I fell in love with Sarah M. Eden’s writing while reading the Whitney Award Finalists a couple years ago.
Her Regency romance novel, "Seeking Persephone" (then self-published, and now republished by Covenant Communications), was a delight to read. It was reminiscent of a Jane Austen novel, but oh-so-much easier to digest. Don’t get me wrong. The writing was wonderful, and the research impeccable, but the presentation was a bit more reader-friendly to the modern reader such as myself.
Eden, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, started writing Regencies when she couldn’t find any recently published ones that were free from explicit material. Yes, there are the greats like Georgette Heyer, who wrote clean regencies for the most part, but I’ve heard on good authority that many Regency novels can get quite steamy.
Since 2010, Eden has published three more regencies through Covenant Communications (which is also my publisher), including "Courting Miss Lancaster," "The Kiss of a Stranger," and "Friends and Foes," with "An Unlikely Match" due out this fall. And remarkably, all of Eden’s books have been successful in the Mormon market. Or perhaps not so remarkably after all.
Always a bit on the nosy side, I noticed that with the success of Eden’s novels, other Mormon authors and LDS publishers started looking more closely at the niche genre. Author Heidi Ashworth writes Regency romances for national publisher, Avalon Books, but not until Eden’s 2010 release had it appeared that any LDS publishers tried their hand.
In 2011, Walnut Springs Press, a boutique LDS publisher, released "Lydia" by Wanda Luce. Also in 2011, Cedar Fort re-released "Marian’s Christmas Wish" by the notable two-time Rita Award Winning author, Carla Kelly, with more on the way.
Finally, but not surprisingly, Shadow Mountain, imprint of Deseret Book, has released "Edenbrooke" by debut author Julianne Donaldson, and promoting it as a top title. The newest Regency to hit the market by an LDS writer is "The Duke’s Undoing," self-published by award-winning author G.G. Vandagriff, who is otherwise known for her genealogy mystery series, epic historicals, and women’s fiction.
I’m thrilled that LDS publishers are offering Regency romances written by Mormon authors because of the clean-read factor, but I’m also curious as to why an author, such as Vandagriff, made the genre jump, and why this genre appeals to readers.
Regencies, which are typically set in the early 1800s in England, are known for their humor, for their heroines who battle against “stiff judgments” of an upper-crust society, and for characters and plot that operate within a strict societal structure. Yes, it’s definitely an escape from the many dark and depressing things around us, both in modern-day life and in reading histories.
While reading the handful of Regencies, I found myself laughing at the humorous moments and shaking my head at some ridiculous notions that are contrived by society. And, of course, I escaped some of my worries for a few hours, which helped me gain a better perspective of how to keep the important things important.
Regencies emphasize themes such as love and values and family — not stressing over things we can’t control — which translates to money and titles and property in the Regency world.
I marveled as the heroines battled against the "proper society views" and being criticized when they stood up for what was good and moral. It reminded me of life today in which I sometimes assume too quickly and judge too harshly. I thought of how I should become more compassionate and less concerned about "church images" and should strive to focus more on what really needs to be done in life.
Perhaps some of this is why Regencies have struck a chord with LDS authors and now LDS readers.
When I asked Vandagriff why she shifted to the Regency genre, she shared a blog post with me in which she explained, “I have been reading of the Regency period and its shibboleths since my teens, and its rules bring comfort to the chaos of modern life. Not that I wish I lived in those times! Far from it. But I found great delight in creating characters who managed to live with (and around) those rules.”
Donaldson sees the appeal of the Regency era due to the "romance of restraint and the elegance of days gone by.
"It appeals to the best within us, and reading a Regency is a way to escape our modern world into a world where women were ladies and men were gentlemen," Donaldson said.
Eden pointed to the popularity of the Regency era as it was one in turmoil of war, socioeconomic upheaval with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and political tensions with England and Ireland along with the lower classes.
"But the upper class had a desperate death grip on the way of life they'd always known: balls, lavish parties, expensive clothes, leisurely days, wealth laid at their feet. Their land and money and subsequent power wouldn't last much longer and those who were smart were beginning to make changes," Eden said. "And, despite the war raging for two decades, the fighting never actually reached England, so you have the tension and worry that accompanies a country full of families who have loved ones off fighting, without the daily struggle of survival that comes from living in a battle field. Anytime a historian can set a book against an historical backdrop that is already this rife with conflict and contradiction, that is a dream come true.”
It made sense to me, but there are lots of eras full of turmoil, so when asked why she thought readers enjoy the Regency era so much, Eden responded, “Besides Mr. Darcy?”
“For readers, I think it's all about Society (capital S!)," Eden said. "Historicals give readers a chance to escape to another place and time, to experience life in a different context."
Regency era is recent enough that is easy to catch on to the customs and traditions but the rules of the upper class had many rules, requirements and rituals that it's "fascinatingly" different, she added.
"Plus, this era is just plain fun. The women wore fancy dresses and danced all night at balls and were courted by men dressed in their finery, their manners flawless," Eden said. "This is part of the reason readers still love Jane Austen. The Regency genre gives those readers a chance to have more of it!”
Well, that might throw out my theory of LDS readers relating to the Regency era because we live in a very structured society as well. But, I completely agree with Eden. What woman doesn’t want to wear a decadently fancy dress to a ball at least once in her life?
My final summation of why the Regency genre is making huge strides in the LDS publishing world? Two words: Regency rocks.
Heather B. Moore is a Best of State and Whitney Award Winning author for her historical novels, several which have been published through Covenant Communications. Her website is at www.hbmoore.com.
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