Regency Period

The first challenge in studying Regency literature is being specific about the historical periods involved. Technically, the Regency Period was the nine-year period from 1811 to 1820 when England was ruled by a prince regent rather than a king. This occurred because King George III was deemed incapable of ruling his own kingdom due to mental issues. The Regency Act gave his son, George IV, the authority to rule in his place. George III died in 1820, leaving his son to become king and rule in his own right.

So, in terms of political and historical definition, that is the official Regency Period. Let's take a look at another definition that applies to literature. Regency literature is typically defined as beginning shortly after the French Revolution (1790) and ending around 1830.

Connection to the Romantics

If you're familiar with the Romantic Movement in prose and poetry, as well as art and music, the Regency Period may appear to be a small pocket inserted into the larger Romantic Period. This is partially true, as Romantic writers such as Shelly (both Percy and Mary), Lord Byron, Coleridge, and Scott were born during this time period. When discussing Regency literature, literary scholars typically use prose novels from the era.

Jane Austen's works are probably the best and most well-known examples of Regency Era novels. The plots of her novels, such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, appear to the modern reader to be all about women finding the right social class husband. This makes sense when you consider that during this period of English history, women's options were extremely limited, and the decision to marry dictated a woman's future.

Furthermore, social class distinctions were strictly enforced, even if they were so minor that readers in the twenty-first century would overlook them. But keep in mind that during this time, social class was a big part of what kept society running smoothly. Everyone had a niche, and a man was expected to choose a wife of equal status. Breaking free from one's assumed role generated scandal, romance, and (in fiction) considerable humor.

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