Writing historical fiction is especially rewarding because it allows one to wallow at will in another time frame. (And one learns so much!)
With the exception of In Enemy Hands (WWII), my work has been limited to Regency Romance. The “Regency” is named for George, Prince of Wales, who became official regent of Great Britain when his father, George III (“Mad King George” of the American Revolution) became too ill to carry out his duties. Strictly speaking, the Regency period lasted from 1810 to 1820 when the king died and the prince became George IV. Writers tend to be pretty liberal with the dates, though, dealing with from roughly 1800 to Victoria’s accession to the throne in the 1830s. England was in an almost constant state of war—in the colonies and then with Napoleon’s France—for fully two generations. (Sound familiar?—think two Gulf wars and Afghanistan plus.) This was also a time of great social upheaval which included the struggle for women’s rights; protests against persecution of Catholics, evangelicals, and Methodists; the industrial revolution with worker rebellion;, and the Romantic poets (Byron, Shelley, Keats). (One is reminded of the opening lines of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.)
Jane Austen is, of course, THE standard for Regency Romance. Pride and Prejudice is the perfect example of the genre. The second best known author of Regencies is Georgette Heyer, who wrote in the mid-20th Century. Regencies nearly always deal with titled ladies and gentlemen—or at least members of the “gentry” (Austen’s milieu). The stories center on manners and mores of Regency society as dictated by the ton, the elite level of society just under the royal family. Regency novels are traditionally “sweet”—that is, they handle sexual affairs verrry discreetly (though I must note that apparently people then were not nearly so “nice” about such matters as the novelists of that era would lead us to believe). In any event, no one would ever have accused JA or Mrs. Edgeworth of having written a “bodice ripper.” Today, many Regencies, especially the “Regency Historicals” (which tend to be longer) often do deal more explicitly with the intimate lives of characters. The main emphasis—as in all Romance novels—is on the relationship between one man and one woman, though a given book may include a panorama of characters. Some Regencies may involve suspense or mystery or the paranormal. Still, the focus is on the hero and heroine.
Some writers of Regencies dwell too heavily, I think, on the esoteric language and customs of the period. I try not to do that, but I’m sure I am not always successful. It is, after all, the universality of the human experience that is most important, not tiresome descriptions of period clothing and using the slang of a given period—beyond giving “flavor” to a scene here and there.