Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guest Abigail Reynolds: Status of Women in Regency England

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Abigail Reynolds, whose latest book is the Pride and Prejudice retelling, Mr. Darcy's Obsession. Enjoy her discussion on the status of the Regency women, which is far and away much different from that of modern women.

Leave a comment for a chance to win one of the two copies of Mr. Darcy's Obsession which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Abigail will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of their selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

Abigail selected the winners Toni V. S. and Caroline Clemmons. I've sent you both emails. If I do not hear from you by October 20, I will select alternates.

Welcome, Abigail!

Much as we like to romanticize the period, life could be very difficult for women in the Regency, even those in the upper classes. Women had almost no legal rights, especially married women. In fact, a wife didn’t even exist legally, because husband and wife were considered “one person” in law. A woman’s property became her husband’s upon marriage. If the husband gave a gift to his wife, it still actually belonged to him. This is why settlements were so important, serving as a legal document guaranteeing that the property the wife brought to the marriage would be hers after her husband’s death.

While a married woman couldn’t own property, a widow could: either her own property from before the marriage or property left to her by her husband. This gave widows an unusual degree of freedom, providing a disincentive to second marriages. Why put herself in the complete power of a man—to control her, to lock her up for life—when she could be independent?

In Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, Mrs. Bennet’s worst fear comes true when Mr. Bennet dies and Mr. Collins inherits Longbourn. Mr. Collins might have allowed the Bennet ladies to stay, or he could have put them up in a cottage with a small allowance. In my variation, he is still too offended at Elizabeth for refusing his proposal to waste money on relatives he hardly knows. They aren’t destitute, but it leaves Mrs. Bennet and her daughters at the mercy of her relatives, the Gardiners and the Phillipses, neither of whom had the space or resources to take in and support a family of six ladies. Mrs. Bennet’s settlement would not last long. Given this impossible situation, Jane chooses to marry an older shopkeeper, but able to help support her family, while Elizabeth goes to live with the Gardiners as an unofficial governess to their children.

In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy is marrying far beneath him when he chooses Elizabeth. This would be obvious to a reader of the period, but the chasm between them is less obvious to a modern reader. I love that chasm, though, because it shows just how much Darcy is willing to sacrifice for the woman he loves. In Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, I increased the difference in their status in order to demonstrate his incredible devotion to a modern reader. As always, Mr. Darcy’s ardent love triumphs over all adversity!

The more he tries to stay away from her, the more his obsession grows...

“[Reynolds] has creatively blended a classic love story with a saucy romance novel.” —Austenprose

“Developed so well that it made the age-old storyline new and fresh…Her writing gripped my attention and did not let go.”—The Romance Studio

“The style and wit of Ms. Austen are compellingly replicated…spellbinding. Kudos to Ms. Reynolds!” —A Reader’s Respite

In this Pride and Prejudice variation, Elizabeth is called away before Darcy proposes for the first time and Darcy decides to find a more suitable wife. But when Darcy encounters Elizabeth living in London after the death of her father, he can’t fight his desire to see and speak with her again…and again and again. But now that her circumstances have made her even more unsuitable, will Darcy be able to let go of all his long held pride to marry a woman who, though she is beneath his station, is the only woman capable of winning his heart?

About the Author
Abigail Reynolds is a physician and a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast. She began writing the Pride and Prejudice Variations series in 2001, and encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking “What if…?” She lives with her husband and two teenage children in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information, please visit or


Svea Love said...

I am really looking forward to this book!

Linda Banche said...

That Mr. Darcy still resonates with readers after 200 years shows us what a fantastic hero he is. I love your book, especially the thread about Jane and Bingley. For a while there, I thought their happy ending was touch and go. Good job.

Sandra Sookoo said...

Sounds like an interesting book but I'm so glad to not live in Regency England :-)

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Fascinating! I don't think much about Regency women, because aside from the authors of the time, I don't read contemporary works about that period - I guess because of your point - they seem inaccurate. Your book sounds great!

Margaret West said...

I'm ot in the comp but I thought I'd post anyway as I am hopelessly in love with Mr Darcy:-)

Thank god the days when women were mere chattels is long gone, although I don't think the news quite reached one of my ex husbands!!!

catslady said...

What an extreme shame that women were better off as widows!!Whenever I feel bad that we are not yet equal to men, I remember how bad our ancestors had it. I'm so enjoying the variations on the original P&P and your premise of the more extreme circumstances between their circumstances makes it even more romantic!


Toni V.S. said...

Today, we take our rights and freedoms for granted. I knew women had few rights in "Days of Yore" but this really hit home after reading some of Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries. Even in engaging in a "male occupation" such as writing could get a woman thrown into a mad-house, though the smarter ones might be able to inveigle some man to publish it under his own name. We don't know how good we've got it! I'd never realized Regency was just as bad; somehow the way it's always portrayed (especially the out-spoken heroines) seemed to suggest it was more lenient.

Lindsay Townsend said...

The scary thing is that Regency wives had few rights than Anglo-Saxon wives.

To be a widow, until recently, was a 'good' career move for many women. (Think of the Wife of Bath!)

Wonderful blog, as ever!

I'm getting this book - it sounds just my cup of tea.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Some day I hope you decide to write a what if book based on Carolyn Bingley. We never learned what became of the hauty miss with her nose stuck in the air. I would love that story.
So glad to be a modern day girl. In Regency days I would have enjoyed the widow's life.
Darcy's Obsession is going to be a fabulous read.
Sarah McNeal

DeanY said...

What a scandal in the making, to marriage someone beneath his station and for love.
I am looking forward to reading this one.
Thank you

Caroline Clemmons said...

What an intriguing concept for Mr. Darcy's Obsession. Sounds like a book any history reader would love.

We often forget that only recently have women been able to have financial security. Hmm, I think I see why some women married a rich elderly man and then hastened his demise. Makes for great plots, doesn't it?

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

I enjoy escaping into the era where Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth first fall in love, but I most grateful I didn't live in that time. I enjoy my independence too much. :)

Thanks for sharing your interesting post.

info at kmnbooks dot com

Margaret Tanner said...

Interesting post. Yes women were certainly in a precarious finanacial position in those days. Can't wait to read the book, sounds wonderful.



Maureen said...

When I think about it I am always amazed at the difference between women's rights today and what they were back then.
mce1011 AT aol DOT com

Abigail Reynolds said...

Thanks for the excellent comments! Sandra and Karen, I'm with you; no matter how fascinating I find the Regency, I'd never want to live there. Julia and Toni, you raise an important point - there are really two Regencies, the actual historical period and the fictionalized version in which so many modern Regency romances are set. It's like a shared world, where the Regency is used as a stage setting for modern characters. Margaret, I have great sympathy for your hopeless love for Mr. Darcy! That's the best part about writing these books - I get to live with him in my head all the time!

Catslady and Lindsay, I'd definitely go for widowhood if I lived then, if I could make myself get married. As Toni says, we take our rights and freedoms for granted. In the regency, if a husband was tired of his wife, all he had to do was to say that she was mad and she'd be locked up in a madhouse for the rest of her life. He wouldn't even need a doctor or to have any proof - his word is all it took. Now that's scary stuff.

Sarah, I've always felt Caroline Bingley doesn't get a fair shake from most readers. We may not like her behavior, but she's doing exactly what she's supposed to, which is to try to secure her future. And for her condescending ways, blaming her for those is much like blaming the judges at reality shows for being unkind. That's what they're paid to do. Also, Darcy at the beginning of P&P says things just as unkind as Miss Bingley does.

Caroline, funny you should mention that plot idea! In my book, there's a scene where Aunt Augusta says that she married an old man for that very reason, and that it would have been too much trouble to chase a young man into an untimely grave. :)

Dean, it would be very scandalous. Darcy is marrying beneath himself and betraying his duty to his family. And we love him for it!

Margaret and Maureen, I think we can all be thankful for our rights today!

And now, the part that you really wanted to know - the winners of a free copy are Toni V.S. and Caroline Clemmons! Congrats to you both! And thanks to Linda for hosting me and to all of you for your interest.

Linore Rose Burkard, Novelist said...

Hi! Goes to show that we authors probably know as well as anyone that even though it's a lovely place to visit (ie., in our novels) we wouldn't want to live there. : )

Also: The title of this blog should probably be "Belles and BeauX." (with an x.) Just fyi.

All the best,

Historical Romance Author,