Regency romances are a subgenre of romance novels set during the period of the British Regency (1811-1820) or early 19th century. Rather than simply being versions of contemporary romance stories transported to a historical setting, Regency romances are a distinct genre with their own plot and stylistic conventions that derive from the works of Jane Austen (and to some extent from distinguished Austen progeny such as Georgette Heyer and Clare Darcy), and from the fiction genre known as the novel of manners. In particular, the more traditional Regencies feature a great deal of intelligent, fast-paced dialog between the protagonists and very little explicit sex or discussion of sex.
Many readers and writers of Regency Romance make a distinction between "Traditional Regency Romance" and "Regency Historical". Many authors have written both Traditionals and Historicals, including Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley, Loretta Chase, Susan Carroll, Edith Layton, Barbara Metzger, and Mary Jo Putney.
Traditional Regency Romance
The distinction rests on the genre definition of Regency Romance: works in the tradition of Georgette Heyer, with an emphasis on the primary romance plot, are considered traditional. Traditional Regency Romance writers usually pay close attention to historical detail, as their readers are notorious for noting errors, and the writers often do extensive research so they can clearly understand and replicate the voice of the genre. The Regency-set books published by the Fawcett Coventry line are considered to be Traditional Regency works.
Regency Historical Romance
The Regency-set books written by authors such as Christina Dodd, Eloisa James, and Amanda Quick are generally considered to be Regency Historical works. Regency romances which may include more social realism, or, conversely, anachronistically modern characterization, might be classed by some as "Regency Historical", signifying that their general setting is in Regency England, but the plot, characterization, or prose style of the work extends beyond the genre formula of the Regency romances published by Fawcett, Heyer, etc. Characters may behave according to modern values, rather than Regency values.
The sensual Regency historical romance has been made popular in recent years by Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley, Lisa Kleypas, Stephanie Laurens, and Julia Quinn. Balogh, Beverley, and Loretta Chase are three authors who have made the transition from writing Traditional Regency novels to Regency Historical novels. These novels are much more explicit than the Traditional Regency works and include many more love scenes, which tend to be racy.
Many Regency romance novels include the following:
- References to the Ton (le bon ton)
- Depictions of social activities common during the social season such as carriage rides, morning calls, dinners, routs, plays, operas, assemblies, balls, etc.
- References to, or descriptions of, athletic activities engaged in by fashionable young men of the period, including riding, driving, boxing, fencing, hunting, shooting, etc.
- Differences of social class
- Marriages of convenience: a marriage based on love was rarely an option for most women in the British Regency, as securing a steady and sufficient income was the first consideration for both the woman and her family.
- False engagements
- Cyprians (sex workers), demireps (women of ill repute), mistresses and other women employed by rakehells and men from the upper classes
- Mistaken identity, deliberate or otherwise
- Mystery or farce elements in the plot
Popularity of the genre
Like other fiction genres and subgenres, Regencies experience cyclic popularity swings.
The readership waned during the 1990s with the rise of historical romances (and the switch of many Regency writers to the historical genre). In the early 2000s, both Regencies and other historical romances lost popularity in favor of contemporary settings. The market in the United States was hurt by changes in distributing and retailing romances. The last two major U.S. publishers to produce the shorter "traditional" Regencies regularly were Zebra and Signet. This ended in 2005, when Zebra stopped their traditional Regency line, and early 2006, when Signet ended its Regencies. There are some new "traditional" Regencies still published in the United States; some of the few publishers that still do so are Avalon Books, Five Star Books, and Cerridwen Press (Cotillion). Previously published Regencies are also available through the second-hand book market, via Belgrave House (which publishes out-of-print books), and as e-book reprints.
The Regency subgenre changed somewhat during the 1990s and 2000s, when authors began incorporating more sex into their novels, under pressure from a changing reader base. While some long-time readers balked, publishers viewed the inclusion of sex scenes as a means of keeping the subgenre afloat. The goal was to appeal to a new generation of readers while still delivering the witty and clever plotlines loyal readers love. Regency romance authors such as Sandra Heath, Anita Mills, and Mary Balogh were the first to write about sexual relationships between the hero and heroine (or more rarely, between the hero and his mistress).
Not all Regency romance novels are frothy period pieces. Such authors as Balogh, Carla Kelly, Sheila Bishop, and Mary Jo Putney all depict the underbelly of Regency society, exploring a variety of social ills in their novels. Some authors feature seriously troubled heroes and heroines, who suffer from post-battle trauma, alcoholism, depression, and the like.
Major writers of modern Regency Romance
- Mary Balogh (1944 – )
- Jo Beverley (1947 – )
- Susan Carroll (1952 – )
- Loretta Chase (1949 – )
- Lecia Cornwall
- Georgette Heyer (1902 – 1974)
- Mary Jo Putney
- Amanda Quick
- Julie Klassen
- Toth, Emily (1998), "Romance Novel", in Wilma Mankiller, Gwendolyn Mink, Marysa Navarro, Barbara Smith, and Gloria Steinem, The Reader's COmpanion to U.S. Women's History (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company): 519, ISBN 0-395-67173-6
- Robens, Myretta. "Trads are Dead. Long Live...Historicals?". Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- The Oregon Regency Society. "A little about the Regency Period". Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Laurie Gold. "At the Back Fence" Issue 205, 1 August 2005. All About Romance. 
- Karen Wheless. "A Reader on Regencies" All About Romance.. with responses from readers included. 
- The Regency and Post-Regency Period, from All About Romance
- The Beau Monde Regency Writer's Organization
- Good Ton: A Resource for Regency readers & writers; lists nearly all Regencies published by five houses. Reviews many hard-to-find books.
- Regency Romance Writers
- Rakehell – for Regency Readers
- Regency Reader