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Beyond Pemberley: Powder, Patches and Proposals – A Month-long Regency Romance

I don’t think I’ve fallen in love this month, but I hope I’ve made a good friend to while away a few hours over a pot of tea. (My husband of 13 years can breathe a sigh of relief)
I used to be a little (OK, very) snobbish about light, frothy, genre novels, wondering ‘why would any intelligent reader choose to waste their time reading a novel where you already knew the ending?’ But having spent February reading (mostly) romances set in Regency England, I can now understand why.

They are not especially demanding (some days you’re too tired to concentrate on complicated plots or characterisation), they can be light-hearted (because sometimes life is serious enough), they’re set in a historical era with different manners, customs and a strict social structure (a bit of escapism can be fun; it’s not too difficult to generally visualise the costumes and context if you’ve watched even just one Regency costume drama), the romances have a happy ending (because life is usually more complicated and unresolved, doesn’t always end happily and you don’t always end up with the right partner).

One of my friends who almost solely reads Mills & Boon Regency romances described them to me as ‘easy-to-read Jane Austen’. Once I would have dismissed her condescendingly; surely I would read the ‘real’ Austen and not be distracted by such frippery? But this month’s discipline has opened my eyes. Reading a number of Regency novels in quick succession has shown me a range of writing styles, and various levels of steaminess on the conjugal front. The hero (or anti-hero; the reformation of ‘a rake’ is more fun!) and heroine marry, they behave themselves (mostly) within strict moral and societal codes and there’s lots of description of costumes, material, balls, and everyone spends at least some time in Bath.
Other random things I’ve learnt, in no particular order:

  • What it means to be bon ton;
  • The importance of the look of a man’s legs in tight breeches, once memorably described as ‘shaped like a balustrade'(!);
  • What a beaver hat looks like;
  • That pregnancy or legs are inappropriate subjects for polite conversation (but of course!);
  • Lead: not just for building but used as make up;
  • That not to ride sidesaddle was considered most inappropirate for a gentlewoman;
  • That the true love of a faithful woman can transform even the worst ‘rakehell’;
  • The difference between ‘traditional regency romance’, ‘recency historical’ and ‘sensual regency historical romance’ (thanks Wikipedia).

So, what did I read? Here’s the list:

  • M.C.Beaton/Marion Chesney’s The School For Manners series (6 titles but as each one is only about 170 pages long, they were a fun evening’s read each; I loved the willful-daughter-taming chaperones for hire, the Tribble Twins; although not a pastiche, the author has a defiinite twinkle in her eye, if not her tongue in her cheek; all her novels are good, clean fun);
  • Mary Balough – A Summer to Remember (the second Bedwin prequel; very entertaining but with a few more saucy scenes than I originally expected; up a tree?!);
  • Georgette Heyer – The Black Moth (her first novel, created as an entertaining story for her younger, convalescent brother, published when she was just 19, it centres around a gentleman highwayman settling the affairs of his gambling brother – ‘terribly” exciting, I kept finding myself imagining Adam Ant in his Prince Charming mode…);
  • Baroness Orczy – The Scarlet Pimpernel (a ‘hangover’ from last month’s French Revolution theme, but also a romance in the same era mostly set on the other side of the Channel);
  • Victoria Connelly – The Perfect Hero (contemporary reworking of various Austen plots set in Lyme Regis as a production of Persuasion is filmed).

But there are so many more books I could have read: still to finish Persuasion (to my shame), I didn’t try out Galen Foley, Julia Quinn or Eloisa James (but now own at least one copy of each of their novels to enjoy another time). And I have 46 more Georgette Heyers to read…

Did I miss anyone else out?

It’s been a fun, February fling, but now onto more serious fare: ‘Nordic Noir’ for the month of March. Dark tales of murder and detection in northern wastelands. Any suggestions to add to my pile?

P.S. I couldn’t resist reading a few novels outside the monthly theme: The Dinner by Herman Koch for our reading group (odd, oppressive view of Danish middle-class life), Mutton by India Knight (an amusing story of a forty-something mother reflecting on ageing, and English middle-class life), My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher (for a Read Regional event, enjoyed in one evening, met author the next day; see post ‘The Joy of a Quick Read’.)

 Oh, to be a Recency woman...
Oh, to be a Recency woman…
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The Joy of a Quick Read

Tonight I read a book in one sitting. Admittedly, it was a Young Adult title, it was only 230 pages long, and I had nothing better to do tonight. But I loved it: the thrill of ‘gobbling up’ a book, the intensity of the experience, being screen free for a couple of hours, and the book itself.
I was prompted to read, My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece, tonight because I’m meeting the author, Annabel Pitcher, at a library event in the morning. But I’d also heard great thing about it, and had received a free copy from those lovely folk at New Books Magazine months ago.
I don’t often read Young Adult novels, there being enough Adult novels for me to read when I’ve finished reading the preschool and junior favourites with my children earlier in the day. This title has reminded me just how good writing can be, regardless of the potential audience.

(The following is my brief review from goodreads.com)
An honest, funny, moving story of how his older sister’s death five years ago affects Jamie Matthews, his sister Jasmine (dead Rose’s twin), his mum and dad. He hasn’t cried about Rose’s death in those intervening five years, not because he doesn’t care, but because he was too young to remember Rose well, realise the impact on his parents, or understand what it feels like when someone you love is senselessly taken away from you.
Through Jamie’s eyes, over only a few months, his perspective alters: his mum leaves them, he moves from London to Ambleside, he faces bullying and shattered hopes, falls in love, and scores the perfect winning goal.
Pitcher ‘pitches’ (sorry!) her story just right: not too mawkish or gloom-laden, but honest and real, balancing the natural ups and downs of a child on the cusp of adolescence with those of one facing the reality of random, nonsensical death.
I read this in one sitting, with both laughter and tears. Highly recommended.

So, try something new. Try it in one sitting even. We don’t seem too daunted by spending two, three or more hours watching a film from start to finish (Les Mis anyone?), so why not spend an evening reading a book?
I know I will be doing it again soon.
Watch this space.

 
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Posted by on 06/02/2013 in Uncategorized

 

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