Celebrated Writers Whose Names Have Become Synonymous with the Fictional Depiction of an Age: Part Two: Georgette Heyer’s Depiction of the Regency UK and ‘Life in London’ by Pierce Egan: ‘Corinthian Tom’ and his ‘Coz Jerry’ as the Original Source of Heyer’s Regency World and Sporting Heroes

 

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In my last post, I wrote about the influence of Mary Renault, whose fictional interpretation of Ancient Greece has become so famous.  I commented on how the writer’s particular treatment of Bronze Age Greece and of the rise of patriarchy, which necessarily reflected the views of her own age, sixty years ago, have been incorporated into popular understanding of that era.

However novel and stimulating Renault’s depiction may have been to the publishing world and to readers in the late 1950’s, it is now an almost stultifying influence. As I commented last week, it has reached the point where it is impossible for any author to write anything about Bronze Age Greece, the ancient matriarchies or the Theseus legend, without being compared – usually invidiously – with Renault.

The same is true of the depiction of the UK of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century by Georgette Heyer.

Apart from being  writers of historical novels with a passion for detailed research, who were in real life fairly mannish women with a rather dismissive attitudes towards other women, they have little in common but their names becoming synonymous with an historical era.

The point I want to make here is is what they do have in common was a massive influence on popular understanding of the age about which they choose to write.  Heyer continues to be seen as ‘having made the Regency era her own’ just as Renault’s depiction of the Bronze Age is seen as definitive.

I have touched on this previously in an article published on Public Books last December. here However, as the articles on this site have to be under 1,500 words, I had to write a terse one, concentrating mainly on how Heyer’s  High Tory view of the UK’s history has had the effect of making an  ‘Artificial Golden Age’ out of an era which was in fact one of violent social change and upheaval, and my dismay that a fair number of readers seem to confuse that enticing, but artififical version with the historical reality of that time.

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Certainly, it has had the effect of  giving it a name for frivolity.  This fact was made by the late writer and historian M M Bennets, so brilliantly in this article here,  that I am going to quote large parts of it wholesale:

‘ I rate her (Georgette Heyer’s) work alongside that of P.G. Wodehouse in that they both created a bright comedic fictional world entirely of their own. However, I also feel that Heyer’s work has done an immense disservice to our understanding of the early nineteenth century.  Because by calling that world the Regency, this period of extra-ordinary political and social change and international upheaval of the most catastrophic nature has been trivialised, ‘frivolised’ and demoted to ‘unworthy of consideration by serious writers and thinkers’.

‘(Curiously, no one ever mistakes Wodehouse’s fictional world of Blandings Castle and the Drones Club for reality.)

‘…With the exception of An Infamous Army, the whole of her work is one-faceted and is set firmly within the boundaries of this fictional romantic comedy world she created.  Thus, what a shock to realise that Mary Webb’s Precious Bane, for example, is set at the same period and included much talk of the terrible harvests, the effect of that on the countryside and the introduction of the Corn Laws.’

M M Bennett’s goes on, in  the comments section, to remark: –

‘I’ve not stopped thinking about this question since I raised it a few days ago, in some effort to pin down what it is about Heyer I find most maddening. Tolstoy includes many party scenes, many domestic issues, in War and Peace, yet no one would accuse him of frivolity or trivialising history, I think.

‘Perhaps it’s Heyer’s relentless emphasis on female clothing and her stereotypical males which frequently are little better than caricatures? I know she based a lot of her work about young men and their pursuits on the Cruikshank “Tom and Jerry” cartoons of the 1820s. Equally, it must be said that with few exceptions, there are few mentions of soldiers, officers or naval officers in her works–yet Britain was most certainly a country at war, from 1792-1815, with only the briefest peace between 1802-3. (We’d think a book set in 1943 in London very peculiar if there were no soldiers to be seen, wouldn’t we?)

‘Perhaps it’s not her work that I find maddening, it’s the subsequent assumption that the Regency was as she presented it, and that her work is used as a kind of yardstick for anything written about the period. Which is perhaps just my way of saying, yes, that was popular literary taste then (when she was writing); this is now–can we not move on from there? Please?’

This  concisely sums up my own attitude.

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I was interested in this reference to these ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons of the 1820’s. I followed it up, tracing it to Pierce Egan’s 1821  ‘Life in London Or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq, And His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom in Their Rambles and Sprees Through the Metropolis’ (they liked a long title in those days).

Then Someone Lovely bought me a copy last Christmas.

I only had to read a page to realise three things.

One was that here was the author of ‘Boxiana’, a book on the history of prize fighting which I had read years since. It has the same florid, wordy style and excessive use of the sporting slang of the era. For this modern reader at least, it made for an excrutiating read.

The second was that Georgette Heyer did indeed rely on this book as a source on which she based her heroes and the fashionable world of Regency London, the venues, sights, sporting activities, slang, you name it.

The third is the explanation as to why Heyer’s males are often so puzzlingly lacking in  emotional depth. This is because they were literally borrowed from a series of cartoon sketches.  In fact, Pierce Egan’s macho cartoon heroes are more emotionally responsive than Heyer’s; though libertines, they are in some form of love with their mistresses. Corinthian Tom writes romantic doggerel to ‘Corinthian Kate’s‘ eyes: Jerry Hawthorn is besotted with two of his mistresses in quick succession, ‘Lady Wanton’ and Kate’s friend Sue.

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‘Corinthian Tom’ is depicted as a leader of fashion, but ‘handy with his dives’, having taken boxing lessons from the prize fighting champion himself, and ‘no dandy’ (ie, effete). He is handsome, cynical, blasé, a fine pugilist and swordsman, a famed ‘whip’  in his Sunday drives in the park,  wears a greatcoat with many cloaks and top boots,  has an acquiine profile, and has a roving eye for female beauty – whether it is paying compliments to the women of the elite at Almacks, or treating the ‘barques of frailty’ at the Opera to gin, or chucking the pretty chin of the beggar chit Polly in her rags in a ‘boozing ken’ full of  women like ‘Leaky Sal’.  His ‘Dear Coz’ Jerry is less clever, but full of mischief and ‘game till he’s floored’, with a physical presence that draws the eye of many women.

In fact, I am puzzled how few  of Georgette Heyer’s admirers seem  to know of this book. They constantly discuss Austen as her inspiration.  I have only seen about three references to ‘Life in London’ as one of Heyer’s sources online, besides that by the late M M Bennetts. I don’t know if M M Bennetts had got round to reading it before her sadly early death, though she was clearly an avid researcher on the early nineteenth century.

So far as I can judge, only a couple of these writers on Georgette Heyer have actually read ‘Life in London’ (this is only for the brave; the turgid prose makes for heavy going; but  – coughs modestly – I was not to be deterred from my research. After all, I was able to plough through all of Richardson’s ‘Clarissa’, through ‘Pamela’ and ‘Pamela in Her Exalted Condition’, ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘War and Peace’ ).

Of course, I am not accusing Heyer of plagiarism in borrowing from this book; you can’t plagiarise an idea, copywrite didn’t exist in the days of ‘Life in London’ – there were any number of imitations published in Pierce Egan’s time – and if even if copywrite had existed, it would long have expired by the twentieth century.

It was a brilliant stroke of Heyer’s to create characters appealing to a female readership out of a book intended for a male one, and her comic world has its escapist allure for many. But I share in MM Bennetts’ wish that the whole Regency era should not be seen as the domain of one comic writer whose emphasis was generally on the ‘fashionable world’ of the upper class.

The origin of Heyer’s heroines certainly cannot be found in Pierce Egan: there are no ‘respectable’ women depicted in any but the most superficial detail in ‘Life in London’. There, Jane Austen was the main influence for Heyer. Her heroines are updated, highly secular versions of Austen’s,  with a large part of the Bright Young Things of Heyer’s own youth thrown in.

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Discovering More So Bad It’s Good Writing

Alice Askew
A wonderfully dramatic cover for a book. I love the way that the ghost is waving…

I never get much in the way of writing done in the summer and early autumn; family matters always take precedence. I feel guilty about not getting down to that editing of my latest, but there seems to be no time…

I have been doing some reading. I am Beta reading a fellow author’s fantasy book, which has a darkly comic twist that appeals, and still reading the background material on the Peterloo Massacre. But there are so many distractions, and coming across So Bad It’s Good writing from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is one of them.

I have written in posts before of how my mother filled the bookshelves in the rambling old houses in which my family used to live when I was growing up by buying job lots at auctions.

These included much late Regency and Victorian writing, including books on farming, the care of poultry, guide books of the North Wales coastline, collections of sermons, classic works and much else. There was,  for instance, a massive book with the ambitious title ‘Everything Within’ which could surely only have been written by a British Victorian. In it you could find advice on supposedly all the subjects under the sun – geography, mathematics, astronomy (written, of course, from that oddly static pre Einstein perspective) a solemn exposition of phrenology,  advice on how to write letters on delicate topics, such as breaking off an engagement, and a massive amount of other varied information.

There were also, besides much twentieth century popular fiction, many  Victorian and Edwardian novels of the sort lent out by circulating libraries and deplored by the serious minded as a bad influence on maidservants.

My older half brother still lives in the Clwyd Valley in the area where my family lived for six years (the area where I set ‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’ and my latest – which still needs editing). He still has some of that stock which I investigated on snowy and rainy days long ago.

I came on a book which seemed likely to rival Jefferey Farnol for melodrama. It is called ‘Eve and the Law’, written by ‘Alice and Claude Askew’, published in 1905. It is a cheap hardback of the sort mass produced before paperbacks were invented, and I recognised it at once as one of the romantic melodramas of the sort churned out by Charles Garvice.

I glanced at the frontispiece. This depicted a man obviously intended to be a villain, as he sported a moustache and a conniving, suave expression – standing by the side of the tall heroine, whose upright bearing is obviously intended to illustrate a noble soul – and knew I had to read it.

I have never heard of these writers, but Wickipedia says of them that they were a married couple of British authors who wrote over ninety novels together between 1904 and their deaths when their boat was  sunk by a torpedo attack by a German submarine in 1917.

That tragic end did make me stop laughing at the sheer melodramatic absurdity of the plot of ‘Eve and the Law’ and of the list of titles generally, which includes such gems as ‘Bess of Bentley’s: A True Shop-Girl Story’ and ‘Fate- And Drusilla’.  There is something particularly horrible about a couple who depicted life in terms of romance and happy ever afters coming to a violent end.

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Sadly, I don’t think this one is in print. I’ll have to go in for sour grapes and say maybe it wasn’t about a real vampire, but a suspected one…

Oh dear.  And oh dear, for purely selfish reasons. What with ‘Martin Coninsby’s Revenge’ and this, my background reading on the Peterloo Massacre for my planned novella will be slower than it ought to be…

 

Criticism and Romantic Novels

I am a bit perturbed (I’m good at being perturbed, aren’t I?) at a New Age view which has infiltrated popular thinking.

A recent blog post by Mari Biella on free speech

Free Speech, Fake News and the Internet

inspired me to write this one.

This ‘New Age’  view that has to some extent infiltrated popular thinking is the  ‘No Negativity’ mindset that equates ‘criticism’ with something bad and unfair – in effect, with ‘negative criticism’.

This seems to me a worrying trend.  Criticism is surely equal to having an intelligent awareness of ones surroundings – towards having an active sense of discrimination. Without that we will have, surely, no intellectual life and also, no moral awareness.

Certainly, criticism can sometimes be harsh and unfair. Nobody exactly enjoys being on the receiving end of a scathing attack, however amusing it may be for others to read.

For instance, literary critics can be savage.

Then, with the rise of the internet, anyone can set buy a book and leave a review, even if it is of the ‘Boring – didn’t get past the third paragraph’ one star variety, up there on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and so on.

For my own part, I avoid giving one star reviews unless the topic is really offensive – ie, a rapist or otherwise really abusive hero, say, and I avoid giving up on any book until I’ve read the first three chapters, while I never review a book unless I’ve read it through.

But that’s just me; a lot of readers take a different approach: that is their right .

And surely, the alternative of a non critical attitude, is far worse all round.

Unfortunately, this ‘New Age’ ‘All criticism is bad and unfair’ is an attitude prevalent amongst the ‘Romance Community’, and that does bother me.

What that amounts to, is to adopt the attitude of the cults – disseminating received information, the value and veracity of which it is an outrage to challenge – so that any critical response is attributed to supposed personal malice and psychological shortcomings, if not downright inspiration from evil spirits (glances uneasily about in search of said evil spirits).

There is a  sort of ‘keeping ranks’ attitude amongst writers and readers of romance – who often seem to know each other through blogs, etc – which adheres to unspoken rules, one of which seems to be that being under attack from outside means that they must not express any discontent between themselves. Any outspoken, hard hitting criticism is seen as being infra dig (Sarah Wendell has been to some extent an exception).  I recently came across a series of fulsome comments agreeing with a blogger who had objected to critical dismissal of the blogger’s idol’s literary ability. The blogger later described that series of agreements  as ‘a stimulating discussion’.  I didn’t quite see where the ‘discussion’ part came in? What was her view of a non-stimulating discussion?

Seriously, I truly did encounter this on a cosy little blog, the purpose of which seemed to be to give glowing reviews to historical romances,’intimate’ and sentimental biographies of monarchs, etc.

I can see how this approach has come about. Romantic novels have been traditionally derided as being unworthy of serious consideration as literature. While genre fiction generally is seen in this light, it is particularly true of romance, which has been especially targeted as absurd. Certainly, there is an element of sexism in this.

A lot of romance writers and readers point out, and with some justification, that male adventure stories and fantasy are just as far fetched;  it is merely that the unrealistic elements in those are different to those in romantic novels.

However, to take the attitude that it is permissible to write what is supposed to be literary criticism, in which a writer or student proffers no objective analysis of general weaknesses among examples the genre, and of particular weaknesses amongst the authors discussed, is surely not  literary criticism worthy of the name. Unfortunately, there are examples of so-called ‘literary criticism’ of romance as a genre which reflect this attitude.

I am sorry to say that this is true of a renowned book of literary criticism of the romance novel written by a Professor of English at McDaniel College in the US – often solemnly quoted as a brilliant defence of the genre in various articles about the web – ‘The Natural History of the Romance Novel’  by Pamela Regis.

This struck me as containing no criticism either of the genre, or of the authors’ work the author purports to analyse. Rather it was a glowing series of expositions of various novels.

At no point during the whole of the book does Regis admit that any of the novels she ‘discusses’ have weaknesses. It reads more like a panegyric on the various authors. She sets out a structure she has devised to which the ‘pure’ romantic novel is meant to a adhere, comprising eight points. She then goes on to define various classic novels as having these points and therefore, by definition, belonging to the category of romantic novels, ie, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Jane Eyre’ (whether or not these last two are in fact romantic novels is, of course, highly debated; anyway, Regis is confident that according to her approach, they are).

When I came to the chapter ‘The Limits of Romance’ , I thought, ‘Ah; now we shall have some objective analyses worthy of the name’ but no such thing. The phrase merely means that certain novels which are, generally, regarded as belonging to the romance genre are excluded – ie, ‘Gone With the Wind’, which is excluded by not having the necessary HEA.

Where there is any criticism, even of highly contentious subjects – for instance, of Samuel Richardson’s making a happy ending between the heroine and the ridiculous but supposedly romantic would-be rapist hero Mr B in ‘Pamela’ – then rather than engage herself, the author quotes opinions by other critics, never stating her own opinions except in defence of the genre.

Discussion of varying points of view should indeed be used to extend the scope of an argument; but when it is used as a substitute for any real investigation of structural and stylistic weaknesses by the author herself, when she is supposedly an expert on literary criticism – that strikes me as extraordinary.

My own review of this book can be found here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/182152.A_Natural_History_of_the_Romance_Novel?ac=1&from_search=true#other_reviews

I found some of the comments on the book made by a journalist called Noah Berlatsky in this blog highly apposite:

http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2013/12/romance-and-the-defensive-crouch

‘Regis’ difficulty is that she wants to defend all romance. She is fighting for the honor of romance as a genre, or as a whole. She never, once, in the entire book, admits that any single romance, anywhere, might be formulaic, or badly written. ‘

…An impossible position to maintain, but somehow the author does it. But then she makes a truly astounding claim about the ‘first romantic novel’  ‘Pamela’, of which, it seems, for all its glaring faults, she as a defender of romantic novels is determined to admire as having a hidden feminist message.  She maintains that:  ‘The story can be called oppressive, I think, only if one believes that marriage is an institution so flawed that it cannot be good for a woman.’

I wrote an answer answer to that bizarre attempt at defence of the distasteful and sentimental outcome (as critics say, the obscenity of ‘Pamela’ lies in its sentimentality)  in my Goodreads review of her book. This would take us too far off topic here for me to quote…

So, to move back to the general…

I remarked in my own review of Regis’ work:

‘The author, in fact, puts herself in an impossible position; in arguing that there have been some romances written which are great literature, pointing to the ‘canonical’ texts of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, she never admits that comparison means just that. If there have been excellent romances written, then by definition there have to have been some far from excellent ones churned out. But as a defender of romance, who seems to make it a point of honour to eschew all criticism, this is an admission that she cannot make. All that she can do, is to maintain a deafening silence on the topic.

This ‘closing ranks’ out of defensiveness and equating all criticism with negative criticism is an attitude of the romance community which contradicts the desire of its members for their genre to be taken seriously. Criticism by definition cannot all be positive.’

If romance readers and writers want their favourite genre taken seriously as literature, then surely one of the first steps must be for romance writers to accept criticism without automatically maintaining the ‘defensive crouch’ that Noah Berlatsky analyses in his blog.

To move forward, surely the ‘romance community’ must also  be prepared to extend hard hitting analysis worthy of the  name about ‘classic romantic novels’ and others  – particularly in works of supposed literary criticism.  Free speech should operate here as elsewhere; for romance writers and critics to adopt the attitude that it is somehow unfair and not nice  makes them seem weak in a stereotypically ‘feminine’ way, and reinforce those sexist interpretations they so rightly resent.

Writing Resolutions for the New Year: Why Writers Might Take a Look at That Unfinished Manuscript in the Drawer

3f2d6d5a693742ecd2ef850e8192b69eI wonder what people’s writing resolutions for 2017 are?

My personal writing resolution is to finish the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and then, if there is time, to get a novella out which commemorates the St Peter’s Field Massacre of 1818.

I had already written the first third of that sequel in the first six months after publishing ‘Ravensdale’ back in 2014. But then I allowed myself to be distracted by other projects – including the one that ended up as ‘The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Venns’.

I had all sorts of difficulties with that one.  At one point, I had weeks of writer’s block – really dismal – I did a post about that on this blog.

I wrote 50,000 words of a serious version, and 22,000 words of a frivolous version, and I worried over a conflict between the strain of the comic mode of presentation and the tragic back story –but in the end I thought that I had found a way round that – and I hope that readers agree. The result is dark comedy, and perhaps that is the approach that suits me best. Well, there is one chapter which is not comic at all – and that’s the tragic backstory involving a forced abduction.

Anyway, all that took ages to resolve.

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But back to the present.  Now,  I  resolve not to let anything in the writing line distract me for too long from that sequel – not even the novella I have been musing over these past few months on the St Peter’s Fields, the horrible ‘Peterloo’ Massacre of 1818 – though I do want to publish a novella in time to commemorate the bicentenary of that event.

I must admit that getting the B.R.A.G award for ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ did encourage me to get back to working on more of the eponymous scoundrel and Sophie’s adventures (not to mention those of Ravensdale and the one-time-highwaywoman Isabella) – and I’ve been working on it since November.

I hope that a lot of writers are making similar New Year’s resolutions about that Project in Abeyance. There’s so much promising writing, so many projects started out full of hope that end up that way, so it would be good if we all unearthed the good ones.

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The awful thing is, if it is left too long, that Project In Abeyance threatens to become The Manuscript in the Drawer, and for manuscripts, that’s like being in cast into a dungeon and forgotten.

After all, as I have commented on this blog before, one of my favourite novellas, Alexander Pushkin’s ‘Dubrovsky’ ended up as incomplete because he put it to one side, and never got back to it.

This, one of the first ‘robber novels’ was an attempt to combine genre writing with literary merit.  He hoped to extend the borders of genre fiction  (sound familiar on this blog?)

As such, ‘Dubrovsky’ was a source of inspiration for me to write ‘Ravensdale’, particularly in the comic scenes where the outlaw hero shakes with passion when he disguises himself as a librarian in the house of his true love Isabella, and comes upon his true love.

In the manner of a true late Regency hero, that is exactly what Dubrovsky does when he enters the house of  his own true love, Aurelia, disguised as a humble tutor.

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Pushkin, after working steadily on ‘Dubrovsky’ for about 33,000 words in 1832, put it aside – perhaps through problems with the structure and possibly, waning interest after that first rush of enthusiasm – never to return to it.

Unfortunately, the remaining years left to him were few. He was mortally wounded in a duel over his wife only five years later. ‘Dubrovsky’ was only published posthumously in 1842.

That is the problem with laying things aside, though it is unlikely that many writers will be killed in duels in the coming five years. But it is so easy for a writer to adopt the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to what was possibly something really promising, and to be distracted by other projects to the point that s/he or he never returns to it.

dubrovskyI hope that I have made the case for those sad, neglected, lonely Manuscripts in the Drawer being worth a second glance.  Some have been left incarcerated for so long that they may have been stored on the memory of BBC micras (in the UK, that is, or on Smart). They are suffering like the Counts of Monte Christo and their plight should arouse compassion.

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There are, admittedly, if my own early writings are anything to go by, some of these which were abandoned with good reason, which certainly will never deserve to see the light of day again.  There was one of mine, written when I was perhaps thirteen and  clearly inspired by Norah Lofts’ ‘Madselin’ (Marcher Baron, anyone?) that literally made me cringe.

But, if anyone reading this were to take a moment to glance through his or her own manuscripts in a drawer, it might lead to something really worthwhile being hauled out from the dismal company of  (I hope the contents of this drawer of mine was more rebarbative than average) a dead spider, a sweet wrapper, a battered how to booklet on Making Money From Your Writing and a grubby pound coin (was that all the money I managed to accumulate from the said booklet?)

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Anyway, Happy New Year, everyone.

Genre Fiction, Romantic Novels and Escapism

220px-amalie-augusteOne of the complaints often aired by romance readers is that the genre is despised as escapism, and yet this insult is not so often aimed at other forms of genre fiction.

There is some justice in this complaint.   Yes, there are highly escapist elements  to romantic novels – but often they are ones which they only share with other fiction written as light relief.

For instance, if there are a disproportionately high number of fearless, ripped macho types featuring as heroes in romantic novels, then the same could be said of the heroes of action/ adventure stories aimed at a male readership .

Neither are the adventures of the characters in these stories any more probable, though they tend to concentrate on macho adventures to the exclusion of the emotional side of life. In this way, these two forms of fiction – romance and the sort of action/adventure novels that  attract a largely male readership might be said to represent two opposite ends of a spectrum.

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I may not be fair in showing these two covers as they come from long defunct magazines of the nineteen-fifties. But I thought I would put them in by way of entertainment.  I’d like to acknowledge that the adaption of the first was by Shunk, by the way…

Then there is fantasy, a genre about as unrelated to prosaic reality as you can get. (This is also straying from the point; I seem to be doing a lot of that in this article, but I read a blog about writing fantasy which said of dagger wielding leather clad female warriors:  ‘Enough…I mean we’re here, right?’ That’s rather a pity: that is a sort of  female stereotype I  rather enjoy).

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But there is certainly some justification to the charge of romance being unrealistic, even apart from the preponderance of billionaires in contemporary romances and dukes in Regency romances (there have only ever been about twenty-five non-royal dukedoms in the UK) and the often, wildly improbable HEAs.

One aspect I have noticed is the lack of sordid details in the stories. I have commented before on how there seems to be an agreement that heroes should never vomit, even when suffering from concussion, and that the women never need to evacuate when held captive.  There may well be exceptions, and I’d like to hear of them.

This particularly applies to historical romance. There seems to be a tendency to write stories where, for instance, the characters inhabit a Georgian or Regency London wholly devoid of the filthy streets or wretched beggars.

While the Mayfair aristocracy may have avoided walking through the sordid muck which littered the streets through going everywhere by carriage (and employing a footman to run ahead to clear the way of pedestrians, at least), they could hardly avoid being exposed to general dirt and squalor.

That was why in cities and in London in particular, the reception rooms were on the first floor. That way, the evil smells of the street outside were less likely to penetrate.

Of course, by modern standards, even people from the leisured classes would have been fairly grubby themselves. Bathing too often was seen as bad for the health. 110px-Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Torse,_effet_de_soleil

It’s understandable that stories which aim to provide the reader with light entertainment are going to pass over these sordid facts.

However, I do think that this concentration on the upper class in historical romance, and limiting the working -class characters to obliging servants and inn-keepers, can lead to the consensus oriented, a-political view of society which is often presented in historical romances. It is too easy for that approach to ally the readers of historical romanced with a sentimental and even a reactionary view of history. That only can be a bad thing.

The Romantic Novel, The Happy For Now And The Traditional Happy Ever After

collection_nocturne_de_harlequinI saw some posts on Facebook recently on romantic novels and the HEA (for anyone uninitiated, that notorious Happy Ever After).

The posters said that there had been some romantic novels released recently without the obligatory HEA, and because of that, some Indie Authors of romantic fiction had included the assurance that ‘this novel has an HEA’.

Romantic novels, of course, are notorious as a genre where the readers insist on a happy ending. That is why, I gather, ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Rebecca’ are often precluded from them – one has the hero leaving the heroine, and it seems in the second the hero makes no explicit love declaration (I seem somehow to have missed that omission).

For my own part, I have long argued that this insistence on the HEA is one of the reasons that romances are not generally taken seriously as literature, that and the tendency to leave ugly details out of the stories.

This if often defined as a necessary part of writing a genre which is by definition escapist.

Personally, I have never seen why a conditional happy ending or what it seems is known as the ‘HFN’ – Happy For Now – is often regarded as unacceptable.

Georg_Friedrich_Kersting_005_detailAfter all, even in a Heats and Rainbows traditional happy endng it is impossible to depict a limitless timing.  One assumes that generally (not inevitably) the hero and heroine are meant to be mortal; therefore, they will in the future either die early, or age. Either way, they must eventually shuffle off this mortal coil. Presumably, the average reader would rather not envisage the hero and heroine in their declining years, with  the hero, perhaps, forced to bolster up his wild curly black locks with a toupe, and the heroine sneaking on ‘controlling’ underwear to give the illusion of a sylph like figure..

Joking apart, what actually strikes me most about the Happy Ever After is that it only has to apply to the hero and the heroine. That might seem a comment on the obvious; but in a way, perhaps it reflects the ideology of our era?

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Just as the Grail legends reflect the frames of reference of the mediaeval mind, the ideology that underpinned feudalism – perhaps the Happy Ever After for an individual couple in romantic fiction is an indication of the ideology of capitalism – individualism – and therefore is equally a finite form of literature, at least in its present form?

It is no accident, surely, that the first romantic novel – ‘Pamela’ by Samuel Richardson – was written during the era of the rise of the manufacturing class as the dominant force in society.

pamela-faintin

 

Love stories, of course, go back to ancient times and hopefully will still be about far in the future; but as society evolves, how long the modern romance will continue in its present form is an intriguing question.

At the moment, it certainly is the most popular form of fiction, accounting for something like fifty per cent of the sales of ebooks on Amazon. But what have often been seen as the rigid boundaries surrounding the genre may be changing, as is mentioned in this article: –

http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2016/03/happily-never-after-and-the-changing-nature-of-the-romance-novel

This is embarrassing! I have just tried to get that link to come out six times, and I think I’m going to have to admit defeat and ask anyone interested to paste it into the search bar…

 

 

 

A Spoof Gothic Historical Romance Episode

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Now for some comic relief. Who’s for a Gothic historical romance, full of anachronisms (which the re-cycled characters know too well).

Scene: A castle in the wilds of Yorkshire, UK, on the moors.  Date – Regency

[ A darkly handsome and brooding man appears  at the bolt studded door holding a modern electric torch. Although it is October and there is a force eight gale blowing, he wears breeches but no shirt.]

Dastardly Duke:    Damn me! Where is the chit? She’s late.

[A footman appears. He, too, is dark and handsome. On seeing him, the Duke starts.]

Dastardly Duke:   Devil take me, not you!

Footman:     It ain’t my fault.  I’ve been demoted from being hero, see, for                  refusing to chase after the heroine after I packed her off,  so  there  wasn’t a Happy Ever After. The punishment was to be a wretched servant. So you’ve been promoted from Dashing Villain to hero? Well, in this story, there ain’t much difference. It’s not fair. I’m better looking than you, too.

Dastardly Duke: I can soon remedy that, you whoreson. I always hated your damned smug face and uneering aim with your flintlocks when you were the Earl of Darlington.  [Makes to seize him, but a sudden flash and jolt makes him drop the torch; the bulb goes out. He lets out a terrible oath] Ouch!

Footman:  [Addressing the sky) Is that the best he can do for foul
language? That’s the punishment for an anachronism in Historical Romances, Your Grace. New rules.

Dastardly Duke:   Go down to the wine cellar and fetch me some strong
liquor, curse you for a miserable, low born rogue.85px-Man's_coat_and_vest_with_metal-thread_embroidery_c._1800

Footman:  We’re out of tallow candles.

Dastardly Duke:  Then you’ll have to go down in the dark, and if you happen to slip in the dark and break your low born neck, what care I!

Footman:   Come to think of it, I don’t care either. The sooner I get to the end of this one, the better. Maybe by the next story, I’ll be allowed to be the Heroine’s Hopeless Admirer or her rakish brother instead of a mere commoner…[Goes off]

Dastardly Duke:  Do I hear horses hooves? Yes, it’s the Heroine
arriving at last. Hmm. I wonder who they’ve sent me? To tell the truth, ha, ha!
I’d like a voluptuous doormat by way of a change from these sharp tongued hoydenish redheads who’re the fashion these days. I haven’t had a Doormat Heroine in years, and that sort was such fun for a sadist like me. [Looks about almost nervously] Well, the term hasn’t been invented when this story’s set, even if old de Sade had been at it,  but I’m talking off camera, or microphone, as it were…And yes, I know they hadn’t been invented either.

[The Ducal carriage appears, accompanied by a roll of distant thunder. The Duke moves, with lithe, almost feline grace down the steps to hand down the heroine when the footman opens the door.]

Spirited Heroine:  Hello, there! Sorry, anachronism. Good morrow, Your Grace. I fear you must have interrupted your toilette, to be gracious enough to greet me, for you wear no shirt.Unless you’ve lost it from your back through desperate gambling.

Dastardly Duke: [ Sourly] No. I’m never gracious. That was just for the cover. Do you think I enjoy standing about half naked in this cursed climate? [Lets out another terrible oath as he takes a closer look at her.] Don’t say it is that awful six foot redhead with the smart repartee? Hell and damnation, it is.

Spirited Heroine:  Well, I can’t say I’m exactly ecstatic to see you, either. No matter; we’ll be falling in love before we are halfway through the book [here they are interrupted by one of the horses speaking before they are taken on to the stables].

Horse:  Can’t I have a foaming jug of ale?

Spirited Heroine  Lud!

Dastardly Duke;  &*^&&^(!!!!!!

Coachman:   He’s been doing that all the way from the coaching
house, Your Grace. It seems he was one of those
abusive heroes with the –ahem – I don’t like to say
in front of the young lady – ‘bruising kisses’ and
worse, back in the 1970’s, and so he’s been paying
his debt to the Romance Society ever since they went
out of fashion.120px-Ds_of_M

Spirited Heroine:  Is that so? [Rushes forward} The swine! Give me that whip!

Dastardly Duke:  [Catches her arm]  No, Miss Er, I can’t allow you to flog a dumb animal.

Horse:  We Alphas must stick together. Anyway, who’s a dumb animal? [Neighs piteously at a sudden flash and jolt] Ow! That hurt! That’s so unkind. Abusers need love, too…[The coachman cracks his whip and sets them off towards the stables].

Dastardly Duke:  Well, shall we get on with it? So, you are the new governess. I hope you won’t find it too lonely in this isolated spot, with only a grim widower for company, and a few retainers.

Spirited Heroine:   [Helping him on with his shirt] Not at all, Your Grace. I like the country. Besides, the handsome renumeration you offer, merely for the coaching of two small daughters …

[More distant thunder]

More Next Week…