By Felicity George, 8th September 2022

Embracing the Past – Regency Romance

From Guilty Pleasure to Guiltless Romance

From Guilty Pleasure to Guiltless Romance

‘Babe,’ I said to my husband one lazy Sunday afternoon in the waning days of the pandemic, when the world was slowly opening up again. We lay side-by-side while an autumn breeze rustled the scarlet maple leaves outside our bedroom window. ‘Would you attend a Regency ball with me?’

Now, for those already entrenched in the world of Regency Romance, this might not have been a strange conversation to have with a partner, but for me, it felt like a risk.

Prior to the pandemic, I had ‘guilty pleasures’ which I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about. One such secret shame was my obsession with the fashion and history of the Georgian era; a second was my love of romance novels set in the eighteenth century and the Regency; and a third was my deep, dark desire to write my own novel. When the world went into lockdown and I lost my creative outlet of teaching drama, I had to do something artistic or risk running out of my house, screaming down Toronto’s eerily empty streets.

Without looking up from his iPad, where he fought cartoon zombies with pea-shooting plants, my husband replied, ‘Let’s do it.’

To give him credit, he’s often eager for an adventure, although when I ask him to put his dirty socks in the hamper rather than on the floor, he’s less enthusiastic. Nor was it the first time I’d suggested we do something a little wild together; those ‘Let’s do it’ words had been uttered before, back in 1997, when I took a chance on the loud, flannel-clad Canadian in my residence by enquiring if he wished to partner with me for the University of St Andrews’s annual ‘Race to Paris’.

Surely if I can convince him to do something as crazy as the ‘Race to Paris’, a Regency Ball should be a walk in the park? But admitting our guilty secrets even to those we trust most can feel more dangerous than any marathon out there. It’s laying our deepest darkest secrets bare on the table and hoping not to be laughed at!

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The Race to Paris was tough – so much so, in fact, that I ended up in hospital when we returned – but it formed the foundation for a twenty-five year (and counting) marriage. The daily grind of life is, well, often a grind. Hard work and determination see us through, and the periods of respite don’t last long before new challenges present. At least a Regency Ball would feel like the calm in a storm?

‘Er, you realise you’ll, um, have to wear clothes like Mr Darcy, don’t you?’ My cheeks warmed as I asked. My crush on Colin Firth’s wet shirt was even older than my relationship with my husband.

That made him look up from his zombies. ‘As long as you like it, sweetie.’ I think he threw in an eyebrow waggle, which no doubt turned my face as red as the maple leaves.

I would like it very much indeed, although prior to the pandemic, I would’ve been too ashamed to admit it, even to him.

Now – two and a half years after the world went into isolation – I don’t remember the exact order of events, but around the same time I created a Twitter account to keep abreast of pandemic news, I tried my hand at that longed-for dream of writing a historical romance myself. As part of my research, I connected, via Twitter, with Georgian-era historians, and I discovered a world I didn’t know existed.

Historical re-enacting.

Right away, I knew I had found kindred spirits in the re-enactors I met online. They are people who, like me, have a deep emotional connection to the past. People for whom trips to museums aren’t yawn-inspiring strolls past artifacts, but visceral time travel.

When I gaze at a historical gown, for example, I feel the presence of the body which inhabited it. I imagine the legs which the skirts swirled around at a ball, the hands which dusted crumbs off the sleeves, the heart which beat within the bodice.

Perhaps that sounds a bit mad. For a long time, I thought it was. But the isolation of the pandemic encouraged me to reach out to an online world, and I discovered that, mad or not, there were others like me. And I learned that they got together, dressed in historically accurate costumes, and created for others, in museums, what they and I feel innately: that the past is still alive, for the threads of history wove the fabric of today.

So, when the world opened up again last autumn, an online re-enacting friend sent an invitation. It was delivered via email rather than by a liveried footman, but the presentation was otherwise perfect, with Regency-era font stating: ‘Your Company is requeſted at a Maſquerade Dinner’ …

My husband borrowed a redcoat and tight breeches from the re-enacting community (more Colonel Brandon than Darcy, to tell the truth), and I wore a high-waisted blue gown a friend sewed from a silk fabric end we purchased in Toronto’s Little India neighbourhood.

In Canada – as one re-enactor said – we cannot compete with Britain’s extant Regency Assembly Rooms or terraced crescents, but we raised a glass to the health of His Majesty King George III in a nineteenth-century hall, and after my gentlemanly husband pushed in my chair (a thing he’d never do dressed in a t-shirt and jeans), I enjoyed companions who discussed the War of 1812, the Battle of Waterloo, and the proper construction of Regency stays with as much ease as others discuss the weather.

My husband only knows who fought who at Waterloo because of the 1990s’ ABBA revival, but he listened to the dinner conversation with a sparkle in his brown eyes.

‘Are you enjoying this?’ I asked him near the end of the meal, over pear tarts and cheese.

‘Very much so,’ he said, grinning. ‘Because you are.’

And I was. I was enjoying it differently from how I enjoyed our more typical date adventures, like hikes or going to the theatre. Dressing up in a Regency gown and dining at a candlelit linen-covered table tapped into something creative, imaginative, dream-like, magical. It recaptured that glorious childhood sensation of spinning in a circle, arms out, when my skirts or nightgown became a duchess’s ballgown in my head.

“Dressing up in a Regency gown and dining at a candlelit linen-covered table tapped into something creative, imaginative, dream-like, magical.”

I smiled at my husband, my heart filling my chest. ‘You look hot, by the way.’ (And I wasn’t referring to the shimmer of moisture on his forehead, the result of a wool coat and a couple glasses of red wine.)

He winked. ‘Tell me more about how Regency corsets differ from eighteenth century ones, won’t you?’

Since that first event, there have been others, including ‘Officers’ Day’ at Fort George in the eighteenth-century town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, where, together with our re-enacting friends, we recreated a day in the life of British officers and their wives during the War of 1812. With each event, I feel less guilt over my guilty pleasure, and much more pleasure in my new found passion.

While museum guests watched, we performed historically accurate living tableaus. Picnicking on pigeon pie under canvas pavilions using replica tableware. Gambling at whist. Dancing reels as redcoat-clad musicians played jigs. Two officers even duelled until the general discovered their transgression and disciplined them before the crowds of smiling visitors. One very young guest was so excited by the officers’ argument that he waved his arms from behind the rope separation and yelled, ‘Let me out there, I’ll deal with both of you.’

We’d brought history alive for him.

My husband and I shared a heart-warming smile.

Re-enacting allows me to experience a combination of creativity, drama, and history which feeds my imagination as a historical romance writer, but what it’s done for my marriage has been an unexpected bonus. My husband has learned enough about my favourite historical era to understand when I explain research for my novels, and we have fantastic memories to relive and new events to plan for rather than always discussing taxes or house repairs on our hikes.

And as for those ‘guilty pleasures’ I used to hide? Not only does my husband know all about them, but my first Regency romance novel will be published in September.

Confess your dreams – whatever they may be – to those you love, so that they can help you chase them. With their support, you will catch your dreams, and when you do, clutch them to your heart.

And then throw out your arms and spin around with your skirts twirling at your legs and share your dreams with the world.

Live the romance.

Many thanks to Felicity George for joining us on The Glass House Book Club – if you would like to hear more about Felicity and her upcoming works, follow her on Twitter: Felicity George @ElizabethWelke

On Facebook: Felicity George, Author @FelicityGeorgeRegencyRomance

If you would like pre-order A Lady’s Risk, you can find it here on Amazon or by clicking the link below.

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