I read my first romance novel somewhere around twelve, and from then on I was hooked. However, it took another thirty years for me to read my first historical romance because, frankly, they didn’t interest me. Odd, I suppose, considering I was a history teacher but then again, for me history had always been such a serious topic. I had studied it at both school and university, then went on to make my living from it. Why would I want to spend my precious leisure time reading more of it?
Then one day I was ill with flu and one of the TV channels was showing back to back episodes of the famous BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I had not seen it when it was originally shown, I was busy having my first baby, so I watched it to see what all the hype was about. Within the first few scenes I was mesmerised. And it was Mr Darcy who held me transfixed. There was something intriguing about the granite stiffness and formality, especially when you stared deeply into Colin Firth’s eyes. Because those eyes, or rather all the swirling, repressed emotions behind them, gave me a window into that world I had never considered before.
I know everyone raves about the wet shirt scene. Hey! I’m human too, and certainly not immune to the sight of Colin Firth draped in translucent, dripping linen. However, it was not the scene which made me fall head over heels in love with the character. It was another. Miss Bennett is at Pemberley turning the music pages for Mr Darcy’s sister as she plays the piano. And he looks at her. He’s still so stiff you could turn him sideways and use him to saw wood, he’s still painfully formal, but nobody ever gazed at a woman with so much unrequited adoration and longing as Colin did at that precise moment. It makes me positively melt every time I watch it.
From that moment on, I was hooked. The first Regency romance I read was To Catch an Heiress by the brilliant Julia Quinn. Since then, according to my Kindle library, I have read over five hundred others. What I love about the Regency is the strict codes of conduct and etiquette which governed everyday life.
The people had to behave in a certain way, and adhere to the rules of propriety, which must have been stifling. In a modern romance, a kiss is no big deal. Not in the grand scheme of things, because kissing is no longer frowned upon.
In the Regency, a kiss could mean complete ruination, so it was a Big Deal. Anything beyond a kiss was a REALLY BIG DEAL, therefore to get to that point, the heroine has to knock down the fortress of restraint she has built around herself because the hero is worth the risk.
The characters in a Regency almost have to play two separate roles. The polite, proper façade they present to the outside world hides the inner human, with all of the faults, frailties and emotions bottled up inside. I love to peer inside their heads, examine what they are really thinking- their angst, their hopes and dreams, their biggest fears- anticipating the moment when all of those hidden aspects of their personalities will all bubble, uncontrollably to the surface. And when they do… Wow!
The best part of Pride and Prejudice is the fact that Mr Darcy is one of the toughest nuts to crack. But the feisty Miss Bennett manages to break through that impenetrable outer shell to really see the man who lies beneath. The coolest thing of all is only she gets to see that. When I came to write my books, that is exactly what I wanted to achieve, so it was inevitable I would choose to write Regencies.
So thank-you Mr Darcy… I owe you.