Wodehouse and Benson, Unsung Masters of Regency Style
As much as I adore Jane Austen, she is not necessarily my favorite authoress of traditional, or classic, Regency romances. I think this largely stems from one too many male profs having no idea, firstly, that there were any other female writers worth a second glance (they were wrong, of course), and secondly, heaven forbid they should be forced to consider tales of love and romance which ended in happily-ever-afters as Great and Powerful Litrachaw of the ages. Jane, therefore, became a great contemporary writer of biting satire and witty social commentary. No doubt true, but we all know she was really writing about the trials and tribulations of young women finding love. The satire and commentary were just super-fun extras. (N.B. These profs were the same ones who insisted that the Wonderful Wizard of Oz was about the social upheaval and financial catastrophe of the early 20th century, insisting that the Wicked Witch of the West’s silver shoes were a parody of the gold and silver monetary standard of the time. [insert eyeroll here] Every woman on the face of the earth, of course, knows that Baum’s stories were about the strength and beauty of home, family, and friendship. Oh, and shoes! There’s a reason MGM changed the silver to ruby. No wonder I only managed a C in that class. Yeesh.)
If I had to choose my favorite Regency authors, they would be Georgette Heyer (all hail), Joan Smith (Aunt Sophie’s Diamonds never fails to make me snort), P.G. Wodehouse, and E.F. Benson. The first two authors are obvious: Heyer is the godmother of us all. Her books are hysterically funny (The Talisman Ring), blueprints on what traditional Regency plots should be (Frederica), and, unlike Austen, concocted the amazing, colorful language of the Regency genre. I might be wrong, but I can’t think of a single instance in which Jane used slang or thieves’ cant in her works. I’m sure Mr. Darcy was bit by the barn mouse on occasion during his time at university, and Captain Wentworth certainly did the blanket hornpipe before meeting Marianne, but as we are not privy to those moments, we are not treated to the richness and variety of the vulgar tongue.
Heyer, on the other hand, gloried in it. Her heroines, of course, are never caught out in such appalling lapses of “bloody” this or “bugger” that. Had they done so, they would have been instantly ostracized by society and considered no better than they should be. Subsequently, they are invariably limited to an occasional “fiddle.” But no such restrictions are laid upon the men in her books. From Jimmy Yarde, the petty thief in The Corinthian, to virtually any of the teenage boys in her books who are anxious to be all the crack, the gentlemen are allowed the use of the most colorful slang terms of the time. Heyer incorporated the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue so skillfully into her books that her style and word choices have become the expectation of readers of classic Regencies.
Pelham Granville Wodehouse, of course, was by no stretch of the imagination a Regency writer. However, he managed to create a world which never truly existed, but which is so charming, that we have come to think of whenever we think of England. In his eternally carefree, upper-crust world of aristocrats and devoted servants, Wodehouse fashioned what we have come to regard as the classic English society. In this world, gentlemen are chaps, valets rally around, and aunts are appalling. His stories have that light, frothy touch of a classic Regency, in which a world which never existed has come to be considered the truest of British society, one which we admire and want desperately to live in, or at least visit.
E.F. Benson, perhaps the least known of the lot, is the author of the delightful Lucia series. In these six books, Benson has also created a world which has become more real than reality. While not the pinnacle of a brilliant, delightfully silly society, Lucia, Georgie, Miss Mapp, et al, are upper-crust enough to consider anything other than a life of leisure an appalling misfortune. Dahlia, poor enough to barely afford a maid, is the only one who needs money badly enough that she takes a job. She opens a tea shop, as genteel an occupation as one might find, and one which affords her the leisure to spend large amounts of time drinking tea and playing cards. The fascinating part of Benson’s creation is that we find out what people actually do all day when they don’t have jobs, don’t have to do housework, and who live in, if not Society, certainly on its fringes. They shop, gossip, play bridge, gossip, golf, gossip, play piano, gossip, and engage in metaphorically bloody battles of social one-upmanship. And all of this is done, once again, with the deftest of light touches.
As a reader, I go back time and again to these authors and revel in their fizzy, frothy worlds. As a writer, I try to absorb and reproduce their light, bubbly cadence and phrasing which bring to life the worlds they created, and which bring us so much vicarious pleasure. When your stock of Regencies runs low, do give them a try.
Ventre a Terre is a humorous, traditional Regency short story of approximately 16,000 words, or forty-one pages.
Utter mayhem breaks out when the Grey Cavalier once more robs and plunders near the village of Oaksley. The villagers could not be more delighted, since tourists and their money are now pouring in, including the mysterious Mr. Dalrymple. Unfortunately, this good news for the village is bad news for the Lady Katherine Thoreau, especially when the unthinkable happens. She and Mr. Dalrymple must work together to save an innocent from the gallows, and ensure their own future in the midst of highwaymen, counterfeiters, dragoons, and performing pigs.
Q & A with Lydia M. Sheridan
Q: Why did you want to write?
A: When I was a kid, I really wanted to be Judy Garland and go to Oz. (My mother swore up, down, and sideways that the movie was all true and I believed her until, well, along about last year). I still intend to be a big band singer or a concert pianist, but until those miracles happen, I write.
Q: Why is Lord Philip such a goober?
A: Poor Philip! [laughter] He’s not a goober! He’s just an extremely young man who is smart, but very bored, and subsequently gambles, boozes, and tries very hard to wench, except that he has no luck whatsoever with women. He first appears in Ventre a Terre (a story I’m embarrassed to say begins with vomit and ends with horse manure) and continues his gooberness in The Companion.
Q: Will he ever find love?
A: Yes, I promise! On January 18th, to be precise. Philip grows up and falls in love for the last time (I hope, but you never know with that man) in School for Scandal.
Q: Do you have a website?
A: Er – probably I should do that, except Hostgator and I have developed a deep and meaningful loathing of one another.
Q: How can folks get a hold of you if they have a comment or question?
A: I’m on Facebook, or they can contact me at email@example.com.
Q: What’s next on the agenda for Lydia? Assuming the concert pianist thing doesn’t work out.
A: Hey! [more laughter] Next up is a six-book series about six sisters and a castle, unless I change that to five sisters, because that’s just way too many s-es. I refuse to give up on the castle, however. That stays!
Q: Anything else you’d like us to know?
A: The Counterfeit Cavalier, a book which I literally wrote twenty-five years ago and had to piece together from three different computers and bits of dog-eared papers all over the place, is on sale at Amazon through January 6th.
Q: Thanks for being with us today, Lydia.
A: My pleasure. Thank you for having me!
About the Author
Lydia M. Sheridan has yet to fulfill her childhood dreams of becoming a gold medal-winning figure skater, wicked-famous opera singer, or archaeologist, but she has written a couple of books, and that’s pretty cool, too. Her hobbies include losing at Scrabble, scarfing Milk Duds, and wearing extremely bright lipstick.