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On the Threshold, Edmund Blair Leighton

Regency romances are a subgenre of romance novels set during the period of the English Regency or early 19th century. Rather than simply being versions of contemporary romance stories transported to a historical setting, Regency romances are a distinct genre with their own plot and stylistic conventions that derive from the works of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and from the fiction genre known as the novel of manners. In particular, most Regencies feature a great deal of intelligent, fast-paced dialog between the protagonists and very little explicit sex or discussion of sex.[1]

However, it is not true that Regency romances never feature sex; such authors as Sandra Heath, Anita Mills, and Mary Balogh were the first to show sexual relations between the hero and heroine (or more rarely, between the hero and his mistress). Nor were Regencies invariably frothy period pieces. Such authors as Balogh, Carla Kelly, Sheila Bishop, and Mary Jo Putney all depicted the underbelly of Regency society, exploring a variety of social ills. Some authors featured seriously troubled heroes and heroines, suffering from post-battle trauma, alcoholism, depression, and the like.[2][3]

Other common elements of Regency romances include:

  • mystery or farce elements in the plot
  • references to the Ton (le bon ton)
  • a secondary romance between another couple in addition to the more serious story involving the main protagonists
  • mistaken identity, deliberate or otherwise
  • false engagements
  • marriages of convenience
  • depictions of activities common during the social season such as balls, routs, carriage riding, theatre events, fittings, suppers, assemblies, etc.
  • references to, or descriptions of, leisure activities engaged in by fashionable young men of the period, including riding, driving, boxing, gambling, fencing, shooting, etc.

Like other fiction genres and subgenres, Regencies experience cyclic popularity swings. The last two major US publishers to produce the shorter "Traditional" Regencies regularly were Zebra and Signet. This ended in 2005, when Zebra stopped their traditional Regency line, and early 2006, when Signet ended its Regencies. There are few "Traditional" Regencies now published in the US; some of the few publishers that still do so are Avalon Books, Berkeley Books, Five Star Books, Cerridwen Press (Cotillion) and (according to some) the Harlequin Historical line. Regencies are still available through the second-hand book market, and online as e-books, via Belgrave House (which publishes out-of-print books) and Cerridwen Press.

The readership waned during the 1990s with the rise of historical romances (and the switch of many Regency writers to the historical genre). In the early 2000s, both Regencies and other historical romances lost popularity in favor of contemporary settings. The market, nearly entirely in the United States, was also hurt by changes in distributing and retailing romances.

The Regency subgenre changed somewhat during the 1990s and 2000s under pressure from a changing reader base. While long-time readers balked at a corresponding increase in sensuality, some publishers tried to keeping the subgenre afloat until the next upturn in the popularity of Regency romances by appealing to a new generation of readers while still delivering the witty and clever plotlines loyal readers love.

Well-known Regency romance authors include Georgette Heyer, Barbara Cartland, Marion Chesney, Mary Balogh, Loretta Chase, Carla Kelly and Elizabeth Mansfield. Of these, Cartland, Heyer and Mansfield are deceased, Chesney now writes detective novels whilst Balogh and Chase write Regency historical (which are actually Regencies in disguise, according to some readers and reviewers).


  1. ^ Toth, Emily (1998), Wilma Mankiller, Gwendolyn Mink, Marysa Navarro, Barbara Smith, and Gloria Steinem, ed., "Romance Novel", The Reader's COmpanion to U.S. Women's History (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company): p. 519, ISBN 0395671736  
  2. ^ Laurie Gold. "At the Back Fence" Issue 205, 1 August 2005. All About Romance. [1]
  3. ^ Karen Wheless. "A Reader on Regencies" All About Romance.. with responses from readers included. [2]

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