The Beau Monde is pleased to begin our year-long celebration of the 80th anniversary of Regency romance with an article by Alina K. Field on the very first Regency romance novel, Regency Buck. Alina is a Regency romance author herself, as well as a Regency romance reader, and she brings both viewpoints to her discussion of this seminal Regency romance novel.
We invite our visitors to post comments sharing their views on this article and the book which gave us our favorite romance genre.
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From Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester
My favorite books have a romance, a bit of mystery, and at least one secondary character who makes me laugh, and I found all those elements in Regency Buck. When I discovered my 1966 Bantam Books edition in a used book store, I had no idea this was the first Regency romance novel. How I wish I had read it before I wrote and sold my first Regency.
Besides the pleasure of the author’s voice and the story, Georgette Heyer brings the Regency story world to life. It’s as if she poured all of her research into this book, from the opening page’s post-chaise-and-four, to the historical figures of the Prince Regent, the Royal Dukes, and Beau Brummell, and the strict social etiquette of the ton. Heyer’s lengthy scenes of a boxing match, a cockfight, and a curricle race are goldmines of information.
Reading those scenes, I could hear an invisible editor whispering quietly: they don’t move the story along, you don’t need all of this. Cut. Cut.
But as a Regency fan, I find the wealth of detail intriguing. As an author, I’m humbled to watch a master incorporate her vast research into an engaging, humorous, and to my taste, well-paced tale.
If you haven’t read this book, let me share a bit about it. The romance begins with an unwelcome kiss and plays out with all the wit and subtlety of a 1930s’ romantic comedy. Besides the fact that the heroine, Judith Taverner despises the hero, Lord Worth, they cannot be together because she is his ward, at least for the next several months until her twenty-first birthday. In spite of that first kiss, stolen before he knew her identity, Worth is a man of honor—he is worth-y—and he will not pursue a romance with the young heiress while he serves as her guardian.
Does Worth, after meeting the delectable Judith, dispense with a mistress? We are not told. When he kisses her, is it on the cheek or the lips? We are not told. There is much touching of chins, and cheeks, and hands, subtle cues to the characters’ feelings, that any author writing at any "heat" level can learn from.
Heyer does go deep into Judith’s point of view, but not so with Worth. He is not one of our smoldering, wounded, modernly-written heroes. He’s more like another early 1930s’ character, Nick Charles, of The Thin Man, always ready with a droll comment or clever quip for his rebellious ward.
Heyer brings humor through this sparkling dialogue, and through the depiction of the heroine’s younger brother, Sir Peregrine Taverner. Wealthy and impulsive, nineteen-year-old Peregrine throws himself into the sporting and social life of the ton, restrained only by his guardian, Worth.
Besides the romance between twenty-year-old Judith and the thirty-something Worth there is a mystery. A string of attempts on the life of Peregrine are told in bloodless cozy mystery fashion, and, because Peregrine is involved, with wry humor. To protect him from the last attempt on his life, an abduction, Worth doses Peregrine with laudanum and packs him off to his private yacht.
Peregrine is only momentarily fazed. With his usual gusto, he plunges enthusiastically into yachting and plagues Worth to allow him to buy his own vessel.
"…sailing a yacht, you know, has even curricle-racing beat to a standstill. I like it better, at all events."
"I hope you do it better," commented the Earl.
"Well, I believe I shall," said Peregrine eagerly. "And that is what I wanted to ask you. Nothing will ever satisfy me until I may have a yacht of my own! Pray do not say no!"
Peregrine is the character who stuck with me. Peregrine is the "Regency Buck."
While I like a humorous secondary character to break the intense emotion of a romance, Peregrine’s mad dash about England upstages the already muted central love story, turning Regency Buck into a different kind of story than a straight romance. Still, when I finished this book the first time, I knew it would be a keeper worth reading again, to look more closely at Heyer’s development of Judith and Worth’s romance, to have a smashing time at a boxing match and cock fight, and in general to enjoy the Regency story world, told 1930s’ style.
I love Heyer’s voice, and I think Regency Buck is a well-crafted story, but what do you think? I know others may have different opinions or insights, and I’d love to hear them.
Alina K. Field is the author of two Regency romances, Bella’s Band, and the 2014 Book Buyer’s Best Contest winner in the novella category, Rosalyn’s Ring.