Review: Writing Regency England [Non-fiction] by Jayne Davis and Gail Eastwood

Posted November 15, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is the book I wish I’d had when I first started writing Regencies seven years ago. In fact, I did no research at all for my first attempt, apart from steeping myself in Georgette Heyer’s entire catalogue and absorbing a great deal of information by osmosis. So, I just sat down to write. But there came a moment in the second book when my heroine was writing a letter. She finished it, set down her pen and reached for an envelope… Wait a minute. Envelopes? In the Regency? Vague memories surfaced of simply unfolding a letter (thank you, all those BBC costume dramas, but are they accurate?). So it’s off to the internet to look it up. The trouble with the internet is that it’s not Regency-focused, so you have to jump past paragraphs about aerograms and the US Civil War and Japanese envelope sizes before you get to the history of envelopes, and even then it has to be teased out of a deluge of irrelevant information. But by contrast, Writing Regency England says succinctly: ‘ Pre-made envelopes did not exist until after 1830, so letters were usually folded and secured by the use of sealing wax or a paste wafer.’ Perfect!

The book contains 16 chapters on topics roughly grouped into three categories: language, setting and society. As a native Brit myself, I probably won’t make use of the lists of American expressions or non-British flora and fauna, and I’ve been writing Regencies long enough to know the difference between barons and baronets, and heirs apparent and heirs presumptive, but there are still fascinating sections that I shall be using all the time. It’s 31st October – what can my hero shoot/stalk/hunt? [Answer: pheasant and wild ducks; red stags, fallow bucks and roe bucks in England; red hinds and roe does in Scotland]. What’s in flower in the garden? [Answer: asters, bizzie lizzies, dahlias, zinnias (amongst others), but not roses].

Among the most interesting chapters for me are the ones dealing with regional variations over England. There are also snippets about Britain’s other constituent parts like Wales and Scotland (Ireland isn’t covered, apart from the language). I’ve travelled about the country quite a bit, but without acquiring much idea of the different geographical features or how the houses differ from one region to another. All that is here, including place names, dialect, and the different terminology for things like rivers, hills and lakes, with pictures and maps, so you can see exactly what they’re talking about. And the authors never forget that the book is aimed at authors, so there are some wonderful suggestions for Regency-accurate ways to injure or even kill your characters!

But this book isn’t only useful to authors. I know there are many readers out there who care deeply about historical accuracy in the Regency romances you read, and even if you don’t, there must have been times when you looked up from a book thinking, “Wait a minute – was that really a thing then?” It can be frustrating not to know. And then one book shows a situation that another book depicts as being impossible, historically – so which is right? If you’ve ever wondered whether what you were reading was accurate or not, then this is the book to tell you.

So whether you’re an author or a reader, this book is highly recommended. I was given an advance copy to read, but I’ve bought it too – it will sit right beside my laptop as I write from now on. An excellent five stars.

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