances (especially considering the gender reversals, that was pretty hilarious), but a mystery besides! And the answer to the mystery is not even known by its subjects: who are “Peter” and “Kate” Merriott, really? The secondary characters actually make the book. Sir Anthony “The Mountain” Fanshawe is a truly romantic hero, charming because he’s so surprisingly unconventional. John, the Merriott's servant, clearly knows more than he lets on. And the bad guys in this book are REALLY bad. Like carrying off an heiress by force bad. And framing your rival with a murder bad. The Masqueraders was by far my favorite of the two Regency Romances I read this summer.
Unlike Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell, Georgette Heyer, writing from her relatively comfortable 20th century perch, was herself unfettered and undamaged by the constraints imposed on her female characters by the societies she was writing about. Being so removed from the time period may be the reason she could be so sanguine about her characters’ prospects for happiness—she never suffered because of prevailing attitudes and customs of the time, like female authors of the time would have. But then, if I want to read something that accurately represents a particular time period, I read something written then – not something written two or three hundred years after the fact. A Regency Romance is just some good, clean, literary fun! If you still have time for summer reading, these romances would be good ones to put in your beach bag, or load on your e-reader.
Just an aside: Today I noticed a button on Leeswammes blog that led to Stiletto Storytime’s Georgette Heyer Gems of August 2011 event, happening this month. She’s focusing on Heyer with reviews, guest posts and a really nice giveaway. If you’re interested in Heyer, you should check it out!