I have a soft spot in my heart for historical fiction novels set in England during the Georgian and Regency eras. Why? There are so many reasons, but I’ll condense them down to eight:
1. I love stepping back in time.
Reading a novel set in the past is like discovering your own personal time machine. I love being immersed in all the sights, sounds, and smells of a time gone by, and experiencing, through the characters’ eyes, thoughts, and feelings, what it was like to live in another era. The Georgian and Regency eras are particularly appealing to me because it’s the time in which Jane Austen lived and wrote. Jane grew up during the Georgian era, which began in 1714 and spanned the reigns of the first four Hanoverian kings of Great Britain who were all named George. The Regency (which we more readily associate with Austen) was a brief sub-period of the Georgian era between 1811 and 1820, when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince of Wales, ruled as his proxy as Prince Regent.
It’s such fun to read about the way people lived then, and to spend time with them in their country houses, where even the poorest of the gentry class had servants to wait on them. Nobody in Austen’s novels is ever seen doing anything we’d recognize today as work. They ride horses, drive in carriages, play cards, play music, sing, read, sew, embroider, draw, paint, hunt, take long walks in the shrubbery, and dance at balls. Of course, it took servants to make all that leisure time possible—but what fun it is to lose ourselves in what seems like a lovely, fairy tale existence.
2. They wore really cool clothes.
People rarely dress up anymore, and that makes me sad. The way people dressed in Austen’s time is delightful. During the Regency, women wore lovely, filmy gowns with empire waists in imitation of the ancient Greeks. In the Georgian era, when my novel Jane Austen’s First Love is set, the empire waist was still a thing of the future. Fashionable women wore evening gowns made from colorful fabrics (silk! satin! brocade!) in imitation of Queen Marie Antoinette of France. By day, a new style of gown was in vogue, constructed from a lightweight gathered fabric, often in white. At first the dress was mocked and called the “chemise gown” by critics who claimed it looked too much like underwear—but it quickly became all the rage, and was the harbinger of the airy gowns of the upcoming Regency era. Men dressed in brocaded vests, frock coats, and tight breeches fashioned in vivid colors that guys wouldn’t be caught dead in today—and they looked great! (Am I right in saying that there’s nothing sexier than a man in a cravat?)
3. The accessories.
Today, the only must-have accessories for women are shoes, a handbag, the occasional bit of jewelry, and a jacket. (Is a cell phone an accessory?) In the past, women decorated themselves with so much more élan! They wore wonderful long cloaks with magnificent hoods, sometimes trimmed in fur. They wouldn’t think of leaving the house without wearing a pair of gloves, often made of fine kid leather, and of course elbow-length for evening. They didn’t wear shoes—they wore slippers. Or elegant, lace-up boots. Don’t even get me started about the hats! Hats were so fabulous back then, especially in the Georgian era, when they were huge and decorated to the hilt with fruits and flowers and bows and ribbons and anyything you can imagine—I heard of one famous hat topped with a sailing ship! Fans were a basic necessity, they were hand-painted and gorgeous, and they had a language of their own. In cold weather women carried muffs. (Why don’t we use muffs anymore??) And they didn’t carry huge purses designed to contain every personal item they might possibly have a need for—rather, they stored things in pockets hidden in their skirts, or carried delicate drawstring bags called reticules which held only the barest necessities.
4. The hair
Aren’t you amazed by the intricate hairstyles that women wore in the past? They must have taken hours to complete. No wonder every fashionable woman needed a ladies’ maid! Having no maid myself, I am obliged to put up my own hair for the JASNA-AGMs and Regency balls that I attend in period attire—and my efforts, I’m certain, are but a poor imitation of that which Georgian and Regency ladies achieved.
I love the way women wore their hair in the Regency, drawing it up atop their heads in braids and Grecian curls, and embellishing it with jewels, ribbons, flowers, and feathers. For several centuries before that, men and women wore powdered wigs. I was so curious about this tradition that I researched it intensely, and made the topic a key element of my novel, Jane Austen’s First Love. In 1791 when my novel takes place, powdered wigs were no longer in fashion, yet older gentlemen such as Jane’s father George Austen still wore them, as did the servants. By that time, stylish young men and women had created a new fashion by powdering their natural hair. Georgian ladies generally wore their hair down, long, and curly, powdering it only for special events like a ball. Did Jane Austen ever powder her hair? Read Jane Austen’s First Love and see!
5. The houses.
Who can resist the grand, elegant manor homes and vast estates owned by the wealthy in Austen’s time? It must have been thrilling to live in such immense, beautiful dwellings and take long walks in their magnificent gardens. Yes, those houses must have been freezing in winter and hot in the summer, and it literally took an army of servants to run them— (who could afford that any more?)—but it’s a fun fantasy.
6. The language and manners.
British society was so elegant in Austen’s time. Men were gentlemen and women were ladies. Everyone bowed or curtsied when they met. The language was so beautiful and refined. I would love for a gentleman to come up to me and say, “Madam, may I entreat you—will you do me the great honour of accepting my invitation to dance?” Which leads me to:
7. The dancing.
As Jane says to Cassandra in Jane Austen’s First Love, “Dancing is such a glorious activity! It exercises both the body and the mind, all while moving with spirit and elegance to lively music.” I couldn’t agree more. I love to dance, and I’ll bet you do too! But how often do we get the opportunity? Only at weddings and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. And let’s face it, unless we make the time to take ballroom, salsa, or swing lessons, the way we dance today is kind of lame. They had it so great back in Jane’s day! Someone in the neighborhood was always holding a ball. And from birth, you had to take dance lessons. I feel so fortunate that my husband and I belong to the Jane Austen Society of North America, and are able attend their annual Regency ball. Thankfully, English Country Dance lessons are provided. It makes for a magical evening. When I don my Regency period gown, put feathers in my hair, and take the arm of my own Mr. Darcy, I always feel as if I’ve stepped into a Jane Austen book or movie—and love every minute as we dance the night away.
8. It makes me grateful that I live now.
Although I adore writing and reading novels set in the past, I have to admit that once I put the manuscript or book down, I feel very lucky to live in the present. Nostalgia for a bygone era is sweet and thrilling, but I am truly grateful for antibiotics, antiperspirant, safer childbirth, the befits of modern medicine, women’s rights, indoor plumbing, hot showers, electricity, central heating, automobiles, airplanes, refrigerators, computers, the internet, telephone, television, radio, movies, foods not limited by locale or season—shall I go on?—and most of all, that women don’t have to wear corsets any more. J
Readers, what are your favorite things about the Georgian and Regency eras? Do you wish you could live back then? Why or why not? I look forward to your comments!
Jane Austen's First Love
In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother's engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.
Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.
About the author
Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.
Grand Giveaway Contest
Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages
To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen's First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!
To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour.
Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie's unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!
I have always liked reading period novels. Taking a step back in time is wonderful. I would love to live in a time when manners still mattered and dressing up was not unusual. Not sure I would be good at having all the free time the women had. It would be nice for awhile I am sure but I think I would tire of some of their mundane activites.
I would've loved to have lived back then, but only if I was of the upper class. To have someone do my hair and to dress in beautiful dresses everyday would've been wonderful. I am a night owl and have trouble sleeping early so the city hours would suit, although I prefer the countryside to the city. I would dearly miss modern medicine and central heating though. I don't do well being cold. Time travel between the 2 eras would be perfect, then I could have the best of both worlds. skamper25 (at) gmail (dot) com
I love reading about how people lived in the past as well. All the little details are so important to creating an image in your mind.
I love all the beautiful clothes and yes those intricate hairstyles. I love the romantic side of living with candlelight, dancing so formal & eating wonderful and lavish dinners :D
I've always loved reading period novels, even as a little girl. I'd love to time-travel to the Regency period, but I wouldn't want to stay there. I'm just too fond of my modern conveniences, I guess!
As a living historian I second, wholeheartedly, modern medicine, running water, and the washing machine.
It would be nice to experience more formal manners and all the awesome fabrics I could bring back with me. Going to a ball would be an unparalleled experience I think.
As someone who wears a corset everyday though they really aren't that bad, you just have to learn how to move differently in them. :)
I love the language and manners of the Georgian and Regency eras. They are so elegant.
I agree with Deborah-- I'd love to time travel between our time periods. Wouldn't that be the perfect way to enjoy the best of both worlds?
Thank you so much, Maria, for having me here today. It has been such a pleasure stopping by. In addition to hosting this guest post, I am very appreciative of your wonderful review of JANE AUSTEN'S FIRST LOVE: http://thesecretunderstandingofthehearts.blogspot.it/2014/07/book-review-jane-austens-first-love-by.html
Here's my favorite quote from your review: "A fresh and engaging new story, which is a real feast for any Austen fan. This book can’t be missing on your Austenesque shelf and would be a very special gift to young readers you want to initiate into Jane Austen’s world."
Thank you for your kind words!
Is Jane Austen's First Love on YOUR holiday wish list? If you enjoy it, I would be thrilled and grateful if you'd share it with your family and friends. I wish you all the happiest of holidays!!
I love historical period novels! Especially those by Jane Austen! The fan fiction is fun, too!
I also love regency clothes, they looked so smart and lovely!
I would have liked to live back then, elegant and fun.
The hair is definitely one of my favorite reasons to love the Regency period! I love looking at fashion plates from the era and seeing all those ribbons and curls and shnazzy updos. I also have a love/hate relationship with how women were treated - on one hand I love the chivalry, manners, and focus on taking care of mothers, sisters, etc. but on the other hand I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to have no other option than to depend on men, to have no legal identity. Another reason to be glad we live now and have so many options for reliving only the parts of the Regency era that we like!
It is fun reading about the lavish balls, the gorgeous gowns. I enjoy reading about the manners and the social graces.
I love the hairs and all the manners of that period!
The clothes and the dances are, for me, 99% of the charm of the period. But then, I would dress Regency (or Georgian) every day if I could get away with it. :)
I love the hair, clothes, dancing, manners, etc. of the Georgian/Regecy era, but I prefer to dream about it. I too prefer the advancements and conveniences of our day. Now if only we could blend the time periods. ( :
For me, it's not so much about wanting to live back then (would miss my morning shower and computer!) as it is an enjoyment of the wit and charm we've ascribed to the period. Jane Austen's Regency period is full of elegance, manners, subtlety and morals. Civility with a capital "C." Jane's world wasn't paradise, but she wrote about people we would love to have known and a world we would love to have experienced. The fancy homes and dresses add to the fairy tale.
Delightful post! I love Jane Austen's novels and Regency stories. Thank you for telling us more about the time period and this lovely book! Happy Reading to all!
I love the hairstyles, all the curls, braids and pearls woven through the hair. But even more, I love the houses, the furniture, the china, silver and crystal.I guess this comes from being the daughter of antique dealers.
It would have been so much fun to be invited to a country house for a party, especially at Christmas or in the summer and be able to explore the gardens.
Love the simple and yet elegant culture of that era. It's the atmosphere and the fashion that interests me and to see such detail on print and on screen of life in those times are an extension of our imagination and at times can give us more bringing it to life in front of our eyes.
like the fashion; would be interesting to live there
bn100candg at hotmail dot com
I love this time period as well. I'm not so sure I'd do well if I actually went back there (I think of that Lost in Austen book/movie)but there is something very romantic about it all.
I always thought it would be wonderful to live during Jane's time. However, she probably would have lived much longer if she'd been born in today's times because the health care is much more advanced.
I love that the men cared so much for honor back then, but would hate to live there because of the lack of sanitation and decent medical care - plus few women's rights. I could never eat cheese with maggots! Blech!
Reading is time travel! Loved reading this list. I've always read historical fiction and it remains my favorite genre, after the classics that is, which is time traveling too.
Well said, everyone!! :)
I love all the pictures that I have been seeing along the way. It makes it so much better to be able to put a face with the people I am reading about. email@example.com
I have not yet read any Jane Austen but would like too.
I love the clothes & hairstyles, that era was so elegant.
dkstevensne AT outlook DoTCoM
I long to be treated as a lady. The term is still in fashion, but the meaning is empty.I long to walk in rose gardens in flowing silks, sip tea and gossip with women, entertain neighbors, and spend my spare time improving my card game or perfecting my French.If I could retreat to a time when this was acceptable, The only thing I would miss is modern medicine.
I have always loved historical fiction. I would not have wanted to live in another time though - I like modern medicine and technology!
Reading about these times is the closest I will ever get, and I look forward to every chance to read! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This is all so true. So much of the stuff the had and did looks so romantic and I would love to try it but not live in it.
dez3b at yahoo dot com
I love your reason #2! (And its corollaries, #s 3 and 4.) As for #8, I have to confess that until I started working on a historical novel myself, I never thought much about the Regency period's lack of things like indoor plumbing and central heating (I would add daily bathing to the list of things to be grateful for!).
Am looking forward to reading Jane Austen's First Love early in the new year, as part of my Austenesque Lovers Reading Challenge on Goodreads!
I love historical fiction and even planned a trip I made to the UK a few years ago so that I could attend the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. It was a lot of fun and definitely a great place to meet some serious Janeites.
I love history and reading novels that have historic elements in them - particularly the Georgian and Regency eras.
I love how intricate their craftsmanship often is - even hundreds of years ago - despite not having the modern technologies we have available to us today.
And their hair! The twists and turns are positively charming.
I love everything about the Regency period : the carriage rides, the balls with lively music, the dresses & the fancy hairstyles I can never recreate myself. It's all a dream :)
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