The First Regency Romance
You may be one of those people who think Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen is the first Regency Romance, and perhaps by some definitions you are right.
Not by mine. As I think I’ve stated here before, Regency Romances are historical romances. Pride and Prejudice published 201 years ago, was a contemporary romance for its time.
I thought, this week, I would highlight some of the conventions of the Regency story world established by Heyer in this first Regency romance.
First, my brief blurb of the story:
Sir Peregrine Taverner and his big sister Judith defy their heretofore unseen guardian by traveling to London, intent on setting up a house and having a season. When they stop at an inn and Peregrine goes off to a boxing match, a roguish young gentleman rescues Judith–and kisses her. Of course, that gentleman turns out to be Lord Worth, their guardian. Being a true gentleman, he will not pursue Judith until she reaches her majority. But keeping the young heiress’s suitors at bay provides constant challenges. That, her propensity to defy him, her brother’s immersion into the life of a young buck, and her slippery cousin’s attempts to insinuate himself into her life make this guardianship a headache. And, oh yes, someone is trying to have Peregrine killed.
So I will turn this over to Heyer herself. Here is her story world in Regency Buck.
Fashionable men dressed well, were arrogant, and always bored:
He was the epitome of a man of fashion. His beaver hat was set over black locks carefully brushed into a semblance of disorder; his cravat of starched muslin supported his chin in a series of beautiful folds; his driving-coat of drab cloth bore no less than fifteen capes, and a double row of silver buttons. Miss Taverner had to own him a very handsome creature, but found no difficulty in detesting the whole cast of his countenance. He had a look of self-consequence; his eyes ironically surveying her form under weary lids, were the hardest she had ever seen, and betrayed no emotion but boredom. His nose was too straight for her taste. His mouth was well-formed, firm but thin-lipped. She thought it sneered.
Boxing matches were the rage among men and drew both the high and the low:
The company was for the most part a rough one, but as midday approached the carriages began to outnumber the wagons.
The same was true for cockfights:
Behind them, the benches were being rapidly filled, and higher still the outer ring of standing room was tightly packed with the rougher members of the crowd. In the centre of the pit was the stage, on which no one but the setters-on was allowed. This was built up a few feet from the ground, covered with a carpet with a mark in the middle, and lit by a huge chandelier hanging immediately above it. The first fight, which was between two red cocks, only lasted for nine minutes; the second was between a black-grey and a red pyle, and there was some hard hitting in the pit, and a great deal of noisy betting amongst the spectators.
Skill in driving a curricle or phaeton was essential:
On her mettle, Miss Taverner guided the team down the street at a brisk trot, driving them well up to their bits. She had fine light hands, knew how to point her leaders, and soon showed the Earl that she was sufficiently expert in the use of the whip.
The Regent, and in fact all of George III’s spawn were questionable characters:
From the day of their first meeting the Duke had lost no opportunity of fixing his interest with her. She could be no longer in doubt of his intentions…Peregrine thought it a very good joke, and the notion of a prince paying addresses to his sister provoked him to laughter whenever he happened to think of it.
And the Prince Regent and Cumberland:
At the end of the week, the Regent arrived in Brighton, accompanied by his brother the Duke of Cumberland; and somewhat to Miss Taverner’s surprise a card was received by Mrs. Scattergood inviting them both to an evening party at the Pavilion the following Tuesday. The royal brothers were seen in church on Sunday: the elder stout, with a sallow sort of handsomeness, and an air of great fashion; the younger lean, extremely tall, and with his black-avised countenance disfigured by a scar from a wound received at Tournai.
Beau Brummell is more than a bit player and not at all ridiculous:
He flicked open his snuff-box in his inimitable way and took a pinch. “Drive your phaeton,” he said. “You are really very stupid not to have thought of it for yourself.”
“Drive my phaeton?” she repeated.
“Of course. Upon every occasion, and where you would be least expected to dod so. Did I not tell you once, Miss Taverner, never to admit a fault?”
And of course tying a cravat properly and fashionably is essential:
Peregrine waved to attract Worth’s attention, and upon the Earl looking up, was instantly struck by the exquisite arrangement of his cravat.
The Brighton Pavilion also plays a role in this book, as a setting wherein the heroine is led off by a seductive Prince Regent and promptly faints.
The Pavilion, which had been built for the Prince Regent by Mr. Henry Holland, occupied a frontage of four hundred and eighty feet, and stood in ten acres of ground…A captious critic had once remarked, on first seeing the palace, that it was as though St. Paul’s had littered, and brought forth a brood of cupolas…
If you are interested in the Regency genre, I highly recommend Heyer’s books, as well as Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester. You could also read one of my books, Rosalyn’s Ring, or Bella’s Band, or any number of books by authors I love, including Loretta Chase, Madeline Hunter, Caroline Linden, Sarah MacLean, and Tessa Dare.
All images: Wikimedia
All quotes: Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer, copyright 1966, by Georgette Heyer, E.P. Dutton edition, 1966