Guest Post: On Regency Correctness #AustenInAugustRBR

glasses picturePlease welcome Suzan Luauder of “Road Trips with the Redhead” who is here to talk to us about regency correctness.  Be sure to read all the way through for a special treat!

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The war of words serves is merely a starting point in the quest for Austen-inspired Regency romance writers to create the feel of the era. Yet they forge ahead, checking suspects within their prose against the Online Etymology Dictionary, and tossing aside average language like okay, hello, and gotten—all Americanisms from much later than the Regency—as well as the language of the romance novelist, including décolleté, fiancé, potent, and feisty, all coined later than the period in question, 1811-1820. The story may take place in an even tighter time line; most are 1811-1812, to coincide with the time line of Pride and Prejudice!

595px-Beer_bottle_sealed_with_a_cork_and_muselet (1)Some novelists push it to the limit, checking every little detail with inexhaustible fervour, including use of British spellings, since the story takes place in England. Others are mavericks, sneaking in contraband like muselet (1844), gobsmacked (1985), and burped (1932)—only because they’re the very bestest words for the situation, and a meticulous search for alternates led to boredom in the world of prose.

The trouble is, the more magical (say it isn’t so!) Victorian era saw the coining of thousands of new words and expressions, many within a few years of the death of the insane King George III, which ended the Regency, since his son, the Prince Regent, ascended the throne as King George IV. Now the Austenites get excited—you mean Jane Austen’s death didn’t end the Regency? Impossible!

Then on to technology: austenite is a type of stainless steel grain. Sorry, that’s a bit far off the topic! Hold on; technology is a mid-20th century word! There—back on track!

Poor dear Jane Austen never saw train travel or paved roads. Her home was lit by candles, because gas lighting was new, and used in only a few locations in London. She listened to a forte piano, since the modern piano came years later; wrote with a quill pen that had no metal nib; and used a chamber pot that was kept under her bed, as the water closet was not a regular household item—yet.

“A Regency Lady Writing (from Ackermann’s Repository for Art)”

And fashion: Take pity on that poor Regency romance novelist whose cover included a heroine with a zipper on the back of her gown! There was no elastic, either, and buttons were expensive. But underwear was exciting: it had baleen to stiffen it—the stuff whales use to filter water into their mouths. Okay, there’s something gross about the visual! But that was just her corset. She wore no panties. Way grosser.

On the Jane Austen fan fiction web site, A Happy Assembly, a year doesn’t go by without at least three new threads complaining of being jarred out of the magical Regency experience because Mr. Darcy rode his horse from Longbourn to Pemberley in a day in yet another story. Everyone knows he’d have a dead horse by London if he pushed it at that speed! Even if he had a well-hung, uhm, well-sprung carriage, it was a three-day trip, and horses had to be changed every 20 miles or so.

But wait—another pet peeve rears its ugly head! London is not on the way! Shame on the innocent writer who forgot to consult their geography map, the special one that shows all the fictional locations of Austen’s novels.

Let the botanists and zoologists have their day too: make sure the flowers were actually cultivated at that time, and blooming at the right time of year, and never mention a racoon or hummingbird. And worms—well, they’re something else altogether in Hertfordshire.

unnamedSome question why bother to go to such great lengths when many readers don’t realize the errors, and others say an anachronism jars them out of the story. I suppose it depends on how severe the anachronism is. “Plead the fifth” is my favourite error: an actual quote from a Regency romance set in England. In that case, an about-face is called for, even if that’s from 1861.

As a novelist, a huge part of the job is words, and I enjoy the part where you discover how word use changed over time, and the challenge of getting the right word is as much like solving a mystery or puzzle as it is about integrity of one’s works. So, dear colleagues, learn to laugh and joke about the ones that went sideways instead of grumbling about the difficulty of writing in a different time in history or eschewing the responsibility to the reader. It’s a metaphor for life.

Alias Thomas Bennet 1263 x 900Giveaway:  One lucky winner (who is a pre-registered participant of our Austen in August event) will receive a signed copy of Suzan Lauder’s novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, along with one reticule from The Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment PLUS one custom-made Regency lace cap! Ends August 31.

What an interesting post and fun giveaway idea. Thanks so much, Suzan, and good luck to all entrants!  To enter: just leave a comment on this post saying you’d love a signed copy of Suzan’s book plus swag! 

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34 thoughts on “Guest Post: On Regency Correctness #AustenInAugustRBR

  1. Thank you for this perspective! While most of the time I dont worry too much about the details, I have to admit that sometimes I do wonder if something was actually done or said in Regency time. We wont even go into spelling errors. As an example, a JAFF I was reading on the beach yesterday referred to Cinderella as a common reference. Your article reminded me I meant to check that when I had a computer available…
    great article and fun giveaway

    • I admit when I read as a beta reader (free line editor), I see far more non-Regency words than I do when I read for my own enjoyment. Not that the authors use more non-Regency words, it’s just that it’s my job to help the author find them. I also can claim guilt in suggesting an alternate to the author, who responded by telling me it was from 1833! But unless it’s blatant and easy to correct, I don’t mind when enjoying a good read! I’ll check Cinderella, too! Thanks for the comment!

    • If gobsmacked is in a romance, it should be accompanied by a soundtrack featuring Tears for Fears! Thanks for the comment!

  2. What a delightful post! The quest for the mot juste is indeed part of the fun, but you are wise indeed to remind us not to make it an obsession.

    • Goodness, it’s so easy to become obsessed, too! Once in a while I go through multiple iterations to find the word I want, and settle on something simple. I guess I’m Mr. Darcy at heart, and those four-syllable words enthrall me! Thanks for the comment!

  3. This post made me laugh! But it must really be challenging as an author to keep out the anachronisms. I appreciate those who do make the effort, even if some slip in by mistake. And oh — thanks for the amazing giveaway! I would love a chance at all those things. 🙂

    • It’s good to keep a sense of humour about it, Lory, or you might tear your hair out. I know some slip in my mistake, but we do try, and readers appreciate that the scene is set so they have the feeling of being part of the era. Good luck on the give-away and thank you for your comment!

  4. Wouldn’t that suppose that the roads would lead directly from Derbyshire to Hertfordshire, and thence where ever the mythical Meryton was, for it to not needed to go to London first? It is possible that for coach travel, and inns, it would have been faster to go directly to London (and maybe necessary for many reasons know to the author) than to go to Meryton first. When I travel to relatives in the middle of Louisiana, I cannot abide the shorted, direct route. It is slower and full of tractors and farmers and other irritating people. I prefer to go the longer, faster and less stressful route on I-10 and I-49. If there is an accident on the shorter route, I will be much delayed as there is no alternate route from there. The same could very well be possible for our Regency travelers. 🙂

    • That’s a good point, except that the major huge main highway, “The Great North Road” (now route A1), which featured numerous coaching inns along its path, went from London, through Hatfield in Hertfordshire, all the way to Edinburgh! Derbyshire was just a bit west of its route. Of course, there were other ways to get from Derbyshire to London, but it’s akin to driving from through Louisiana to get from Mississippi to Indiana. There were far fewer small routes, and the conditions could be bad. Roads were very simply constructed in comparison to what we’re accustomed to, even in a very rural area today. Thanks for the comment!

      • Hah! Change ‘is’ to ‘as’ and you get what (I think) youn meant. I didn’t catch it at first, unfortunately, and haven’t been at my computer to correct it. Trying to do so from my phone would just cause a bigger mess.

  5. Interesting post, although I’m one of the readers who doesn’t usually notice the errors. And I’d love to win a copy of Alias Thomas Bennet.

    • Thanks, Carol! The newer the author, the more appreciative they’d be of your comment, as many are all nerves at inadvertent mistakes! We love to read, and each of us has our preferences. That’s why it’s good there are so many books out there! Good luck on the draw.

  6. I love posts like this and I admit I kind of enjoy looking up the etymology of words or phrases as I read, to see whether or not they’re period-appropriate. Most of the time I don’t get too judgey about it but nothing throws me out of a regency story like seeing “okay”!

    • Monica, I’m similar to you. Part of it is the fun of discovering how the words fit into history. So many changed their meanings, so it’s tricky. I like that you aren’t judgey about the unusual ones, but know the ones most authors should easily correct! Thanks and good luck!

  7. If the story is engrossing I will forgive most inaccuracies.

    Whoops on the zipper though.

    Count me in thank you.

    • I wish I remember the name of Zipper Author. She wrote a blog post about it. Since then, she’s become quite knowledgeable about Regency correctness, and tries very hard on her own work, but sends the message: This could be you, and if it happens, the best thing to do is laugh and learn. I was very impressed by her attitude! Good luck on the give-away!

  8. This was great! I loved reading it and when I read the word “gobsmacked” I just about spit out my drink 🙂 That is hilarious. Wonderful guest post on a very unique subject! And I will still believe the Regency died with Jane Austen even if it’s not true 🙂

    • Hahaha! I assume you were aware it’s a very new word? I had no idea, nor did most of my author friends. The author who chose to use it tried hard to find something that had the same impact, and the last I heard, she had decided to have an otherwise historically correct novel, with that one exception. I guess it’s like using a Tears for Fears song in a story set in 1949. Some authors say the message is more important in some instances, and that’s their choice. Trouble with Regency ending with Dear Jane Austen is we miss the flamboyant gowns of the later Regency period! Thanks for taking the time to comment, Erika!

  9. Charles Perrault wrote a Cinderella story in French in the late 17th century. He used the name Cendrillon. It is possible there was an English translation that used the name Cinderella, but I found no evidence of it. The tale did refer to the French for cinders. The Grimm’s stories were written in German during the Regency period(1812). I doubt anyone had done an English translation that was readily available using the name Cinderella. I used Perrault’s stories extensively in ‘Goodly Creatures,’ but not Cinderella. Elizabeth read them in French.

    • Thank you for the answer to my question. I had seen that the story was in existence but couldn’t find that it had been in common usage in England at the time. This is why I love the JA community! There is always someone who both knows the answer and is gracious enough to share.

    • Thanks, Beth! I knew the story’s origins were French, but I had no idea of the time-line. I thought it had to be close to the Regency, since Rossini was writing opera during that time, and a favourite of mine is the comedy, La Cenerentola. Turns out it’s from 1817, but didn’t reach London until 1820, so Austen would have missed it. I’ve only seen it once live, about 25 years ago. It always pains me when I realized what wonderful music she missed.

  10. When I wrote my Regency romances, I did boatloads of research and tried to get things right, but some eagle-eyed reader would always find something I missed! As for language, American writers are not always aware that certain words are Americanisms. And even when we DO know, our American copy editors may not. I can’t tell you how many times my GOT was changed to GOTTEN. I would “stet” the change, and then it would show up again in the galleys. One of my editors once told me we had to assume our American readers would think it sounded wrong, so they would always change it. Grrrr. Then there was the copy editor who changed the form of address of a major secondary character from Lord Firstname (he was the son of a Duke) to Lord Lastname throughout the book. Again, I used “stet” to ignore her changes, but it just made it more clear to me that American copy editors don’t always take the time to learn this stuff, and resort to what “sounds” right. So please, don’t always blame the author. Yes, there are some authors, and I’ve read many of them, who don’t take the time to do the research and then are edited by copy editors who don’t bother to find out what’s correct. Most authors I know, however, make an effort to get things right. But we all mess up from time to time.

    Candice Hern

    • Absolutely! I was lucky to have a pretty good editing team. I’d done my homework, but had a plot hole on primogeniture (inheritance law). I’d gotten a bit mixed up about the identity of my protagonist! Those who have read “Alias Thomas Bennet” will understand. The error still exists in the originally posted version at A Happy Assembly, so those who have read only that one should think hard–it’s near the end. No one, other than my line editor, has ever caught the error (to my knowledge).

      I have hundreds of bookmarks and a ten-page list of non-Regency words, but I’m still learning, and even then, it’s easy to forget.

      As a beta, I had to tell my friend that she had to change a dear character’s name since it was wrong to call the wife of an Earl “Lady Firstname.” She knew, and was set to do it, but thankfully listened to several people who had her best interests in mind–some reviewers will slaughter you for it! For those who need a reference, this is a commonly used one: http://laura.chinet.com/html/titles12.html

      Nice to hear from you, Candice, as your blog has been one of many valuable references for my writing, and I’ve enjoyed your books, too. I covet some of your collection items!

  11. Great post! I find it incredibly funny that they were so proper and yet they went commando. 😉

    I would love to win a ove a signed copy of Suzan’s book plus swag. Thanks for the chance!

  12. Thanks! Some things about history are hard to absorb, they’re so foreign to our experience! Good luck on the draw.

  13. YES. I so appreciate this post! One of my favorite parts about writing anything through a historical lens is doing the research and making sure the words, food, clothing, locations, etc. are correct and relevant. I can’t tell you how badly I am turned off to a story by anachronisms.

    I would love a copy of your book, Suzan, and all of the fun Regency swag! Thanks for the great post.

  14. Writers and readers of historical fiction are fascinated with the history; that’s what drew them to the genre in the first place. What may have been an interest in allowing their minds to go to one of those huge English National Trust homes with long gowns and tailcoats has a tendency to grow once other implications of the specific time in history are considered. It’s fun, but there’s a certain responsibility for the writers when the readers’ knowledge makes them demand accuracy, at least for the most part!

    Good luck on the draw! I don’t know of any anachronisms in my book–I even researched back story that didn’t get in! Of course, if you can’t find a fact, in some cases, an author can be vague around it!

  15. I really enjoyed this post, I do get bothered by the error of the ways of JAFF writers The things that they have people say and do sometimes I wonder if they truly have studied this period at all. I do stand enlightened however, I did not even know some of the things in this article and am so glad to have now learned them. Thank you for the post and I hope to be included in the drawing.

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