Why I read historical romance

I’m back today with #WhyIReadHistoricals (there’s also #WhyIWriteHistoricals but I’m a reader here, not a writer). I’ve been ravenously reading historical romance novels for the past few months — right now I’m at that point where I’ve read the first book or two of several series but I’m waiting to get book 3 or 7 and can hardly stand it. (Recommended: Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series, Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series and Castles Ever After series, Isabella Bradford’s Wylder Sisters series, and Grace Burrowes’ Windham series.)

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Source: Historical Romance Network/Facebook

What’s drawn me to historicals? Pretty, pretty dresses. Seriously, I’ve been doing some Regency fashion research because I love seeing the details of a dress vividly in my mind, or I’ll come across a reference to a piece of clothing or accessory that I can’t picture (what’s a reticule? or a pelisse or a spencer?) so I look it up. There’s some fond, unanswered girlhood wish of mine to swan around in dresses with enormous skirts, and historicals scratch that itch a little bit.

And I read romance (not just historicals) because I love to be caught up in the emotion of a book. When I read for pleasure, I’m not necessarily paying attention to themes or foreshadowing, and I can forgive plenty of fudged details for the sake of the story. I’m not trying to guess the ending, because it’s clear before the story even starts that the heroine and the hero end up together. What’s interesting and satisfying is how they get there and what they feel along the way. If the hero is a notorious rake and love of the heroine changes him into a loving, respectful, monogamous gentleman, how does that happen? If the heroine has sworn off love and sees only duty and sacrifice, why does she give up her duty as she falls in love with the hero? What do the two of them do (and not just the sexy times) to create that change in themselves? How can the happily-ever-after be believable for those two people?

And it’s not pure escapist reading, either. The hero in When the Duchess Said Yes by Isabella Bradford, the Duke of Hawkesworth, doesn’t much care for his ducal responsibilities; he’s set up agents to take care of his households and affairs, and he’s got his villa in Naples, and that’s where he prefers to be. However, one of those responsibilities is to marry the heroine, Lizzie (this arranged marriage is what starts the story). There’s a scene after the wedding in which Lizzie, now a duchess, meets the staff of her new home. Not only is it a trope, Bradford describes how this particular meeting is ritualized and what’s expected of each person; with that knowledge, we can understand why it’s a big deal that it’s been days between the wedding and this scene. Rather than the Duke introducing her to the staff, Lizzie introduces herself, and even though this is a breach of etiquette they’re more relieved that it’s done. The staff know what to do next in their jobs, and Lizzie has taken her proper place and now has one less thing hanging over her. When I read this book, I was in a place in my own life where I felt just like Hawke but needed to see how, even though it feels good to hare off somewhere and delegate my responsibilities to someone else, I really do need to show up, take my place, and handle those responsibilities. (Without completely spoiling the book, I’ll say that my takeaway doesn’t map to the ending; this was just a way I connected with the story.)

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Source: Historical Romance Network/Facebook

I’ve never been to London, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen it. Or the Scottish highlands. Or Paris (I don’t even know how many times I read The Three Musketeers as a teenager; it’s why I took French in high school).

I hope it won’t be months until my next post here. I lost my voice for a bit, and I do very much want to get it back.

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