My heart broke a little this year when I read historical romance was dead. And by a little, I mean a lot. Sure, I write historical romance so it was hard to swallow that the genre I love (read: adore, admire, devour incessantly) was old news. The part that hurt more? While I write historicals, I’ve been a reader much longer, and to have them declared dead left me feeling a little lost. My shelves are packed with historicals, my TBR list features Dukes and scandals of all sorts. Heck, I just carried three romances in my purse for an 8,000-mile road trip in addition to my beloved Nook because I refuse to be stranded without some love.
So why do I love historical romance?
One: I am a hopeless romantic. True story. I am the girl who will gush over anything to do with love.
Two: I have been long obsessed with history. Somewhere around twelve I discovered Anne of Green Gables and fell hard. I fell even harder for An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott a few years later. Sure, it’s not a traditional romance, but the romance in it was sweet and there was so much left unsaid that I still remember the flutter in my heart when Tom finally returns to declare his love to Polly. After that, there was no going back. I discovered Julia Quinn and after that fell down the rabbit hole of all things historical romance.
And three: I fell in love with the art and romance of courting depicted in historical romance. There’s something so wickedly delicious when the heroine and hero share the first small spark. That spark makes my heart pitter patter with the ritual of courting. Those stolen kisses and touches are smaller flirtations that get lost in in the modern era. Looks over fluttering fans or the subtle wringing of gloves – languages of unspoken flirtations. One of my favorite examples is the Victorian language of flowers. Courting gentlemen would pick each flower with a specific meaning. There’s romance in that, an art form long since forgotten in modern dating. But I’m not ready to forget it. I want to read about those rituals and get lost in the story until my phone, tweets, and emails fade away and I’m living history.
Maybe that’s why there’s a single moment in recent film history that still sticks with me when I’m writing. Controversy aside, my pick for favorite movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is the 2005 version. I just about die every time Mr. Darcy first touches Elizabeth when he hands her up into the carriage. It’s the short shot of him unfurling his hand that makes my heart race. It’s such a small thing that in a contemporary setting wouldn’t mean much. But the brushing of a hand, a small unguarded smile, a familiar address when perhaps it was improper means worlds more in a historical setting.
What I can say is this—after my initial heartbreak upon hearing the alleged death of my dearly beloved genre, I did think long and hard about what’s become expected in historical romance. I have read about Dukes and scandals and sins aplenty. And I will continue to do so because 1) I want to and 2) I adore Dukes and scandals and sins. But expectations shouldn’t be confused with limitations. I think what’s so exciting about historical romance is that there is still so much more explore in our writing of the genre.
I crave stories that reflect the grittiness of history—the truth—rather than a prettier and kinder version of the past. Sure, give me beautiful gowns galore and manners, but that was life for one small and select group of people. What about the struggle of the poor? The limitations women faced? Writing about tenements may not be romantic, but that doesn’t mean romance didn’t bloom there. Love does not have to be just upper class gentry nor does it have to be solely based in England or have to be set in one time period to resonate with readers.
I want to read about love all over the world and throughout history. I want my heartstrings to be pulled until they’re reduced to nothing more than a gossamer wisp, ready to snap at any moment because the story is so vivid and real that I forget the modern world around me. I want stories of the poorly behaved and misfits in history because those are the ones who caused ripples in society, whether for good or bad. I want to read about lives of the extraordinary—those who dared to live beyond the conventions of the day because those are the stories that fill me with excitement about turning that next page until I reach the end and suffer an incurable book hangover after finishing.
I guess that’s my rallying cry for the future of the genre—to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s expected because historical romance is far from dead. I feel it’s just at the beginning of another sea change. There are so many amazing historical romance authors that are writing books right now that are changing expectations and more who will continue to do so.
I’ll stand by my genre and fight for it because without it, I’d be a little lost, my bag would be lighter, my bookshelf…well, I was going to say less empty but let’s be honest, a bookworm is never without books. But I do know I’d have less fictitious boyfriends and that’s just a life I don’t want to contemplate.
Biography:I discovered my love of writing during a fifth grade writing assignment for Hatchet. After that, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Sure, there were other ambitions along the way, but nothing stuck because I always snuck off to write another story. Bitten by the news bug, I attended Emerson College in Boston and graduated with a degree in Journalism. I had the opportunity to write for several more papers, including the Boston Globe, where I covered everything from business tech to penguins at the Boston Aquarium. While I loved reporting, I still craved the ability of bringing my own characters to life, so I started writing fiction again. Now I write using my love of history and my hopeless romantic sensibilities the best way I know how. When I’m not writing, I’m most likely reading or painting a room in my house…again. I live in New Hampshire with my husband, a professional YouTuber, and our cat, Bella. Visit Rebecca online or follow her on Twitter @BeckaPaula