Romance Recommendations: Classic Authors
When considering classic literature there are many genres that readers may favour, such as gothic fiction and historical novels. Some can even date way back, referring to the masterpieces of Homer and other Greek or Roman works that established classic literature.
Yet, one of the main genres that has retained a classically timeless quality is that of classic romance. All readers of literature will be able to name one novel within this infamous genre or at least state the famous authors. Romantic novels are still prevalent today, alluding to the greats and there really isn’t a story quite like a classic romance story.
Although many ideas of the Regency period in popular culture originate in the novels of Jane Austen, the 20th century popular Regency romance novel is rooted firmly in the works of Georgette Heyer. Seen as the “mother” of Regency romance, Heyer single-handedly established this subgenre, influencing writers across the entire romance genre and beyond.
Regency romances are comedies of manners, where the dramatic suspense relies mostly on relationships and their rigid social hierarchy, with a few swashbuckling adventures thrown in for good measure. Having written Georgian romances throughout the 1920s, Heyer moved into the Regency from the 1930s. Her influence on this subgenre, distinct from the more general ‘Historical Romance’, is impossible to overstate: her range of dashing Lords, Earls and Marquises and her witty, sensible and profoundly modern heroines have become instantly identifying characteristics of the modern Regency romance. Heyer remains one of the most popular romance authors of all time: her books have never been out of print and her influence continues to be felt throughout modern romance fiction.
Regency Buck is a wonderful introduction to Heyer’s writing and her world. Her more swashbuckling novels The Masqueraders, These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub are always worth a read and The Corinthian and Sylvester both demonstrate the humour of her work. Above all, I would recommend Venetia, Heyer’s 1958 masterpiece, for one of the most humorous, clever and romantic romances you’ll ever read.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of the most influential and prolific writers in the English literary canon. Her six novels, Sense & Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were all published within the space of six years (from 1811-1817); with the latter two being published posthumously. Within this short time-frame, Austen created a literary legacy that has influenced writers for centuries and still impacts romance literature today. Each of her novels has been adapted and re-imagined countless times (even stories from her lesser-known juvenilia have made it to our screens), cementing Austen’s place in popular culture.
Austen’s writing style stood out for its ironic commentary of middle-class life in Regency-era England. Her ironic observations, apparent self-awareness and realistic depictions of her characters and their relationships helped to set the stage for the movement of literary realism which followed in the mid-19th century. As well as being incredibly witty, her novels feature some pretty iconic love stories which have undeniably shaped how the romance genre has developed, with Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Darcy, in particular, being the most obvious example of this. Austen’s insights on human nature, her observational candour and swoon-worthy romances all combine to make her novels truly special. Also, being an Austen fan means you’re truly spoiled for adaptations, so if you’re in need of a good romance novel or film, Jane Austen is always a good choice!
Although not specifically a romance author, Elizabeth Gaskell knows how to write a good love story.
North and South, her most beloved novel, is often dubbed the “social Pride and Prejudice”. It is redolent of Austen’s first published novel as it examines the morality and pride of certain characters and features the brooding Byronic hero, but it combines this with the prominent social issues of the period. Through this love story, Gaskell is able to comment on the industrial revolution. Can the selfish and proud factory owner, Mr. Thornton, win the heart of the socially aware Margaret Hale?
Mr. Thornton and Margaret are from two different worlds, which makes the romance all the more appealing. Thornton is new money, working his way up the social ladder through his local mill, whereas Margaret is a traditional middle-class woman, who has travelled from the tranquil South to the grimy North. As they say, opposites attract and you can definitely feel the tension between the two whenever they share the page. Their interactions feel charged and passionate. They better each other, as Thornton is enlightened on the current social issues, whereas Margaret learns to be less proud.
It is an intense, addictive and satisfying read that will give you all the feels!