By Dan Hoyt
Lately, I’ve been reading Regency romances. Why? Well, as a writer, it’s always a good thing to keep up with what’s selling to readers. Not that I’m targeting my audience, mind you, but I’d like to thing that someone out there might be interested in reading my work, and it helps to know what readers find interesting. That way, I can better set the tone of my story, and I can still write whatever I find interesting. Duh, winning!
Why romance? Why not science fiction and fantasy, which is the genre I tend to write. Romance is the biggest chunk of genre readership, hands down – by an order of magnitude (that’s a factor of 10 for you non-scientific types). Heck, judging by recent phenomena like Amanda Hocking, it might be the biggest chunk of readership, period. And I wanted to know why.
Why Regency, then? Why not paranormal, which seems to be the hot sub-genre these days? Simply put, staying power. Arguably, Regencies are the one sub-genre of romance you can depend on still being read decades later. I’m not going to drag Jane Austen into this discussion, since she was writing them during the time period in question, but there are a ton (okay, I’m not below a sly Regency reference!) of writers who credit early 20th-centry Georgette Heyer, who spearheaded the modern Regency sub-genre, as a major influence. (Not unlike musicians today crediting Leonard Cohen, even if they were born decades after his heyday.) Look in any used bookstore, and you’ll find a boatload of Regencies cycling in and out. Clearly, they still enjoy a great deal of popularity.
So, to the point. I wasn’t trying to find out what makes women tick. I wasn’t even trying to find out what kind of men women like. I am happily married after all (26 years!), so I’m not trolling “the Marriage Mart.” But if these Regencies can be believed, I found out a few surprising things about women, nonetheless. By way of disclosure, this is based on a half dozen novels, and is purely intended for entertainment, based on those novels, nothing more, and should not be construed (I hope!) as an accurate depiction of modern women.
5. The most attractive thing about a man are his eyes. Forget being a gym rat, if you’re simply self-confident, women will overlook a lot of defects in your physique and see you for the buff, attractive gentleman you strive to be by working out every day. To be fair, this wasn’t as surprising as it should have been. Unlike Regency heroes, who always seem to have green or blue eyes, I have brown eyes, but I always thought they were one of my better assets. Over the years, many girls and women commented on my “piercing gaze that seems to look right through you into your soul.” When I was courting my wife, I sent her a picture with my patented piercing gaze looking over my sunglasses, and she showed it to her girlfriends; the general reaction (according to her) was akin to: “Hey, I have an idea! I’ll come over to America with you and steal your boyfriend!” So I had an idea women looked at men’s eyes. Some advice for you guys looking to impress a woman: pay attention to her when you’re with her! What she says, what she does, where she looks – you know, at least act like you’re enjoying her company. Nothing puts off a woman more than a disinterested guy. Which brings me to…
4. Women fall in love “at first sight” with a man who’s honorable, and they’re looking for the man who falls for them instantly, too. First impressions are key, even if they’re bad, so long as time proves their intentions were honorable. Remember Pride and Prejudice? He can be as unlikeable as sin, but as long he’s honorable, he’ll win the fair maiden’s heart. Oh, it helps if her knees turn to jelly and he sets her loins on fire, too. That seems to be a big thing. Women – and men – who are in love can’t bear to stand, and eventually fall down – usually into a bed – with the sheer exhaustion of being in love. Of course, Regency men – at least the titled Lords – don’t actually seem to do anything at all, short of managing their inheritance and spending money. Which shouldn’t be all that surprising, since…
3. Anything a woman does, she’ll do better without trying than any man, no matter how much he practices. This includes managing an estate, playing the violin, shooting a bullseye with target pistols, fending off an armed attacker, etc. I don’t know about you, but I can play the piano and sing, but after several years of doing them only sporadically, I don’t think I could make it on American Idol, America’s Got Talent or The Voice. A woman with my musical background would be the next YouTube sensation, if she just put up a camera-phone video of her singing Happy Birthday to her one-year-old child. Simply put, women are awesome-sauce! I’m beginning to understand why the Kama Sutra’s list of what a woman needs to be competent doing includes both painting teeth and planning and executing a war campaign. Which made it all the more surprising to me that…
2. In the end, women want to have a LOT of babies. They’ll give up everything for the right man, and then their lives will be perfectly fulfilled by producing children. And I’m not talking just one or two here, but a dozen seems to be the preferred number. Mind you, this is only possible with the right man. And apparently, the right kiss, because…
1. Any woman, no matter how inexperienced with men, will give it up for a really good French kiss. And I’m not talking about just third base, here; I mean a solid home run, with an extra couple of base runs for the fans. If only I’d known this when I was a teenager, I might have dated before the second semester of my senior year in high school! Ah, c’est la vie. Still, I landed – and kept – the hot foreign exchange student from exotic Portugal, so I guess I did something right!
Hmm, I’m gonna have to carry a copy of this around in my pocket, I’m sure it’ll help me.
Er… that sounds almost like the guide to life as espoused by Hollywood romance. Are you sure those are real books you’re reading?
Kate, I assure you they’re real books! I can send you a list, if you’re interested….
Um. No. (backs away fast enough to raise a dust cloud). I’ll take your word on it.
I’ll have to agree about the eyes. When I was a teenager my friends and I always noticed the eyes. There have been studies (or so I’ve heard) that gazing into someone’s eyes at close range does actually have chemical effects.
The “love at first sight” thing is a little bit annoying to me, but it’s a staple of romance of any sub-genre. The characters involved don’t have to realize that it’s love, but the reaction has to be strong enough not to result in “yeah, whatever, who?” and then never seeing them again. Granted, it’s silly to think that our hormones know the difference from “honorable.”
The third point makes me nuts! And modern Regencies seem to have this *thing* where the oppression of women is in the background and requires that the book prove the culture wrong. Georgette Heyer did *not* do this. The problem isn’t that the women prove the culture wrong by being competent but that they almost are never competent in any way. And an even bigger gripe, to me, is that the women who are supposedly in love with these honorable men, do not trust the MEN to be competent.
Nor did Heyer seem to assume that all women wanted lots of babies. Some of them, but not all.
As for the French Kiss… I understand, you know, that this is personal, but I remember my first kiss and my reaction wasn’t a burning in my loins, it was more like fascinated curiosity because it was just so *weird* feeling. It took a while and some practice before I started noticing what *else* might be reacting. Oh I know, TMI, but I keep waiting for the novel where the chaste maiden has a “lips feel weird” reaction to her first kiss and an “OMG, your tongue?” reaction to the french kiss. (This assuming that she hadn’t been fully aware that people *did* that sort of thing before.
Honestly, did no one else spend their tween years explaining to each other how all the kissing in movies and television were fake because it was gross?
So you’re saying I should read Heyer?
Yes, Heyer’s women are competent WITHIN the society, while I SWEAR all the modern regencies they’re ALL “countercultural.” It’s like “Accept history and get over it.” BTW what is with modern regencies and all the weird sex? I mean, I came across a not-by-any-means-common-sexual-act and before marriage, yet! (And no, it wasn’t oral. Sorry, TMI, but I’m not that prudish.) This is why I flip past the sex. With that one I was flipping past, came across that one and went “Oh, now. Yeah, I ‘m sure they did this in the Regency, but… come now. Do you really need to have it in this book?”
One of the things I find interesting is how Heyer’s Venetia — with NO explicit sex — sizzles, while most of these just make me roll my eyes and go “I think she’s still a virgin in her left ear.”
But dontchaknow that the weird sex proves the writer has actually had sex, and isn’t some hardboiled shrew living by herself with sixty seven cats and her body weight in handmade doilies waiting to inflict prune juice and twenty year old taffy in depression glass dishes to the unwary?
“I think she’s still a virgin in her left ear.”
It’s really and truly fortunate that I was not drinking something just now, you’d owe me a keyboard. 😉
And Dan, yes, you should read Heyer. I disagree that all of her heroines are competent, even within their society. A few of them are rather helpless and needing to be cared for. Contrast the heroine in _Friday’s Child_ to _The Grand Sophie_ for example. Or the women in _Bath Tangle_. It’s almost as if Heyer doesn’t decide for them what they ought to be capable of, but takes them as individuals. She has many heroines who are vastly capable and confidently independent and are aware of the rules of their society without the (literary) necessity of being chaffed by it, even if once in a while they find it annoying. But the thing of it is that they actually do have the competencies they claim.
I won’t say in all, but in many modern Regency and other Historical romances the author does seem to decide for the heroine how she’s supposed to feel about the social order and she’s supposed to be smarter and more competent than the men around her. Thus, you’ve got women darting off senselessly to “save” the man they love from situations they know nothing about. Makes. Me. Nuts.