Apr 9 2011 3:00pm

Trads are Dead. Long Live...Historicals?

The Notorious Rake by Mary BaloghMy two published novels are Traditional Regencies, and I'm sorry I will not get to write (or read) more of them. The last two publishers of the Traditional Regency dropped their Trad lines late in 2005, leaving us without the promise of another new Regency. However, the Traditional Regency was an excellent platform for authors to move into single-title Historical Romance.

And why is that?  Easily explained. Readers of Traditional Regency Romance were notoriously picky. If an author made a mistake on a matter of historical fact, they were frequently excoriated in the various review and discussion venues. To write a good Traditional Regency one had to know how to do research and to understand the voice of the genre. 

It will be no surprise that Mary Balogh is the first author who springs to mind when discussing Trad authors who turned to Historicals. First of all, Mary Balogh is probably the first author that springs to mind when you say “Traditional Regency” in any context. She has written over 35 Traditional Regencies beginning with A Masked Deception in 1985. I still reread her Christmas Trads and Novellas every year during the holidays. While writing Trads, Mary Balogh was already breaking the mold. Her Traditional Regencies had—gasp!—sex. Okay not all of them, but in The Notorious Rake, the hero and heroine are getting it on in the first chapter. And then the courtship starts. Not typical Traditional Regency, and an excellent run-up to Historical Romance. 

An Arranged Marriage by Jo BeverleyJo Beverley's first Traditional Regency was Lord Wraybourne's Betrothed, published in 1988, followed by six others. During this time, Beverley also wrote the first three of her Company of Rogues books, all published as Super Regencies, but essentially the beginning of her first Historical Romance series. 

Loretta Chase's Isabella, the first of her six Trads, was published in 1987. Her six novels are Traditional Regencies in every sense of the word, comedies of manners in which the line between propriety and impropriety is approached, but never crossed. The Lion's Daughter was published in 1992, marking the first of Loretta Chase's Historical Romances, leading, famously, to Lord of Scoundrels, which won the hearts of thousands of devoted readers. 

There is a solid reason that these three are among my favorite authors of Historical Romance, and that reason has its roots deep in the Traditional Regency. All three authors understand how to do research and all  have an innate sense of the period in which they write. Their longer, more sensuous, more adventurous Historical Romances retain the knowledge they gained in writing Trads. They have tapped into their period and, although there is, undoubtedly, the occasional historical false step, each novel feels grounded in the Regency.

It is our great fortune that the Traditional Regency was there to give us that first taste of these three authors—and more—and to allow them to move on to write the delicious Historical Romances that followed. And it is our good fortune that the unique voice each of these authors, honed in the Traditional Regency, is still recognizable in her more recent works.  In each of the Trads, we recognize the nascent voice of the author: Loretta Chase's dry humor and wry characters, Jo Beverley's exploration of emotion and senses, Mary Balogh's pitch-perfect ear for character and dialog. All begun in the Traditional Regency, and perhaps not possible without it. All as delightful in each new novel as they were in the first.


Myretta Robens 
The Republic of Pemberley

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Virginia Campbell
1. VirginiaCampbell
Traditional Regencies will never become extinct as long as print books find their way to hands of dedicated readers. I realize that many earlier titles are now available as ebooks, but if you want to really submerge yourself in classic romance, you'll find the mother lode in the ink and paper pages of older print books. I alternate between reading new releases and earlier titles, and that actually heightens my appreciation for both the old and the new. I regularly shop online for older titles, and I also haunt thrift shops, used book stores, and yard sales for my "treasures". I reaffirmed my love of Regencies about two years ago when I stumbled across an amazing bonanza of hundreds of Traditional Regencies which had been donated to one of our local thrift stores. I went back again and again, eventually losing count after I had purchased over 100 of these wonderful books, many of which were in mint condition. They have never been opened. They were old, but still "new". Here are some of the outstanding authors with whom I have been spending my reading time: Jeanne Savery, Joan Wolf, Donna Simpson, Mary Balogh, Mary Kingsley, Barbara Metzger, Karla Hocker, JoAnn Ferguson, Joanna Maitland, Candace Hern, Teresa DesJardien, Sandra Madden, Anne Gracie, Barbara Reeves, Sophia Nash, Barbara Allister, Nicola Cornick, Gayle Wilson, Emma Jensen, and Jo Beverley. Print books are an invaluable literary legacy which we must respect, preserve, and pass along.
Janet W
2. Janet W
Thank you Virginia: there is a life before "new" publications and the Trad is not Dead. My reading life includes re-reading Trads, reading new-to-me Trads (my biggest book buying category: I haunt UBSs), Historicals and everything in between.

As the recepient and passer-on, buyer and promoter, of OOP Regencies, this is a genre that is fresh as paint to me. Witness how many of us are waiting breathlessly for the new Georgette Heyer biography? This probably sounds pixilated but when I buy a Kindle, it will be for Regencies. When the price point is $4.00, count me in. There are authors writing in the Regency vein, like Patricia Rice ... and so many others.

So I see re-issues, e-books, and, magically, new books that are very Regency*esque. Here's one (plus a link to a magnificent Regency website too) Author: Julie Klassen, The Girl In The Gatehouse. I haven't read it yet but it's on my wish list.
Megan Frampton
3. MFrampton
Thanks, guys, for chiming in to the discussion--the headline is meant to pique the interest, and cause comment, and that it did (in other words, don't blame Myretta!)
4. EvangelineHolland
I discovered romance novels through Traditional Regencies (and gothic romances), and even though I've taken a break from the time period in single-title romances, I always jump in delight when discovering an old Signet or Zebra--or Walker!--Regency from the 80s and early 90s. Authors such as Jeanne Savery, Margaret Evans Porter, Sheila Simonson, Carola Dunn, Allison Lane, Clare Darcy, Joan Smith, and Marion Chesney, to name but a few, no doubt paved the way for my appreciation of how manners and mores can create just as much fun and just as many sexy situations as chucking the rules. Oddly enough, I prefer Chase and Beverley's trads to their single-title historicals!
Donna Cummings
5. Donna Cummings
I miss the traditional Regency that was more of a comedy of manners. I loved seeing the characters fall in love via humor and witty banter and the sometimes ridiculous aspects of the Regency world. I enjoy the more emotional stories, but it was really the lighter stories that captured my heart. :) I wish they were still published, but I also enjoy the sexy single-title historicals very much. There can never be too many Regency stories as far as I'm concerned!
Janet W
6. Syl
I prefer traditional Regencies and usually skip the hot pages in historicals. I read books for plot, character, and history... Luckily, I have a huge collection I cycle through and re-read, plus a very good used bookstore with a traditional Regency section where I spend my pin money.
Keira Soleore
7. KeiraSoleore
I adore Regency Trads and will read any I can lay my hands on via the library, used bookstores, and generous friends. I came to Regencies the other way, by reading single titles and then the traditional ones.

I do wish Harlequin would create a Traditional line in addition to their Historical line, because I do believe the market for the trads is most definitely there, and Harlequin with its deep pockets and market reach is best poised to do this.
8. EvangelineHolland
@Keira Not just traditional Regencies, but traditional historicals period--I think comedies of manners, witty banter, simmering sexual tension, and historical detail fit in any historical setting, from the Medieval era (Chaucer!) to the 1940s (the heyday of the screwball comedy!).
Janet W
9. Magdalen
I'm not sure Myretta's thesis about how trad Regency romances died when authors stopped doing research holds up.

Mary Balogh simultaneously wrote for both Signet Regency and for Signet Super Regency - a total of 40 titles all told. In theory, her Signet Regency titles are "trad" and her Signet Super Regency titles are "historical romances" simply by virtue of the increased length. Only among the latter category are the Web of Love series, which feels very traditional -- and includes the howler of having the earl's younger brother be Lord Eden.

Furthermore, many authors are currently writing romances firmly set in early 19th Century England. Tessa Dare, Miranda Neville, Rose Lerner, Joanna Bourne, to name a few. (And if you'll extend the definition of a trad to include the Georgian period, I'll add Elizabeth Hoyt to that list.) All of those authors have done their research -- Tessa Dare tweeted from her solo trip to England last year! -- and it shows in their books.

Yes, these books may be longer and may have more sexual content, but a lot of Mary Balogh's Signet Regency titles are long and, as Myretta noted, contain sexual content.

My feeling is that the trad Regency has grown up a little -- it's a bit sexier and a bit bigger -- but it's still out there, both in wonderful OOP titles and in the work of new authors.
10. EvangelineHolland

I think the knee-jerk reaction to see Regency Historicals as frothy and wallpapery is due to that old phrase, "Avonization"--that is, when most percieved Avon to publish nothing but Julia Quinn clones during the first decade of this century, which in turn dominated the historical romance market. Now, though historical romance market has shrunk with the rise of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, the Regency still reigns surpreme, and even if the historical is published by Zebra or Pocket, I think it's difficult to shake off the association of the setting with "Avonization".
Myretta Robens
11. Myretta
@Magdalen. My thesis is not that Traditional Regencies died when authors stopped doing research. I actually don't think that had anything to do with the end of the publicationof Trads. What I was trying to say was that authors who were grounded in Trad Regencies carried their knowledge, their research and their voice with them into single title Historicals.

Nor do I think that authors who did not begin in Trads don't do research. And I don't think I implied that. I simply mentioned three who did. I certainly agree that many who began in single title Historicals have an excellent understanding of the period, have done their research, and have provided us with some wonderful novels.

I apologize if you read my post as blaming lack of research for the death of the Trad (which I did not actually declare dead) and as a denigration of authors who did not start out in Traditional Regencies. That was certainly not my intention.
Janet W
12. Anna C. Bowling
When I first discovered trads, I thought that every period had had books like that and actually searched in vain for Tudor, Restoration, colonial and Edwardian trads before finally accepting that for the publishing world, this only applied to the Regency period. I grumbled, but I dealt, and one of my "if I ever someday become owner of a publishing house" list items is "have lines dedicated to specific historical periods."

What I liked best about trads, even though Regency isn't my favorite setting, is the attention to and focus on the specific flavor of the time. Isn't that one of the big pulls for historicals in general? Trad authors knew their stuff, and I can certainly attest that Balogh and Beverley carried that over into their historicals.
Janet W
13. Magdalen
@ Evangeline -- It's funny you mention Avon, a publisher whose reputation used to be pretty good. In the 1980s and 90s, you could count on Avon's single-title historicals: early Patricia Gaffney, Laura Kinsale, Jane Feather and Loretta Chase were all published by Avon. I remember buying a new-to-me author published by Avon and being disappointed because she wasn't as good! (Silly me.)

I don't think any single publisher is at fault. And I don't think the tendency toward more colloquial, less historically-accurate Regency romances is a recent trend. I remember reading an Amanda Quick romance in the 1980s... (Another mistake I didn't make twice)

I believe the demise of Signet Regencies, Coventry, and Fawcett's line of trads has more to do with lower sales. In fact, I virtually guarantee every "trend" we've seen in the last 40 years has come and gone on the basis of sales trends. As previously noted, publishers aren't very imaginative.

@Myretta -- I'm sorry. You're absolutely right -- I elided the first two paragraphs of your post and got entirely the wrong idea! My bad.
Myretta Robens
14. Myretta
@Magdalen - I agree that the demise of the Traditional Regency was most likely based on sales. Publishing is, after all, a business. However, I feel that Signet and Zebra, the last two publishers of Trads, didn't do much in the way of promotion, feeling, perhaps, that this was a naturally smaller market.
Janet W
15. Teresa Thomas Bohannon
For those of you here that miss the traditional, old-fashioned Regencies, my A Very Merry Chase--which has only recently been e-published--was actually written 35 years ago while I was heavily under the influence of Georgette Heyer. It is very much in the comedy of manners style of writing. My heroine is--about to go on the shelf--older, quite wealthy and very independent. As such, she is somewhat rebellious in nature; however, her rebellions are not particularly public or outrageous in nature, but rather such as would probably, realistically be manifested by a lady of her time in her station. Is it great literature for the ages--most probably not; but is it an enjoyable read for someone who enjoys old-fashioned, i.e. Traditional Regencies...most probably so.
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