Excuse Me, You Got Some Feminism in My Regency Romance

 In Kell's Blog

Today I’m here to talk to you about a somewhat controversial topic that annoys the bejeezus out of me — feminism in historical romances. Specifically, because I see it most often in this era, feminism in Regency romances.

Because, y’all. It doesn’t make sense. Some of the most progressive novels of that era were Jane Austen’s (ish). And yes, Jane Austen heroines are sometimes spicy and fiery, and the ideas she presented (and the overblown parodies of reality she wrote) were huge for the era. I love me some Austen.

But still, that’s pretty tame. And it’s far, far less feminism than you see in literally any Regency romance you pick up off the shelf. Also, Jane Austen is a master while most of the historical romance authors you’ll find around are … not. They’re often good, but they’re not Jane Austen.

Historical romances — and Regency romances are the ones I’m picking on today — are as anachronistic as it comes when it comes to the ideas women present, the way men react to them, and basically just … all that.

But before we dive into my post-sized rant, some clarifications:

What do I mean by the Regency era?

The Regency era is technically 1811-1820, but I define it loosely as novels written in a style or in a way that hints at Jane Austen. *shrugs* I know most would say Georgette Heyer, but I don’t care about her.

Jane Austen is my role model, and Jane Austen I shall call the author of Regency romances who one must emulate, and Jane Austen I shall praise day and night.

Georgette Heyer, Georgette Schmeyer. Did she live through it? I think not.

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What do I mean by feminism?

Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m fine with some elements of feminism. The “woman are equal” and “women have brains” and “women should be allowed to vote and get whatever jobs they can get” part.

But not the “woman are the exact same as men” or “women are better than men” parts. Just nope. Nopety nope. Sorry, folks. That’ll be enough of that. *tosses all of these thoughts out the window and walks away casually as they fall screaming into the void*

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That said, I mean all these elements when talking about feminism in this post. Just … the good, the bad, and the ugly. And the “I don’t even care” parts, as well. All of it.

With those clarifications in place, pull up a chair and grab a mug of hot cocoa, because Granny Kell’s gonna tell you a story. (Though don’t call me Granny.) (I’m just a child.) (Well, a young adult.) (Let’s call a spade a spade and not let me be more immature than I am already.)

A Story by Kellyn Roth

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Miss Gillseldina Grimelda the 3rd. Or Gillie, to her friends (of which she doesn’t have many). (Yay for cute nicknames for horrific old-fashioned names!)

Gillie loves books, and is somewhat shy, and allows her wicked Uncle Mortimer to abuse her. No, Uncle Mortimer never would hit Gillie, of course — this is a PG-rated story, after all!

But he does abuse her by taking away her books, insisting that her childhood dream of being a botanist librarian is ridiculous, and, most of all, says that because she is a girl, she is useless and stupid and silly.

Although Gillie was born in the Regency era, she is blissfully unaware of it. Every time a Regency era tradition or rule comes up, she is shocked. She must wear a corset!? And SHOES!?! AND IT’S UNLADYLIKE TO SLIDE DOWN BANISTERS!?!?!

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Gillie comes to realize that her horrible Regency life is HOLDING HER BACK. It is AWFUL. She’s never known anything but it, of course, but Gillie refuses to acknowledge this. Instead, she whines about how her life is a prison compared to those 2010s girls.

Sadly, this is not the kind of story where Gillie can time travel to 2010. Instead, she is stuck in 1810. It really sucks for Gillie. She is so oppressed.

One day, while feeding her pet chipmunks, Gillie runs into Handsome McHandsomeface. We’ll call him Han for short.

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Han and Gillie hit it off and spend the rest of the day walking about in the forest together. Gillie tells him about all her REBELLIOUS ideas — like reading and not wearing a corset and wearing her hair down and running about wild in the prairies without her bonnet on — and Han LOVES her for it.

Gillie is different than every woman Han has ever met because she enjoys reading and says really bold, obnoxious things and doesn’t at all understand the era she’s been born in.

Han is in love with Gillie, and after some mishaps of various sorts, he proves that he is an ACTUAL gentleman, having inherited 2010s feminist morals from … somewhere. He buys Gillie a botanist library and marries her, after proving that her Uncle Mortimer is an Absolute Idiot.

Uncle Mortimer dies of typhoid fever.

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Do you like my story?

Good, ‘cause I could recommend 500 others just like it. 😉

The truth is, I actually somewhat enjoy elements of these stories (when not over-simplified, as such). I know a number of authors who have done really clever things with these tropes (Julie Klassen and Kristi Ann Hunter both write masterful Regency romances without driving readers insane, for instance).

But here’s the thing … did you catch the feminism? Because it wasn’t subtle. At all.

And I just really don’t understand how authors always manage to get so much feminism in my Regency romances!

Why is the feminism even there?

Here’s the thing … people like to include feminism in their historical stories. For no reason other than to show that they are Woke and they Understand that Back Then things were Not Ideal for Women.

But, first of all, they exaggerate some elements of the era (probably based on authors like Jane Austen who exaggerated conditions for the sake of proving a point).

And then they put in their modern sensibilities to solve the problem, unlike Jane Austen, who never attempted to solve the problem of her era at all, except by pointing out that some things (read: most things) were irrevocably silly and random.

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It’s misplaced and weird, it doesn’t make sense for the era, and it’s just … annoying. A little trope or plot detail or whatever you want to call it that is included for the sake of including it.

Perhaps it’s to make the hero seem more heroic or the heroine more spicy, but let me tell you — it does not work. And it’s annoying.

And it never gets resolved, truly, at least in a realistic fashion.

And it takes the reader into some fantasy reality the author created for the sake of letting the author be Aware of how Bad things were back in Ye Olden Dayes.

There are times when it does work, of course.

The 1920s? Yeah. And even the 1890s. But you have to be aware of the era you’re working in. In the Regency era, it WASN’T uncommon for women to read novels, if they were well-educated, and a lot of them did have little side hobbies, even if they never turned serious, like botany librarianism.

In the 1880s and 1890s, there were some major changes in the way people thought of women as inheritance laws changed, women were found to be murderers, and more and more women attended colleges and got into different business endeavors.

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But the thing is, not very many authors take the time to understand the context of the era they’re writing in, the way men and women truly viewed each other, the way gender roles (and all kinds of roles, in fact) were presented, and how people actually thought.

Or if the authors do think of these things, they fail to realistically portray them in their novels.

It’s not enough to know the kind of candle holder used in the era if you don’t understand the kind of people who used the candle.

Why heroes shouldn’t always be perfectly woke

This is probably my biggest issue with this trope: the hero always gets it. He’s never really a bigot, never really sexist (even if the heroine starts out believing he is).

The thing is, this gives us an unrealistic expectation of the Prince Charming’s Existence AND an unrealistic view of the past. The heroine never has to prove herself to the hero. The heroine doesn’t have to be unobnoxious or kind because He Just Gets Her.

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The only reason he is actually the man for her is because he doesn’t have anything to do with the world around him — he is a man who exists beyond his era, and therefore doesn’t really exist at all.

He’s a figment of the imagination, not of the heroine who would not know what to imagine, but of the historical author who believes that a man would realistically behave that way in the era he was born into, raised into, etc.

And yeah, I’m currently with a guy who Just Gets My Quirkiness to a degree, but at the same time, I’m not gonna expect him to understand it immediately. Just to accept it and try to keep his mouth shut if it gets to weird. (Just kidding, Ian. If I start going off the deep end, reel me back in.)

But there’s a difference between a man understanding a woman’s quirkiness and falling for it (something that I believe should happen — never change who you are for a man because God is preparing someone for you who understands you — you don’t have to change for the Real Deal because the Real Deal was made for YOU and no one else on earth) … where was I?

Mini rant aside, there is a difference between that and a man in a historical romance time traveling from 2010 to 1810, his modern sensibilities intact.

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Also, there’s a difference between understanding someone and giving in to a crazy woman who wants to start a botany library when it Just Isn’t Done. #holdupgirl #whatdoesthatmeanmean #chill

Why heroines shouldn’t always be perfectly woke

Mostly because if you’re constantly treated like a piece of property, you eventually adjust your thinking to “I am a piece of property” and find ways to cheat the system rather than moaning about your lot.

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Okay, I’m joking … kinda. But how much more powerful would it be, if you really want to write this kind of story, to show a heroine who doesn’t get how she’s being treated and then wakes up to it?

That said, I’m also confused about why this has to be an issue presented at all. Why does the heroine have to feel stuck in her era? Maybe she’s fine with wearing a corset. I hear they give marvelous posture support.

Especially in the Regency era, due to the dress shapes, a corset was actually not for crushing your insides but for support and modest. Like a long bra that mostly just covered your abdomen. xD Okay, but really. The Regency era is a weird one to whine about corsets in — try Victorian, and even then, it’s not as bad as it could be.

And the whole deal with always wanting Something More than to just be some random guy’s wife (you know, until Handsome McHandsomeface comes along)? Well, dangggg, girl. What’s wrong with being a wife and mother? Isn’t it kinda like … the best?

Also, what else could you possibly do in the era you were born in? Has no one told you about the property laws?

ALSO, I would like to point out that it is SUPER WEIRD for you, Miss Gillie, to be concerned about arranged marriages/marriages of convenience, marrying a man older than you, marrying your cousin, etc., because YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED SINCE CHILDHOOD TO BELIEVE ALL THESE THINGS ARE 100% NORMAL.

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DAH HECK ARE YOU WHINING ABOUT, CHILD!?

Seriously, the amount of WHINING that you do about simple LIFE THINGS, Gillie. gEt UsED to YOUr ErA and ShUT tHe McFRICKeN ChIckEn TurKeY McGUrKey UP!!!

Covering up the past with our present.

Let me be honest: the past is more interesting. I read historical fiction to go back to the past, and yet historical authors are continually trying to insert the present into the past.

Okay, I’m probably wrong there — more than likely, historical authors are forgetting to NOT just write contemporary fiction but the Women Wear Dresses.

And that’s an issue because the past is still a thing. Yes, we shouldn’t get bogged down by it, but we can learn from it. But only if it is presented honestly.

Honesty really is the best policy, and the only way we can hope to grow as a culture. If we can take the good things, leave behind the bad, and move on, we can hope to improve rather than continue this big downhill race (dinna get me started, lass).

But … if we continue to look at the past and apply our modern thoughts to it, we won’t see the past. We will see a confusing muddle of our thoughts applied to their lives.

The thing is, it’s a mark of maturity to be able to look at someone else’s life … through their glasses — those old timey spectacles that are adorkably quirky on your heroine. (By the way, reading is not quirky. It’s something people do. Reading. See various Jane Austen heroines and all the lovers of Udolpho out there).

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So we have to do that. We have to be able to look back on a culture very different from ours (e.g. Regency England) and interpret it in their way, or we’ll never write a novel that is truly realistic or good or true.

We can’t be perfect, but we can try, if we really want to. If we care about history. If we care about peoples’ lives. And if we care about not being selfish and stuck on our own ideas and views.

With that thought, I’ll leave you to ponder why you just read through so many of my nonsensical ramblings when you had 10 other things to be doing. 😉 Talk to you later!

TTFN!

~Kell~

P.S.

Have you ever noticed misplaced feminism popping up in these sorts of novels? Does it effect your reading enjoyment at all? What are your thoughts on this whole subject? Is there a place for these types of issues in historical romances?

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Showing 29 comments
  • Merie Shen
    Reply

    THIS POST I CAN’T EVEN RIGHT NOW 😂😂😂😍😍😍😭😭😭

    I was reading your story aloud to my sister and we were both just sitting there cackling because tRUTH. I don’t read a lot of his-fic, but of the books I have read, I do see a lot of the annoying feminism clichés showing up where they’re not wanted. And I don’t get how, but pretty much the same kind of feminism clichés keep appearing in what are sUpPoSeD to be fAnTaSy novels. *Throws up hands in exasperation*

    Seriously though, this post was gold. Please do more of these roasts.

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      Thanks, Merie! I live to entertain. 😉 But seriously, I’m really glad you and your sister both enjoyed the story! Definitely a classic. I’d be surprised if I didn’t win some awards! 😛

      Right!? Whyyyy thoooo??? Why does it have to happen in ALLLL the books? Can we not give it a break?

      I’ll have to remember to do that – I’ll just have to find other things I feel so passionately about!

  • Jo
    Reply

    you have saved me from my death of algebra and i love you for it

    ALSO LIKE
    OKAY BUT IF WE SAY WOMEN ARE EQUAL TO MEN
    THEN WE SET MEN AS THE STANDARD
    AND DEFEAT THE PURPOSE OF FEMINISM
    *waves fist angrily* we’re not supposed to be better than men because men are not the standard by which we should live against i’m incensed

    but seriously, this was hilarious and you need to do more

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      YES! I’ve never heard it expressed that way, but it is 110% trueee! Men are NOT a good standard – and if people were to break down feminism and realize that a lot of women just want to be “like men” (who at the same time they’re trying to degrade???), then it would all fall apart!

  • Ryana Lynn
    Reply

    Girl, wow! I thought I was the only one fed up with this! I despise feminism (guys stare at me in shock when I say that, lol) and in a lot of ways I wish the suffrage movement had never happened, and for them to shove it down my throat in all my War Between the States books is so annoying! And yes, marriage and children, that is the ultimate goal! I won’t rant, but thanks for reminding me others notice this too!

    • Andrea Cox
      Reply

      Right there with you, Ryana!

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      I’m probably not as intense about this, in that I think there is a place for understanding that women and men are equal but different (this is not a race issue – it’s a gender one – and that’s different), and I don’t believe the ultimate goal for a woman is marriage and children, BUT that doesn’t stop me from being 1. uubbbeeerrr annoyed at modern day feminism which leaves no room for submission to Christ, etc., and in fact just turns women into big, overblown whiners – and 2. incorrectly portraying any aspect of feminism (or just alwayssss portraying aspects of feminism) in novels. Like, why!?

  • Michaela Bush
    Reply

    Okay so I obviously should have interviewed you for my college senior seminar paper, which was basically researching this concept. Would have saved me dozens of hours of research, panicking, and head-desking 🤣 I read Heyer’s The Corinthian to compare with Sense & Sensibility and had to research WHYYY writers of “Regency era fiction” differed from writers who actually lived during that era. *Wants to grant you an honorary BA in English* While I didn’t mind The Corinthian and it actually sparked an interest in reading more Regency era literature, there were definitely a score of eye-rolling “yeah they totalllly thought/acted that way back then” moments 😂

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      LOL! I probably would’ve been useless to interview – I can never get my thoughts down in an orderly manner when I actually need to. 😛 This was a random rant to replace a post I was gonna do today which wasn’t gonna come … but it turned out good because I actually wasn’t supposed to be thinking on it. *shrugs*

      BUT THANK YOU! This comment so made my day. I haven’t worked nearly enough to get an honorary BA in English, lol, but hey, if it happens to happen … 😉 Jkkkk!

  • PennyTheBean
    Reply

    This was seriously a fantastic post!!! I absolutely LOVED it and will be coming back to read it again. The points you made were perfect!

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      Aww, thank you, Penny! 😀 I’m so glad you liked it! 🙂

  • Faith
    Reply

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic! (And your story! XD) I agree. It’s so frustrating when authors insert more modern ideas, especially feminism, into a story that is supposed to be set in a completely different time period where these modern thoughts/ideas would not realistically apply in that culture. (Another thing that is also annoying is when characters use modern phrases or speak in a more 21st century way, and not a 19th century/etc. way like they should in some historical fiction novels. >_< :P)

    And I'm sure I could probably dive into more thoughts and comment on various other things you said, but you now reminded me again that I actually do have 10 other things I need to be doing right now, so…… XD

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      Thank you! Yes, it is frustrating – just frustrating and confusing and annoying. (I probably don’t always notice that, but I try to pick up on it!)

      Haha! #truth I always have that many things to be doing, sooooo I hear ya?

  • Andrea Cox
    Reply

    Yes! I’m so tired of feminism being shoved in my face from every quarter, especially in fiction. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be historical fiction. It’s even annoying in contemporary, if you ask me. I wish writers would stop pushing agendas through their fiction and focus instead on the actual craft of writing. If focusing on the craft, messages are subtler and better received. They teach more than preach. And isn’t that supposed to be our goal: to woo our readers into our stories so they may learn life truths that they may then apply to their lives? But if we’re screaming our own personal tirades at them in annoying agenda-pushing style, they’re sure to hurl our books against the wall and stomp from the room and tell all their friends to avoid our books till the end of time. I’d rather not have my books so abused, nor my readers thus tortured.

    Thanks for a very entertaining and oh-so-truthful article, Kellyn. 🙂

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      Thank you, Andrea! Yes, I agree – people need to focus on the craft if they want to get that message across (though I argue that it’s often still an inappropriate message … but if you do it, do it RIGHT!).

      • Andrea Cox
        Reply

        Exactly. I’m not one to want feminism as the lesson in books even if they’re done well, but that’s my personal opinion. At least its being done well would be less annoying than a smash-it-in-my-face approach.

  • Kaitlyn S.
    Reply

    This was perfect!! Loved it — it is so absolutely true and is what annoys me most in this genre. ‘Cept, I thought I was the only one . . .

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      Nah, you’re definitely not the only one! There’s me (and a lot of these other commenters), so you’ve got company. 😛 It’s super annoying!

  • kassieangle
    Reply

    Regency…romance…already not my thing…and you know, it’s probably bc they usually sound exactly like Gillie’s?? For one, I know of some historical girls from that time or earlier who didn’t just sit around swooning over guys and they were nothing like that. They weren’t discontent feminists. They just got stuff done. And second, like you said, what’s so wrong with just being a Regency lady? I know a younger Kassie who daydreamed of living in the Civil War and sneaking off to fight…while also wishing with everything that I could just run around in a hoopskirt and ride sidesaddle.
    Yeah, my restless Spartan spirit is glad to be alive rn and do things I couldn’t’ve any other era. But what’s so wrong with those other eras just the way they were (…for the most part)?

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      I hear ya! Oftentimes they are like that, and it’s not just frustrating – it’s nauseating. 😛 And if you’re not a romance lover, well, you will never love a romance because … yeah. And I say that as a romance lover and romance writer!!

      Agreed! Let’s let the past be …

  • H.S. Kylian
    Reply

    YES. ALL OF THIS. I totally agree that when it comes to historical fic, you NEED TO BE BRUTALLY ACCURATE. That’s probably why I’m scared to write my Civil War series – I want it to be as brutally accurate as possible. But in today’s day and age, I just know people will, unfortunately, cry foul.

    (You’ve heard of K.M. Weiland, correct? She definitely doesn’t resort to the ideals masquerading as feminism)

    I have to say though, while it wasn’t common, some women were involved with politics in ye olden days – to a degree. Look at the letters between John & Abigail Adams. If they weren’t talking about normal everyday stuff, they were talking about politics and the war. (Plus she pushed for girls to get an education and John agreed with her)

    And WWII wasn’t the first time women took over business and work for the men in their lives – they did it in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars too. (They also did some propaganda stuff) It was really only after WWII that they began pushing for more and more women to be in workforce.

    But other than that, I get so so annoyed at modern day feminism. It seems like they’re saying women can do anything they want! Except for being a SAH wife and mother. Apparently, they’re just holding women and ‘progress’ back if they choose that. -_-

    I don’t care what they say though. I’d much rather have a baby spitting up on me then stressing about making it to work on time.

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      Yes, accuracy is always important! That’s pretty much what I’m saying – women were heavily involved in everything, in a certain way. Like, read Gone with the Wind, if you don’t think so … they were involved, but they oftentimes just didn’t want to say so. 😛 Any time there’s a war, women have to step up at home.

      I think women can do just about anything (within reason) – but the question is should they. 😛 And the same goes for men – they can do just about anything (within reason) – but should they? 😉 But yup, modern day feminism can turn quite toxic.

  • Leya Delray
    Reply

    YESSSS! I totally agree. I makes me SO mad when people write “historical fiction” where the main character has simply been transplanted from the modern era and dressed up in old fashioned clothes. But it’s even worse when writers do this to a REAL HISTORICAL PERSON. I once actually slapped a book shut in disgust when an author did that to the first published American poet (Anne Bradstreet). It made me so angry that I still simmer a bit when I think of it, and it strongly influenced my obsession with accuracy when I wrote “Where Daffodils Bloom”. Actually, come to think of it, I wrote a whole blog post explaining what was wrong with that Anne Bradstreet “biography”, and how the author was inserting her modern views into poor Anne (and how that affected my own writing). Here it is, if you’re interested Kellyn: http://www.leyadelray.com/2019/03/29/telling-true-stories-the-good-the-bad-and-the-not-2/

    • Andrea Cox
      Reply

      Great article, Leya! Historical inaccuracies are why I struggle SO MUCH with the biblical fiction genre. Too many liberties are taken to bend the truth we do know directly from the Bible, particularly about leading characters, which ends up misleading so many devoted readers into believing inaccurate things about how those events happened and who those people really were. Thanks for your insight!

      • Leya Delray
        Reply

        I’m glad you enjoyed the article, Andrea! Yeah, I agree that biblical fiction is often done poorly. I think the best versions I’ve read are deeply researched book about minor biblical characters, where the (few) facts we do know from scripture are accurately woven in, and the rest is carefully researched and written to match the historical context. Seems so often, as soon as people write about major characters, they can’t keep themselves from contradicting at least some of the facts along the way.

        • Andrea Cox
          Reply

          Exactly! I really enjoyed a certain author’s debut book a few years ago, as it seemed quite accurate, but the third book in the series drove me batty because there were some blatant, wild inaccuracies of a very popular, well-known (and a personal favorite) story in the Bible. So I’m hesitant to read more of this author’s books, because I’m completely turned off by “biblical” fiction that doesn’t stick to biblical truths. So I’m slowly chipping away at the ones of this author’s that I have from NetGalley.

          • Kellyn Roth
            Reply

            (Andrea, you should message the title to me if you think to! 😛 I want to avoid it … or at least be aware of it!)

            • Andrea Cox
              Reply

              I sent you links to my reviews of the trilogy (Hangouts).

    • Kellyn Roth
      Reply

      Yup, I definitely agree! People 100% do that, and it’s super annoying! I did see that blog post a while back – I definitely agree. It’s not for us to say how an era much less how people were based on our own imagination, especially when writing biographies/biographical works!

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