My darlings, my sweeties, my beautiful lovelies… I get it. I do, honestly. Everyone has different sensibilities, and quite a lot of us like clean romances. In fact, I myself prefer the slow burn of non-explicit romance to the hard and fast erotica.
But, please, please, I beg of you, do miss me with that ‘the moral purity of the olden days’ crap when you complain about sexuality in Historical Romances, especially those set in the
and Victorian time period.
People in Georgian/Regency England had veritable tons of sex (fuckotons?), and a lot of it was before marriage – roughly 40% of brides married at the time were pregnant at their wedding, and as many as 25% of first-born children being born out of wedlock. And this wasn’t even treated like some shameful secret; everyone knew perfectly well what was happening, and I do mean everyone.
Pornographic literature was popular and easily obtainable, as were contraceptives. Fashion for both men and women was designed specifically to be as revealing as possible – in the form of the infamous Regency dresses made of thin muslin (which women often dampened with water so they would cling to their bodies and show off their figures) and trousers deliberately sewn tight so that the outline of the man’s penis could be plainly visible. Sex clubs and brothels operated freely, and you could buy pamphlets on the street that listed the names and locations of these establishments, along with the most famous of their workers and what kind of services one might purchase there.
Affairs were also unbelievably common, especially among the upper classes, with spouses rarely caring about what the other did once the heir and a spare were provided. Hell, the Duke of Devonshire lived with his wife and his mistress in the same freaking house for 25 years, and you best believe all three of them were very welcome guests in society. And, lest you think the poor little women did nothing but put up with that crap, I give you the glorious example of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne, who had eight children and only her eldest son was fathered by her husband. Again – everyone knew, nobody cared, and nobody cared because it was a common occurrence.
And as for the Victorians? Oh, my sweet darlings, they were even dirtier than their Georgian/Regency predecessors. The perceived prudishness of the time came from the desire to appear more sensible than their forbearers, but in reality not much changed other than dress and mannerisms. Yes, a lot of people who thrived on feeling morally superior to others for denying themselves (and forcing others to deny themselves) any pleasure thrived because of the enormous social pressure to maintain an image of moral purity… but dig just a little bit under that ‘pure’ veneer and you will realise that all those sexual shenanigans of the Georgian/Regency era were still alive and well – they were just moved from the public eye. The brothel culture flourished (BDSM parlours were gaining particular popularity at the time), STDs were rampant, the pornographic novels and pamphlets became even more available (and now included pictures!), and the number of bastard children actually grew rather than diminished. For crying out loud, Queen freaking Victoria wrote erotic love letters to her hubby and described their sexytimes so graphically in her journals that her kids wouldn’t let them be published before they were heavily redacted!
So, yeah. I do not and never will, look down on you for disliking sexual scenes in romance. Clean Romance, as a genre, is just as valid as any other. Just don’t pull the ‘it isn’t historically accurate’ bullshit on me, K?
The days of yore you like to idealise? Never happened.
And yeah, I get it – there are a lot of assholes out there who would mock you and call you sex-negative and prudish for preferring Clean Romances, and pulling out the ‘historical accuracy’ card is easier than facing all that negativity. But you know what? That’s on them and their shitty personalities, not on you. You 100% do not need any excuses for your preferences, and your love of Austenian romanticism is just as valid as another’s love of steamy erotica. Openly celebrate the romance that makes you happy and be proud of what brings you joy! And those jerks baiting you with sneers and comments? Ignore them and continue gushing about the kind of romances you love. Trust me, nothing can hurt a troll more than when their chosen target gives them zero attention and continues to enjoy their lives unperturbed by their jabs.
Retire the excuse already. In this day and age, with so much information freely available to everyone, it really doesn’t hold water.
This! People thing Regency (and Georgian and Victorian periods) were so staid. No they were not. Part of the reason I think Regency is so fascinating is because it’s so contradictory. On one hand, yes, you had very strict rules, but on the other, people were absolutely batshit about the stuff they did. The mind, it boggles. As for Georgians, I just recently ran across this article about sex scandals. I also recently read the biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and yeeeeeah it shows you some of the depravity of the era. Venetia Murray’s An Elegant Madness is good if you want to know about all this upper-class Regency drama. (NB: I mostly know about the higher classes, alas.)
As for the other point, yes, do not let anyone make you feel bad about the type of romance you like. You like it clean, that’s fine. You like it steamy af, that’s fine. That’s why all of it exists, readers want different things. I don’t mind sex, but seriously, I’ve been asked to rec romance with good sex scenes and I never can think of any particularly good sex scenes; I just don’t really care. (Interestingly, I also can never remember any good declarations of love, as I discovered this spring.) You get to decide what you want to read, and I really don’t see how it’s any of anyone else’s business.
It’s so important that people differentiate between ‘I did not like this’ and ‘this was bad’. When I read a fairly steamy Austen variation in November, a lot of the reviews on Goodreads were ‘there was too much sex in it so it was bad’, when that is not how it works at all! If you read a book and its level of steaminess is not what you were expecting or looking for, that means it’s not the right book for you right now. Don’t shame people for reading and writing what they enjoy and call it ‘historical accuracy’ (funnily enough, this also goes for gay people in fantasy!).
And on top of all that, historical romance isn’t meant to be 100% ‘historically accurate’. At this point, it’s almost become a kind of fantasy, too – there’s the basic groundwork that’s the same, but, y’know, with more feminism and less syphilis.
Oh my gods yes, the fact that Regency in Regency romance is a THING OF ITS OWN is a fantastically fascinating thing
like most of the things we expect to see in Regence rom is not historically accurate, but we NEED to see those things there for it to feel like a proper Regency romance. (I think I’ve read one book where the waltz was accurate. But we expect the waltz, and Regency waltz doesn’t really sound very intimate to us these days, whereas the sort of waltz we dance these days is understandably intimate to us. So Regency authors use that instead. ANYWAY.)
I have another book to recommend, Roger Sails’s Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England; it talks about how the Victorians (and Austen’s descendants directly after her death) prettified her and her novels, and because of this our understanding of the Regency is skewed these days, and how adaptations cater to this by keeping things neat and tidy and picturesque and so on. It’s absolutely fascinating!
I have nothing to add to this – since you all covered it fabulously – I just love the smell of discourse in the morning.