Sunday, May 13, 2012

Regency Research

I've always loved the Regency period in England, and growing up that was nearly all I ever read. I've found over the years, the same historical figures time and again, and that made it somewhat easier for me to do research into the genre. I felt I knew them already. From the Prince Regent to Lady Crowper.

In this modern day and age, you're only one click away from whatever it is you may be looking for. But that does have its drawbacks. Yes, you can get an overview of the Napoleonic Wars, or what Prince George did in his first four months of the Regency, but those are generally bare bones factoids.

As a connoisseur of all things Jane Austen, I've found her books to be fonts of knowledge. The Bronte sisters, and Lord Byron as well. Some modern day authors have set about to recreate the era, Georgette Heyer for one, and there is also a smaller more select group that has taken on Jane Austen's lesser characters and created books for them in the same kind of style -- my favorites Julia Barrett (Margaret Dashwood) and Joan Aiken (Jane Fairfax). There is also C.S. Forrester who wrote the Horatio Hornblower series, but those titles talk of ships and the war, which is not a bad thing, however, not necessarily light reading.

Not only do I read, I also watch movies. There are some great films which deal with the era, (Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, This Charming Man, Vanity Fair, Master & Commander, Becoming Jane, The Duchess) However, I've found that although these films have fabulous costumes and unbelievable cinematography, they do not all use dialogue from the era, which to me, lessens the film considerably.

I, for one, am a stickler for dialogue. Certain contractions were not in use in the early part of the 19th century, hence, cannot, do not, would not. I have an etomylogical dictionary for that purpose and I try and stay as close to the word choices of the day that I can.

Some writers also go so far as to include reams of description of food and clothing, which is nice, but I don't necessarily do that. On occasion I will mention a nice kidney pie, or a glass of port, but I know how I feel when I read something that contains four paragraphs of what was on the dinner table. To me, that just takes away from the reading of the book. And I don't necessarily care that the morning gown the heroine wore was made of yards of imported silk, capped with an organza overlay with enbroidered flowers around the hem and neckline. I'd rather just know the color. But that's just me.

Readers have their quirks, and some don't mind the endless reams of description. However, as a character driven writer, I'd rather spend time developing the interiority and emotion responses of the characters than delving into a blow by blow of the architecture of the house on Grosvenor Square.

Now that's not to say I don't research all this. I have a set of instructions in how to load and fire a flintlock, as well as a manual on surgeon's tools and what each do. I have (at last count) 187 pages in folders dedicated to the Regency era, Ranging from How to Address a Peer, to a Map of England (with street names and buildings) from 1813, to even a page concerning the weather events in England during that time.

Yes, research is important, there is nothing worse for a dedicated reader of the Regency to find a mistake, which is why I take the time to do the research in the first place, however I don't necessarily use it.

Tell me -- Do you feel cheated if the author hasn't done enough research? Can you tell the difference between an author who does, and one who doesn't?


  1. I can definitely tell a difference between an author that does research and doesn't do research.

    I have an author friend who has been traditionally published by the Big Six during the eighties in the same genre as Jane Austen. And she absolutely hates Jane Austen. She and I argue constantly (it's friendly knowledgeable arguing where she presents her points and I do too). But it's gotten to the point that we agree to disagree and I think she's dumb for not liking Jane Austen and she no longer wants to hear about it.


  2. I'm with Michael on the research. Getting hit with an anachronism takes me right out of the story and I often won't finish the book because I no longer trust the author. On the other hand, the author who hammers me with a million little details seems to be just showing off her research and neglecting the story. You do a great job of balancing those things.

    I have a 1911 version of the Encyclopedia Britannica that is a fountain of knowledge about the details of life in the late 19th century (It took them a decade or more to write it.) I was planning to write historicals at one point, but I found I got too fascinated by the research and never got to the actual book-writing. :-)

    Very useful post.

  3. I'm definitely a stickler for research. Anachronisms drive me nuts!

  4. It drives me crazy when research is sloppy, particularly with language use. I've read several historicals by (best-selling) American authors who use language that wouldn't be used in England today, let alone during the Regency. In addition there are many contractions and modern-day phrases, which leaves me doubting *my* grasp on the period.

  5. Yes, and yes. I can definitely tell if a writer is trying to fake it, and it annoys the heck out of me. A writer owes it to readers not to insult them by trying to pull a snow job on them. I applaud you for doing the research so you can add authenticity to your works.


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