Reading the Historical Romance

As many of you know, Andrea DaRif (aka Cara Elliott) and I are teaching a seminar together at Yale this term, on the origins and development of the Regency romance novel from its inception in Austen to the more outre offshoots of the genre today.

We are having an absolute ball.

For those who are curious about the class, I had ambitious plans about posting both the syllabus and the supplemental reading list here below. However, I am ashamed to admit that my technological cluelessness has stymied me. Fortunately, my co-teacher, Cara Elliott, is savvier than I, so you can find and download the syllabus and supplemental reading list on her webpage, via a couple of exceedingly snazzy Y-for-Yale icons.

Meanwhile, I’ve pasted in the syllabus here below the fold.

I’m happy to answer any questions about why we picked the books we did– and I’m always delighted to have more suggestions for the supplemental reading list!

Reading the Historical Romance
Instructors: Andrea DaRif (Cara Elliott) & Lauren Willig
Spring 2010

Reading the Historical Romance

Course Information

“Although our [novels] have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are as many as our readers….”
— Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818)

Goals: Although “romance” has played an integral role in human storytelling from ancient epics to medieval chansons de geste to the first eighteenth century novels, the popular modern genre is frequently derided as nothing more than the sound of bodices ripping across the centuries. However, despite the dismissive sniffs, “romance” is achieving not only commercial success but serious academic attention as well. The most widely read genre in the United States, romance has recently begun to receive scholarly recognition under the leadership of the International Association for Popular Romance (IASPR). Academic conferences on romance fiction have been held in venues around the globe, from a conference at Princeton in the spring of 2009 to this past summer’s conference in Brisbane, Australia. Romance novel scholarship is rapidly gaining momentum.

In that vein, this class seeks to examine one of the most popular sub-genres within the romance field: the Regency romance novel, beloved by Austen fans worldwide. We will explore the Regency romance novel in both a historical and a literary context, examining the genre’s origins, its growth, and the development of characteristic tropes and conventions.

Starting briefly with the emergence of the “modern” romance in the 18th and 19th century, we will trace the way Austen’s heirs co-opt and adapt the themes and settings introduced in her novels. Next, we’ll consider novels from her early twentieth century imitator, Georgette Heyer, through to the more recent permutations of the model, including “wallpaper” historicals, Regency vampires, and Chick Lit. Looking at the most important names and the most formative works in the field, we will discuss the changing role and nature of the hero and heroine, issues of sexuality and class, the use of structure and tone, and the craft of the romance narrative.

Within this framework, students will be expected to analyze and discuss representative romance novels (with the option of crafting their own works of romantic fiction for their final project). A Discussion Panel of authors and editors in Week 9 adds editorial and industry-based expertise to the reading material, while trips to the British Art Center provide a visual perspective on the Regency.

Instructors: Andrea DaRif (writing as Cara Elliott) and Lauren Willig are both graduates of Yale College and best selling writers of popular historical romance.

Writing: Students will be expected to complete three writing assignments: a book review (3-4 pp), a short critical essay (5 pp), and the final project (10-15 pp). For the final project, students may choose to write either (a) a critical essay or (b) a synopsis and sample chapter for a hypothetical historical romance novel, along with a short explication of their influences and choices.

Reading: Students will be expected to read a novel a week, along with selected excerpts from critical works including A Natural History of the Romance Novel, Beyond Heaving Bosoms, and Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women.


WEEK 1: Introduction

Presentation and expectations. What is a romance novel? What are common conceptions of the genre? What does it mean to be a “regency romance” in particular?
– “The Romance Novel Defined” from A Natural History of the Romance Novel, Pamela Regis
– “An Introduction to Romance” (pp 1-10) from Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Candy Tam and Sarah Wendell
– “An Introduction” by Jayne Ann Krentz from Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, Jayne Ann Krentz ed.
– Opening of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (distributed in class)

UNIT 1: Foundations of the Regency Romance

WEEK 2: Historical Background

We’ll take a look at how such “contemporary” novels shaped the genre, as well as the emergence of tropes, characterizations, and other recognizably “romance” traits. Why can we consider these both “Literature with a capital L” and romance?
– Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen:
– “Northanger Abbey”, from Jane Austen: the World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye, pp. 204-221

WEEK 3: Heyer, Mother of the Regency

Brief description of Heyer as seminal and exploration of her innovations and legacies to the genre. What is the definition of “Regency Romance”? Why did Heyer choose this time period, and why does this choice matter?
– Regency Buck, Georgette Heyer
– “Georgette Heyer: Civil Contracts” from A Natural History of the Romance Novel, Pamela Regis
– “The Seventh Heaven of the Fashionable World”, from An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England, pp. 48-65.
– “An Honourable Escape: Georgette Heyer”, A.S. Byatt, from Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings, 258-265.
– “Reading Trash”, in Sex, Class, and Culture, ed. Lillian S. Robinson, pp. 200-222
– “A Story of her Weaving: the self-authoring heroines of Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romance”, Karin E. Westman, in Doubled Plots: Romance and History, Susan Strehle & Mary Carden, eds.

WEEK 4: Woodiwiss, Mother of Modern Romance

Discussion of the birth of the American-born romance novel and its ramifications. Commentary on famously “purple prose”. Why is this the springboard for the modern romance novel? How is this dated and how is it timeless?
– The Flame and the Flower, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
– “A Brief History of the Modern Romance Novel” (pp 10-25) from Beyond Heaving Bosoms
– “Desire and the Marketplace: A Reading of Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the Flower”, Charles H. Hinnant, in Doubled Plots: Romance and History, Susan Strehle & Mary Carden, eds.

UNIT 2: Power Players

WEEK 5: McNaught: Virginity and the Heroine

Discussion of the nature and role of the heroine, particularly in relation to the role of sexuality. How do conceptions of purity, feistiness, vulnerability, and femininity relate? Are romance novels heroine-driven? What does that entail?
– Whitney, My Love, Judith McNaught
– “Rape in Romance” (pp 139-144) from Beyond Heaving Bosoms
– “An In-Depth Investigation of the Romance Heroine” (pp. 30-39, 54-57) from Beyond Heaving Bosoms
– “By Honor Bound: the Heroine as Hero” from Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women.

WEEK 6: Lindsey: Adventure and Plot

Discussion of the role of the plot, in both adventure-centric novels and otherwise. What is the importance of plot in relation to character? How does adventure mold to the Regency Romance paradigm? Also, where do these novels fit on the spectrum of Purple to Sophisticated prose?:
– Gentle Rogue, Johanna Lindsey
– “Cringe-Worthy Plot Devices We Know and Love” (pp. 100-110) from Beyond Heaving Bosoms
– “The Modern Venus—Or, Improper Ladies and Others” (p. 57-89) from Before Victoria: Extraordinary Women of the British Romantic Era, Elizabeth Campbell Denlinger

WEEK 7: Kleypas and Chase: Heroes from Alpha to Beta

Discussion of the role of the hero. What are the ramifications of the alpha versus beta hero? Are beta heroes less of “heroes”? How does the concept of the hard-hitting hero relate to the role of sensuality in the novel? The role of class and social status?
– Dreaming of You, Lisa Kleypas
– Mr. Impossible, Loretta Chase
– “The Romance Hero” (pp. 72-74, 76-82, 93-98) from Beyond Heaving Bosoms
– “Masculine Occupations” from Jane Austen: the World of Her Novels, pp. 73-86
– “Bucks, Beaux and Pinks of the Ton” from An Elegant Madness, pp. 24-47.

WEEK 8: Quinn: The Wallpaper Historical

Analysis of Quinn’s unique writing style and re-emphasis on the Austenian world of the drawing room. What makes Quinn of the most popular modern romance novelists? What is the role of London society in a Regency Romance? How does she compare with the previous “Power Players”?
This session will include a class field trip to the BAC to look at period prints of Regency life. How do these contemporary pictures both overlap and diverge from the world created by Quinn? The world of Heyer?
– The Viscount Who Loved Me, Julia Quinn
– Jane Austen: the World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye, pp. 87-125
– “An Impolite Society” from An Elegant Madness, pp. 1-23
– “Charades and Epigrams: the Country House”, from An Elegant Madness, pp. 225-244.
– Romancing History, Historicizing Romance: The Practice of History Through Romance Fiction, Lauren Willig, paper given at Popular Culture Association Conference, 2009.
– Selected excerpts from Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency Portraits from the national Portrait Galley London, David Crane, Stephen Hebron, Robert Woof

WEEK 9: Panel Discussion

A panel composed of professional authors, editors, and reviewers will discuss the origins, trajectory, and changing nature of the Regency romance. Please come prepared with questions and good cheer!

– A Duke of her Own, Eloisa James
– “Shakespeare prof savors bodice-busting romances”, Jane Ammeson, New York Times 6/28/09 (article on Eloisa James)
– “Love’s Labors: A Shakespeare Professor Confesses”, New York Magazine 1/24/05 (interview with Eloisa James)
– “Scholarly Writers Empower the Romance Genre”, USA Today, 7/7/09
– “Rewriting the Romance”, Time Magazine, 2/3/03
– “A Sultry Dose of Romance—from Harvard”, New York Times, 3/16/05

UNIT 3: Stylistic Swerving

WEEK 10: Playing with Narrative: Viewpoint and Tone

Discussion of the effects of 1st person viewpoint and choice of tone. How do point-of-view shifts affect our understanding of the novel and the characters? What is the impact on “show, don’t tell” theory? When is the author present in the text? :
– The Accidental Duchess, Jessica Benson
– “The Androgynous Reader: Point of View in the Romance” by Laura Kinsale from Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, Jayne Ann Krentz ed.

WEEK 11: Regency Suspense

The integration of suspense into a new sub-genre of romance. Where is the line between Romantic Suspense and Suspense with romance? What is the relation between horror and suspense? How does suspense impact the nature of hero and/or heroine? How much relation do modern Regency suspense novels bear to the eighteenth century “horrid” novel that served as the progenitor of the Gothic?
– With This Ring, Amanda Quick
– The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole
– “The Gothic Phenomenon In The Castle Of Otranto: A Critical Essay,” Clifford J. Kurkowski
– Excerpt from The Tale of Terror: A Study in the Gothic Romance, Edith Birkhead

WEEK 12: Paranormal, the Road from Gothic

As perhaps the most important sub-genre of modern romance, what is the draw to paranormal? How does one craft a believable, humanized romance within the parameters of the paranormal? Does this have ramifications on the nature of the hero and heroine within (ie, can one have a beta vampire hero? A vampire-slayer Catherine Morland?)

– After Midnight, Teresa Medeiros
– The Giaour, Lord Byron
– Advance excerpt from Immortal Jane (featuring Jane Austen as vampire), a work in progress by Janet Mullany.
– Excerpt from Our Vampires, Ourselves, Nina Auerbach

WEEK 13: Spin-offs and Wrap-up

Chick-Lit as the inheritor of regency romance legacy. How do themes from the Regency romance resonate in contemporary life? How do they differ?
– Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmin Field, Melissa Nathan
– “Write Your Own Romance” and romance mad-libs from Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Candy Tam and Sarah Wendell


Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Regency Buck, Georgette Heyer
The Flame and the Flower, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught
Gentle Rogue, Johanna Lindsey
Dreaming of You, Lisa Kleypas
Mr. Impossible, Loretta Chase
The Viscount Who Loved Me, Julia Quinn
The Accidental Duchess, Jessica Benson
A Duke of her Own, Eloisa James
With This Ring, Amanda Quick
The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole
After Midnight, Teresa Medeiros
Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmin Field, Melissa Nathan
Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Candy Tan and Sarah Wendell
An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England, Venetia Murray
Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye


  1. Abigail on February 3, 2010 at 11:14 am

    This is fantastic! Thank you so much for posting this—I can do a little study of my own here in Louisville…

  2. Liz on February 3, 2010 at 11:29 am

    What an excellent syllabus! As someone who is a graduate student myself,as an undergrad when I was double majoring in biology and anthropology when I went over to the English department to fulfill those pesky Gen-ed requirements I often cringed because professors seemed to build their reading lists not based on the context of the class but rather personal interests and research goals. As a scientist,social or other wise this was particularly bothersome. While I understand this is part of the privilege of being an instructor never was such a comprehensive study of a topic offered. The reading list is a refreshing mix that covers not only subtopics but the meat of what makes a historical romance what it is! I can’t help but wish a class like yours had been offered when I was an undergrad, I might not have dreaded my English Gen-ed so much!

  3. Sonia on February 3, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for this! I have never wished to be a student of Yale or alumni more than now. You’ve got an interesting syllabus…I’m just bummed that I don’t get to hear you lecture!

  4. Sarah Frantz on February 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Who is going to be on your panel? Just curious. 🙂

  5. Alexis on February 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    I really wish I could have taken a class like this when I was an undergrad!! Looking forward to doing a little studying on my own. 🙂

  6. Lauren on February 3, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    We can’t unveil the whole panel list yet, but I will say that we have… drum roll, please… Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books! She’s as entertaining a speaker as she is a writer, so I’m beyond thrilled that she’ll be coming to speak to the class.

  7. Stephanie Ball on February 3, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    I think you should film all your classes and put them online So we can be educated as well.

    Also your reading list makes a great reference for romance novels to read!!! have most of Heyer and yours but so many new ones.

  8. Sarah MacLean on February 3, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I am so ridiculously jealous of these students! I think you should teach this class for the rest of us in NYC! With cocktails!

  9. Katelin on February 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    This is amazing! Thank you so much for posting it. I’m trying to get some of the books so I can follow along.

  10. Emily on February 3, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    I’m an undergrad right now and I would LOVE to take this class! As it is, I supplement my classwork by taking breaks to read Pink and its sequels… 🙂

  11. Laura on February 3, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Both of the links on Cara’s site take you to the supplemental reading list. Not to the syllabus.

  12. Rebecca W. on February 3, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Amazing! And what’s even better? You’re reading “Pride, Prejudice, & Jasmin Field” in your class. That just awesome! 😀

  13. rachel on February 4, 2010 at 2:28 am

    Wow! I wish I could take this class! I’ve never heard of a class that got to read Judith McNaught, Johanna Lindsey, Theresa Medeiros…Sounds like a blast!

  14. Elizabeth B on February 4, 2010 at 8:35 am

    That looks like one great class! I’m very jealous I’m not there to be taking it. It would be fun to hear all of what is said in the discussions, but some of the books listed are my favorites to read and reread

  15. Jordan on February 4, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I’m loving the idea of filming your classes. Watching them would definitely be a fun experience.

  16. am7 on February 4, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Hey its sounds amazing.
    Quick question: there has been about Northanger Abbey on the site, and yet nothing about the novel it is based on/parodying The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.
    Anyway I always love the reading lists on here. If I didn’t have so much of my own reading to do, I would be trying to read everything. I think its interesting. I haven’t read most of them, and even if I have read the author I have read those books specifically. I think that would be the most daunting thing of setting up this kind of class. So many choices, I admire to ability to choose

  17. Diana on February 5, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for posting the syllabus. Your course looks fascinating. I wish I could have audited your class.

  18. aniko on February 7, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    This looks like the best reading list ever! 😉

    It’s so nice of you to post this info. Thanks!

  19. Ruth on August 25, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Currently completing an MA dissertation in England about the historical romance, this has been very useful thank you.

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