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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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On Not Reading But Writing

I’ve been spending more of my free time writing and performing than usual this month.
Admittedly, that’s not a very long time in measurable terms, but it has made me think in terms of a word-producer rather than merely a word-consumer. It’s as though I’ve broken through the fourth wall and am looking at the inner workings of the art form.

I’m not claiming that my few words thrown onto the page are necessarily any good, that I’m ever going to be the next ‘Big Thing’, or even that more than a few people will hear or read my words; but I have been encouraged to keep throwing those words down, challenging myself to express and experiment, to find my written voice.

The discipline of a fortnightly writers’ group has been instrumental in this experimentation, as have been a few sessions with a group of amazingly talented and inspirational performance poets. I have been involved with two performance events in the past week – one in a church, the other in a gallery – and produced pieces specifically for these events. Hearing one’s words performed by actors in a splendid setting is transformative; both for one’s words and for one’s view of oneself as a writer.
I AM a writer!

Most of the pieces have been poetry but I enjoyed the challenge of writing a prose piece, creating a character based on an artwork. The resultant piece – read by an experienced actor in front of the Victorian painting- owed much to my formative teens obsessed with the Bronte family and was probably not wholly original, but I relished the time to create and explore a moment in someone’s life, a person who only exists in my own head.

Detail of a reworking of this picture ( in London's V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for a piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

The Poor Teacher by Richard Redgrave (1849) Detail of a reworking of this picture (in London’s V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for my piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

And so, I continue to find brief moments to write, enjoying the challenge of wringing out the words to express something, I also continue in my reading quest: themed and reflective, (self-)directed and disciplined.
Now, excuse me, I have another Regency romantic hero to fall in love with…

 
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Posted by on 18/02/2013 in Uncategorized

 

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