Some Enchanted Evening …

I’ve been reading romance novels lately. This may surprise those of you who know my inclination to literary fiction, but I’ve been working on some romances, so I decided to brush up on the form. And there are a lot of romance forms (think … contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, and on and on). Jane Austen was a pioneer of the romance genre, so if you want an introduction, it’s a good place to start.

Aside from Austen, my first exposure to a romance novel was in high school, when my dear friend Margaret introduced me to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. (Set during the period of the English Regency, roughly 1795–1837, Regency romances are a distinct genre from historical romances.)

As we say in the vernacular: OMG. I was hooked. I read them all. Repeatedly. Then high school came to an end and I moved on.

So because I’m working on romances, I decided to revisit Heyer, and was not disappointed. Aside from her scrupulous research on the period, she offers a very clear lesson in how to construct a novel. And although a student of contemporary writing conventions will note some “broken rules” (Heyer uses adverbial dialogue tags, for example, a no-no in today’s editorial world), that student should remind herself these books were written between 1921 and 1972. Heyer sets up a scene and then leaves it at precisely the right moment. Her vocabulary is exquisite. And her dialogue is just to die for. Consider this conversation from Regency Buck; it is so delightful I laughed out loud when I read it. (The following is transcribed from page 79 of a 1967 mass market paperback from Bantam Books, although it was originally published in 1935.)

In this scene, twenty-year-old Judith Taverner is annoyed with the Earl of Worth, her guardian (her parents are deceased). Lord Worth has sent Judith a letter that infuriates her; by return post, she demands that he explain himself. Shortly thereafter, Worth appears at Judith’s home. He riles her up first by saying he doesn’t understand what has upset her.

She said coldly: “In that letter which you are holding you write that there is no possibility of your consenting to my marriage within the year of your guardianship.”

“Well, what could be plainer than that?” inquired the Earl.

“I am at a loss to understand you, sir. Certain applications have been made to you for—for permission to address me.”

“Three,” nodded his lordship. “The first was Wellesley Poole, but him I expected. The second was Claud Delabey Brown, whom I also expected. The third—now who was the third? Ah yes, it was young Matthews, was it not?”

“It does not signify, sir. What I wish you to explain is how you came to refuse these gentlemen without even the formality of consulting my wishes.”

“Do you want to marry one of them?” inquired the Earl solicitously. “I hope it is not Browne. I understand that his affairs are too pressing to allow him to wait until you are come of age.”

Miss Taverner controlled her tongue with a visible effort. “As it happens, sir, I do not contemplate marriage with any of these gentlemen,” she said. “But you had no means of knowing that when you refused them.”

“To tell you the truth, Miss Taverner, your wishes in the matter do not appear to me to be of much importance. I am glad, of course, that your heart is not broken,” he added kindly.

“My heart would scarcely be broken by your refusal to consent to my marriage, sir. When I wish to be married I shall marry, with or without your consent.”

“And who,” asked the Earl, “is the fortunate man?”

“There is no one,” said Miss Taverner curtly. “But—”

The Earl took out his snuff-box, and opened it. “But my dear Miss Taverner, are you not being a trifle indelicate? You are not proposing, I trust, to command some gentleman to marry you? The impropriety of such an action must strike even so masterful a mind as yours.”

Miss Taverner’s eyes were smouldering dangerously. “What I wish to make plain to you, Lord Worth, is that if any gentleman whom I—if anyone should ask me to marry him whom I—you know very well what I mean!”

He smiled. “Yes, Miss Taverner, I know what you mean. But keep my letter by you, for it tells you just as plainly what I mean.”

Oh, be still my heart.

I know that Regency romance may not be everyone’s cup of tea (ha) but if you’d like a stroll through history—or if you’re writing romance—take a tutorial with Georgette Heyer.

Tweet: Some enchanted evening: I’ve been reading romance!

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6 Comments

  1. Surprising bit of humor! :)

  2. Sarah Thomas says:

    I LOOOOOVE Georgette Heyer. With a name like that, you almost have to write Regency romance. Thanks for reminding me about her. I could use some witty dialogue and elegant romance.

  3. I have recorded a few audiobook versions of romance stories and, along with the middle-aged, married studio engineer, THRILLED with every turn of the page! It is an honorable genre, featuring many skilled writers.

    Helpful and practical post, Jamie. Keep ’em coming!

    • jamiechavez says:

      Thank you! And yes, I agree, there are many skilled writers in this genre who don’t always get the respect they deserve.