A few days ago, I began reading what I am sure will be the first regency novel I will ever finish in Jane Eyre. There is something of a mystery in all the secrets that I know and do not know. There has been a resurgence in the recent years of regency into the mainstream, although I am unsure that it ever truly disappeared entirely from the public eyes. Primarily, these novels now seem to live in nothing but the romance genre. I wonder, however, if that is essential to what makes them. I realized I am not sure what the title of regency really means when it is applied as a genre and I wished to uncover the truth of where it comes from and what it has become.
The regency genre can be characterized as novels pertaining to the time period with which it shares its name, the regency era, a period of time between 1790 to 1830, especially involving those of the upper classes and the subtleties of such a court. So what was going on during this time period? Well, in reality, the regency period was really only around nine years from around 1811 to 1820, from the appointment of George IV as Prince Regent after his father King George III was declared mad. In the nine years between the appointment as Regent and the coronation of a new king, the aristocracy flourished and found themselves often in high fashion. There was also a vast difference between the income and wealth of the upper classes and the lower classes during this time period that, while often overlooked in early Regency literature, has become a more prevalent focus in more recent works.
So what is it that defines a regency novel or piece of literature? Well, when we are thinking of Regency, we think of the classics such as ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ that provided a model for the latter and even some modern Regency works. Because of it being nestled into the Romantic period of literature, it often takes on characteristics of such a movement. Often these novels will focus on things such as marriage and wealth as well as fashion. Another important feature of these novels may be the look at the reputation that is often linked to position within the high society of the upper classes of the time. Often times marriage, wealth, and fashion all contribute to public appearance as well ‘proper relations’.
It is strange to think a type of literature that emerged in such a short period of time can be so long-lasting. It is also strange to find that many of the messages, ideas, and such still make sense in a much changed modern society. There is still importance placed on wealth, appearance, status, and connections, even if we are not willing to admit such a thing to ourselves. How much has our society really changed, if these things still guide us? Has our society changed or have we simply become a less extreme version of what we once were?