Regency romance novels are set during the early part of the 19th century in England, and they mostly derive from Jane Austen novels and similar writers. Though the romance is the main plot point, they are mostly noted for their well-paced dialog, wit, and emotional tension. They are about love and heartbreak, but not about sex. That is left to the imagination and happens after the wedding.
While novels like Pride and Prejudice have inspired generations of women to look for their own Mr. Darcy, the story was the thing. This included emotional suspense, witty dialog, and a clear snapshot of the lives of a certain class of people during a distinct period in time. The story was the main thing.
Contrast Regency romance to contemporary romance, a romantic genre at the other end of the spectrum. There might be some lead-in about the main characters background and motivation in a contemporary romance, but they are mainly building up the racy parts. There are some exceptions, but they are are not written to inspire us with dialog or even tug on our heartstrings so much. The descriptions of the hero’s broad chest and the heroine’s breathless gasp are more memorable than the conversation over dinner. Is there even any dinner in most contemporary romances?
While contemporary romances have become quite popular these days, the Regency romance novels are still classic and gets revived from time to time. It might be fun to get titillated a bit, but that’s sort of like eating a box of candy. When women want to have the main course, a romance written in a literary style will be on the table.
That is not to say that contemporary romance does not have its advantages. The women tend to be free to marry for love, though they may not make great decisions about it. The women in the Regency period were much more motivated to marry for convenience. After all, there were few professions open to a woman of a certain class.
They may resign themselves to a life as a governess, watching other people’s children. In some cases, they might have become tutors or teachers. Apparently a talented and lucky few could also become authors.
But I guess that is one thing that bothers me about contemporary romance. Those heroines have choices, and yet they mostly seem willing to drop it all when their handsome hunk casts a sultry look their way. You see stories about billionaires courting young twenty-somethings. Why aren’t the women ever the billionaires? What do women want, anyway?
Poor Elizabeth had few choices in her life. If she failed to marry well, she would have a tough time adjusting to her life. Perhaps she would have married down a bit or really accepted that job as Jane’s governess. That is not true of the women in contemporary romances, so why are they the way they are? In my opinion, Regency romances actually set a better example because they show women doing the best they can.