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?