When offered the chance to propose a “core curriculum” for historical romance, I eagerly accepted, knowing full well the problems I would have narrowing the list to a reasonable length. After long consideration, I have a list (in chronological order)—not of my favorites (although some are books I cherish) but rather twelve books (thanks to a gracious editor who allowed me to include two beyond the desired maximum) that seem to me to be “foundational;” that is, they either illustrate a convention or trope fundamental to historical romance (representative book) or mark a significant change in the subgenre (unique contribution), and they all provide rich material for discussion on key issues.
1. Pride and Prejudice (1813), Jane Austen
Technically, of course, Jane Austen did not write historical romance, but many of the elements familiar to readers of historical romance in the 21st century can be traced to this book. Pamela Regis asserted in A Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003) that “the courtship makes the romance,” and Pride and Prejudice is a courtship book, a courtship that involves a heroine with intelligence and humor who is no beauty but has “fine eyes"; an arrogant, wealthy hero humbled by love; relatives, embarrassing and interfering; a wicked deceiver; a pompous suitor; sisters, dear and not so dear; a best friend; a bungled proposal; appropriate groveling; and a happily ever after ending that includes true love and an enviable income. I’ve only scratched the surface of what romance fiction owes to this book.