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Whole Lotta Love: England as a Popular Setting in Historical Romance

I was reading the reviews on Amazon a couple of months ago for some Regency-era novel, and one reviewer was upset because the book was set in England (not the UK—she specifically mentioned England, so Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the rest of the old Empire were apparently exempted).  She went on to comment that so many historical romances were set in England these days that she was sick of them all, and wondered why authors never used more exotic locales.

My first reaction was indignation—how dare she disparage a place and period so near and dear to my heart?!  And it was a Regency novel she was reviewng, what did she expect?  But the question rolled around in my head for a while, and I began to wonder the same thing, minus the resentment.  Why is England so popular a setting for historical fiction authors?

My attraction to English history is partly personal.  I adore reading about many locations and periods of time, but many of my ancestors are English, including my grandfather.  It’s interesting to me to study the history of a country so closely tied to my family.  And since said grandfather died before I was born, it’s also a way for me to connect with him, to get to know him through the culture and events of his first home.

I think, too, that Samantha Brown (from The Travel Channel) hit the nail on the head when she said that visiting England was, at least for Americans, Europe-light.  It is exotic for us with the differences in food, accents, and dialects, but it’s not way outside our comfort zones.  Traveling to London from the US seems kind of like visiting, say, Atlanta when you’re from Minneapolis—go with me on this one.  Some accents are hard to manage, sure, but they still speak English and you can make yourself understood.  Some of the food is decidedly different from what you’d find on your table at home, but it’s recognizable and you can find something you like.  Your trip is full of new and exciting experiences, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not you can read the street signs.

So what do you think?  Are there other reasons readers might favor stories set in England?  Or are there locations you prefer when you’re choosing a book?

9 thoughts on “Whole Lotta Love: England as a Popular Setting in Historical Romance”

  1. There is so much history there, in England. It is a country that has been such a part of world history for many centuries. It has been a major actor. All the happenings… England has such a rich history, and provides the fodder for so many stories. 🙂

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  2. I think I’ve always assumed that they are set in England as the regency era is the era of the Prince Regent after all. And most English people would have been living in umm.. England. Trips abroad would probably be for the Grand tour, and I’ve always imagined the men on those would be young and spotty, and hardly suitable for the hero in a romance. ;o) My favourite regencies are either set in London or Bath. Both cities steeped in history.

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    1. I tend to like the ones set in London, too, but I’m reading The Sometimes Bride by Blair Bancroft–the whole first half of it takes place in Portugal during the Peninsular War. Very different from a traditional Regency…but it’s the same time period, with English characters who eventually go to London, so it’s still a Regency 🙂

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  3. Period dramas and the decline of the traditional Regency are the culprit, I think. During the 80s and 90s, the historical romance genre was dominated by American-set historicals (Westerns, Frontier, Native American, Civil War, American Revolution) with a few authors either writing British/European-set historicals or mixing them in with their US historicals. Then came the 1995 Pride & Prejudice and the subsequent Jane Austen adaptations, and around this time, the major traditional Regency authors began to move into single title, leaving the trad market smaller and less well-paid than writing for Avon or Bantam. Then to feed this trend, publishers began to acquire more and more Regency Historicals.

    I’d also point to the shrinking of the book market around 99 and ’00, when smaller publishers like Harper or Jove were purchased by major publishing houses like William Morrow or Penguin, or smaller lines like Candlelight were cancelled, leaving less places for authors to submit their books, which in turn led to less risk-taking in what publishers were willing to acquire.

    BTW, I’ve just completed a survey detailing historical romance reading habits and will post my analysis on my blog: http://businessofhistoricalromance.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks for all that great info, Evangeline! It didn’t occur to me that a shrinking book market would influence where historicals are set, but you make a great point. I’ll stop by your blog, too, and check out your survey 🙂

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  4. You can’t please everyone! I recently receive a tongue lashing because my hero didn’t take the heroine in the first three pages! lol So much for letting a relationship build, right?

    Don’t sweat it! I read all types of historical romances! Though the Highlander types are my favorites, I do love Regency novels! Keep up the great work!!

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