Why here and not there?


by Fiona Glass

Reading through several of Erastes’ recent reviews, I’ve noticed anachronisms being mentioned: railways in a Regency setting, confusion over the rules of aristocratic titles, that sort of thing. In pretty much every case the book has been set in England but the author is American, and it just set me wondering why that is.

America has a rich history of its own, and for the European influx, it dates back to at least the 17th century, which would be fascinating to read about. In terms of homosexuality and social history, it shares many features with Britain. In both countries gay sex was illegal until the mid 20th century. In both countries homosexuality was generally disapproved of, and gay men had to hide their sexuality or risk arrest and a hefty jail sentence. So it can’t be a case of writers being limited to one particular country if they want to describe a certain set of historical events.

It must be a lot harder for an author writing about a country that’s unfamiliar to them, too. At the very least, it means a stack more research to do, a stack more little facts and figures to check before they can even set pen to paper – and a stack more chances to make those annoying mistakes that seem minor in themselves but can pull a reader right out of the book. At worst, it can mean trying to base a book on the unreal world presented in films and television, with all the pitfalls that can bring.

So, why do American authors of historical novels still choose to set their books in England? Is it a publisher-driven or a reader-driven demand? Is there a specific rule amongst publishers that a Regency must by definition be set in England (in the same way that Parma ham must come from Parma)?

I’d be fascinated to know!


4 Responses

  1. I guess I would say when it comes to Regency novels as a specific sub-genre of historical romances, yes, they really do have to be set in England. The Regency, if I’m remembering correctly, was the first part of the 19th century. We (U.S.) were a separate country then, not under the rule of the Prince Regent and even apart from the politics of it, the Regency society with all its mannerisms and customs didn’t exist here like it did in England.

    But I agree – I’d love to see American historical romance writers, whether they’re writing het or m/m, write American settings on occasion. We may not have had London seasons and the ton and that sort of thing, but we have other things that with just as much dramatic potential. (says the person currently writing a medieval historical fantasy, set in England)

  2. I think the sexy English accents might also have something to do with it. 😉

  3. I’m sure the market has something to do with why American authors set historicals in Europe. They become a species of speculative fiction, don’t they?

    There’s also (and this is just my impression) that American historical fiction (aside from romance) has been dominated by men (all those battlefield sagas and westerns!), and the (dare I suggest) muscularity of these works may be off-putting to those of us find colonial settings fascinating for more than the guns, germs, and steel, so to speak.

    I’m sure there are zillions of exceptions to that trend.

    (::Whispers:: And what’s sexier than buckskins? Or sarongs!)

  4. In reading a story based in England or the 17 & 1800 American…I will choose England,also France,etc.
    England is settled. Mansions, estates are built. Royalty, the gentry,the darling villages,the accent.
    There is nothing romantic about the settling of America..the wild west, fighting the British, fighting Indians, the Civil War…clearing land & building a lean-to made of sod.
    NO THANK YOU! No matter how dirty England was the best romance is set there.

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