Specifically, Regency romances, that subgenre set in England between 1811 and 1820, when George III went mad and his son, the Prince Regent, later to become George IV, assumed the powers of the throne. These are the days of Napoleon, Wellington, and Waterloo, Beau Brummell, and dresses with waists so high women went in danger of their breasts falling out of their bodices.
It is also the time of (sound of trumpets here) Jane Austen, who wielded one of literature’s sharpest and wittiest pens. I heard someone say once that the saddest words in Pride and Prejudice are “the end.” What he said. The novel itself is always and ever your first stop, but Pride and Prejudice has also been made into film at least seven times. My favorite is the BBC series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but my guilty pleasure is Bride and Prejudice, director Gurinder Chadha’s Bollywood musical based on the novel. It’s as funny and smart as the original novel, which is saying something, and I defy you not to get up and dance in your pyjamas to “No Life Without Wife.”
That I lived when Georgette Heyer wrote is a gift for which I will be ever grateful. Start with The Unknown Ajax, with dueling valets Polyphant and Crimplesham and of course the incomparable Lady Aurelia, continue with Frederica and the only definition of romantic love that has ever made sense to me, and then for a change of pace read A Civil Contract, her most serious and I think her best novel. Sandringham, the British equivalent of West Point, used Heyer’s An Infamous Army to teach cadets about the battle of Waterloo, and I recommend reading the three books leading up to it, too: These Old Shades, The Devil’s Cub and Regency Buck. These are characters made of flesh and blood, this is dialogue sharp enough to cut yourself on, and these books are nothing less than a time machine that will transport you directly to Regency England. Accept no substitutes.
Well, okay, except for…
Jude Morgan’s novel Indiscretion is simply delightful, a book even Georgette Heyer would love. The plot is tried and true; the destitute Miss Caroline Fortune (a self-fullfilling name if there ever was one) accepts a position as paid companion to holy domestic terror Mrs. Catling, but this plot is elevated by a prose so delightful as to transcend the genre. Let the book fall open to any page and you are sure to encounter a paragraph you positively must reread, all the better to keep laughing, as on p. 33, “The Colonel, on his deathbed, urged me to retire to Bath when he was gone. I informed him that as I was neither decayed spinster, ambitious tradesman or disreputable fortune-hunter, I could not fall in with his wishes. He was not in a condition to laugh, but I flatter myself there was amusement in his respiration.” This, this is how the thing is done. A must read for any Heyer or Jane Austen fan.