For anyone writing a Regency romance, a certain amount of research is necessary. The research needn't be daunting, however! Two excellent (and extremely enjoyable) ways to immerse oneself in the mood and sensibility of Regency England are to read Georgette Heyer's marvellous Regency novels (Heyer is credited with creating the Regency sub-genre, and meticulously researched her books) and to watch as many Jane Austen adaptations as you can get your hands on.
For the hard facts, there are numerous sources. The research books I use most often include: The Bullfinch Illustrated Encyclopedia of Antiques (an excellent starting point for any furniture or other objects I may need to describe); Jane Austen's Town and Country Style, by Susan Watkins (an overview of how people lived, dressed, dined, and entertained, with numerous illustrations); Georgette Heyer's Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester (more than a guide to Heyer's novels, this is also a guide to Regency England, and includes a glossary of Regency slang and a chronology of the major events of the period); and English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, by C. Willett Cunnington (a comprehensive year-by-year survey of upper class women's costume illustrated with line drawings).
These days, research needn't be confined to books. The internet contains a wealth of information. The website I visit most often is author Candice Hern's (www.candicehern.com) which has a section called The Regency World with well-researched information on people, places, and fashion, as well as a glossary, a timeline, and numerous links.
I could list dozens more sources, but instead I decided to ask a few historical romance authors what their favourite sources are.
Anna Campbell, author of MY RECKLESS SURRENDER (Avon), says: "I have a couple of books constantly at my elbow that I refer to for quick questions. One is What Jane Austen Ate And Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting To Whist - The Facts Of Daily Life In 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool. This book is great for things like modes of address or order of precedence or other hairy Regency social questions. Another that I love to dip into (perhaps because I have a naughty sense of humour) is the 1811 Dictionary Of The Vulgar Tongue: A Dictionary Of Buckish Slang, University Wit, And Pickpocket Eloquence by Captain Francis Grose (NuVision Publications, 2007). This has all the slang of the era and some of it is amazingly vivid (and dirty!). On a slightly more elevated plane, I have the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary with me too - it's great for telling me when a word came into use or how the meaning changed over the centuries."
Christine Wells, author of SWEETEST LITTLE SIN (Berkley) has a number of favourite research books. For background, she uses Our Tempestuous Day by Carrolly Erickson, George IV by Christopher Hibbert, and London: The Biography Of A City, also by Hibbert. For detail about the sporting gentleman, Christine recommends The Celebrated Captain Barclay by Peter Radford, and she turns to Regency Style by Steven Parissien for inspiration on decorating her characters' homes. Christine says: "I also find a lot of finer detail at the Georgian Index (www.georgianindex.net). An excellent resource is the Beau Monde chapter of the Romance Writers of America. The members of that group are so knowledgeable, you can ask quite obscure questions and someone is bound to know the answer!"
Sophia James, author of ONE UNASHAMED NIGHT (Harlequin Mills & Boon) says: "I use a little handful of books all the time. Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester, Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England by Kristine Hughes, and What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool. I also use the internet a lot if I need to read about something specific. No special sites but just cruise it. I guess most of my knowledge about the Regency just comes from reading regencies over and over across the years."
Elizabeth Rolls, author of LORD BRAYBROOK'S PENNILESS BRIDE, recommends Eighteenth-Century Decoration, by Charles Saumarez Smith, and Authentic Decor: The Domestic Interior 1620-1920, by Peter Thornton. She says, "These two are fantastic to see what real rooms looked like. Pick a room and move in." For clothing, Elizabeth often researches online - "Don't miss Kalen Hughes' website (www.kalenhughes.com). That girl knows her stays." - but also recommends The History of Underclothes, by C. Willet and Phillis E. Cunnington, and Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail, by Lucy Johnston, saying of the latter: "this is fabulous, based on the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London." And finally, Elizabeth recommends Eve's Herbs, by John M Riddle, on the subject of herbal contraception in history: "Yes, it could work. No, nice girls probably didn't know about it! Or if they did they kept it damn quiet."
The Regency was a rich and complex period, and the sources listed above just scratch the surface - thousands of research books exist on a wide range of subjects, from the Napoleonic Wars to wallpaper patterns. I hope the books that I and other authors find useful will prove to be equally useful for anyone embarking on the adventure of writing a Regency romance. Good luck!
I'd like to thank the authors quoted in this article for sharing the titles of some of their favourite research books: