Please 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!
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!
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.
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.
Some 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.
Giveaway: 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!