Why I Write Historical Romance, by Mary Balogh
Acclaimed romance author Mary Balogh reflects on her writing, her influences, and the power of escaping to another time period.
The Power of Love
I believe in love. I believe in the power and ultimate triumph of love even while the world is frequently engulfed in intolerance and hatred and violence and it seems ridiculous to hope. But we all know what happens when hatred has caused catastrophic death and destruction. People come together in a surge of unity and sympathy and generosity of spirit to those who are suffering. I have always been a writer. And what I should write has never been in question. I have to write about love and its triumph over adversity and all the outer and inner forces that would smother it if they could. I write love stories without apology and without self-doubt.
Why historical love stories?
Why historical novels, though? Perhaps the answer lies in the more common term for my type of story—historical romance. It’s a lovely word, that—romance. It encompasses attraction and courtship and sex and love and yet sets an aura about them that transcends them and makes them irresistibly attractive. I don’t preach love. Rather, I tell stories of love. And in order to do that well enough to draw readers in and convince them that yes, this is possible, this is how life and love can and should be, I try to hold them spellbound by the wonder—the sheer romance—of the love relationship that is developing between two people.
But again, why the historical setting? Why tell stories of another era when I am trying to make a point about life and love that is relevant today?
Readers like to be transported away from their everyday lives. They like to be taken to a different world even if they also want to read about people who are essentially like themselves. Past eras often seem more romantic than our own. Regency England, for example, can conjures marvelous visual images of fashions for both men and women that were perhaps the most attractive and sexy of any age; of stately country homes and the spacious parks surrounding them; of horse-drawn carriages bowling along the king’s highway; of couples waltzing at grand balls in the light of dozens of candles in the crystal chandeliers overhead; of enchanted evenings strolling the lantern-lit walks of Vauxhall Gardens in London; of picnics and garden parties in rural surroundings; of drives in Hyde Park at the fashionable hour. The possibilities are endless, all coming with an aura of the romance of a bygone age. It is a happy illusion, of course. Most of us would not want actually to live in Regency England or any other bygone era, but we are quite happy to enjoy it from the comfort of our twenty-first century homes. That is the magic of reading.
Another attraction is that it is often easier to make sense of the past than of the present. One can look at Regency England, for example, and see a society that knew itself and the unwritten rules by which is functioned. A gentleman knew what was expected of him just as a lady knew what was expected of her. I love using such settings and deciding how much my characters will conform to expectations and how much they will assert their individuality and their personal principles if there is a conflict. I love having them act within the framework of their age without becoming mere puppets of the system. Jane Austen herself did this. Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice maintained her integrity by refusing marriage offers from both Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy despite the fact that a woman in her social position would normally accept any respectable offer to save herself from the social stigma of being a spinster and dependent upon her male relatives. And remember that this was a contemporary novel.
The Influence of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer
When I read Jane Austen as a girl—and again and again as an adult—I loved her wit and wisdom and the elegance of her prose. Most of all, though, I was enchanted by the pure romance of the love stories, the quiet strength of most of her heroines and the gallant integrity of her heroes. I cannot claim she inspired me to write historicals because she was writing about her own world and her own time. What did inspire me was the work of Georgette Heyer, who wrote historicals superbly well. I will never forget my first Heyer—Frederica. I immediately fell under the spell of the romance and felt an almost overwhelming sense of nostalgia, as though I had discovered an era in which I had lived very happily once upon a time. I lapped up everything else she had written, and it did not take me long to know that I had found my own place as a writer. Heyer created her quite distinctive world based on a real historical era. I have created my own, happy to admit that I was inspired by her and influenced by Austen, who knew that world as it really was.
A Unique Voice and Vision
Every author is unique, however, even if she/he has taken inspiration from another. Each writer has an individual voice and vision. I have spent more than thirty years developing and honing my own while writing more than a hundred novels and novellas, most of them set in the Regency era. Yes, they are historicals, and yes, they are romantic. First and foremost, however, they are love stories. Or maybe that is a false distinction. Perhaps my stories are inextricably all three—romantic historical love stories. In fact, I hope they are. And perhaps they are best expressed in the words of the hero of my new book (Someone to Love, November, 2016). He is wealthy, titled, gorgeous, powerful, a bit dangerous, aloof, and self-sufficient. But when he is asked what he dreams of most in life, he admits that there is still something missing.
“Someone to love,” he says.
Browse through Mary Balogh’s books here and explore her Westcott series below.
New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh presents the first historical romance in the Westcott series, where the death of an earl reveals a most scandalous secret.
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A reversal of fortune befalls a young woman in this charming Westcott novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Someone to Wed.
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