Books and chocolate? Iceland seems like my kind of place.
“The best historical fiction allows us to immerse ourselves in eras long past. Our edit of the best historical fiction books . . . is perfect reading inspiration for when you want to lose yourself with a cast of characters in another time and place.”
In honor of one my all-time favorite authors, whose birthday is today, I’m reupping a little think-piece I wrote with great pleasure for Bookish. Hope you enjoy it!
How Jane Austen Continues to Inspire Romance Authors
More than 200 years after their publication, Jane Austen’s books still speak to us — still make us think, laugh, and swoon a little, too. The novels themes of love and marriage also continue to inspire historical romance novelists everywhere. What is it, exactly, that keeps her work so relevant to us writers, as well as to the romance community at large? I suggest it’s because Austen embeds her stories with enduringly powerful ideas and motifs. Here are a few of them.
Intelligence is a game-changer
Set in an era during which women were all too often viewed as decorative objects, Austen’s heroines — despite intense familial and social pressure to conform — think their way through things. For Mansfield Park‘s Fanny Price to reject Henry Crawford? Astonishing! Today’s historical romance readers expect heroines to make self-affirming choices too, whether it’s through book smarts, emotional intelligence, business acumen, or any of the other various qualities that denote solid brainpower.
Appearances can be deceiving
Oh, that dashing John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, literally sweeping Marianne Dashwood off her feet. But, alas, he’s got a rotten core. And what about cold, condescending Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice? Turns out he’s hiding a good heart and a passionate nature. In the high-stakes game of love, people can go to great lengths to conceal their flaws, fears, and desires. Our historical heroines often struggle with the same dilemma — how to sort out the real from the false — as they fight for what they want and deserve.
Laughter is sexy
Among Austen’s wide range of characters, those who deploy humor are often cited as favorites. Consider witty, playful Elizabeth Bennet in P&P who famously declares, “I dearly love a laugh,” and Northanger Abbey‘s adorable Henry Tilney. As “Advice Goddess” Amy Alkon says, we’re instinctively drawn to people who make us laugh: “Humor is a reliable, hard-to-fake sign of genetic quality.” Today we still love a laugh, as the many fans of Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Tessa Dare — three of the best-known purveyors of fun historical romps — will attest.
People can change
Austen herself said that Emma Woodhouse was “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Emma is a tough sell. She’s annoyingly smug and bossy. But not only does Emma learn some hard lessons about herself, she’s able to take this information and become a kinder, wiser person — leaving us confident that she really has earned her happy ending. And that’s what we want from our historical characters too. We love seeing them change, grow, and flourish, both as individuals and as a firmly bonded couple.
Still waters run deep
My two favorite Austen heroines — Persuasion‘s Anne Elliot and Mansfield Park‘s Fanny Price — are quiet, sensitive, and deeply emotional. Others may think they’re pushovers or take them for granted, but it’s their unwavering moral compass, their steadfast inner strength, which ultimately gains them their hearts’ desires. This trope is an eternally popular one, and for good reason: Who doesn’t root for the wallflower, the introvert, the underdog? There’s something very special about the against-the-odds happily-ever-after.
In Austen’s day, marriage was often a woman’s only bulwark against deprivation, degradation, or worse. That her books are wedding-obsessed reflects a very real and practical response to her world. Yet she also, radically, makes the case for personal happiness over pragmatism. Elizabeth Bennet really should accept icky Mr. Collins’ proposal for the sake of her family’s security. But she doesn’t, and that is a stunning act of subversion. This bold championing of happiness over every other consideration is why romance novels continue to not only outsell other genres, but also to joyfully illuminate the human heart and mind.
These images via Wikimedia commons.
How flattering to see The Redemption of Philip Thane among such fabulous books in this listicle including (gasp) Pride and Prejudice!
“From romance novels to collections of love poetry, here’s our edit of the best romantic books about love, the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for any booklover.”
Click here to check it out!
I’ve got a newsletter going out on Saturday, brimming with fun stuff including:
If you haven’t already subscribed to my newsletter, would you like to? Click here to go to the super-simple entry form on my site.
Exciting news! My publisher HarperCollins has just launched a new online community! Here’s the scoop:
Do you enjoy talking about your favorite books or authors? Do you have strong opinions about book cover designs and book descriptions?
Join our new READERS’ ROOM, where you can take surveys on books before they’re published and earn FREE ebooks or audiobooks just for participating! It’s an exclusive space for passionate, opinionated readers like you, and we’d love to have you on board.
As a member you will:
Interested? Click here to get going!
I relate to several of these Reader Personality Types — but NEVER, NEVER “D”!
What about you? :)
Podcast alert! If you’d like to listen in on a conversation between my amazing Avon editor Lucia Macro and me, in which we yak about the creative process, how I came to write You May Kiss the Bride, why romance novels have claimed their well-deserved place at the literary table, my upcoming The Redemption of Philip Thane, and more, click here!
Isn’t this a delightful comic? It fills my bookish heart with joy. ♥