Wartime Romance: Regency Era England and 1940’s America

A war on foreign soil.  Dashing heroes in uniform.  Plucky heroines who keep the home fires burning.  Sound familiar?  It should.  The very things that lend richness to romances set in Regency era England are also the backbone of the 1940’s romance novel.  Yes, I know.  1940’s America lacks that particular gentility of manners that we love in the Regency romance.  Also missing are the complex social rules, the titled lords and ladies, and the amusing turns of phrase (“I say!” and “To the devil with you!”) that make the Regency feel so authentic.

But consider, while the 1940’s romance may lack dancing the Scotch reel at Almack’s, it more than makes up for it with dancing the Lindy to Big Band music at the USO.  And though there are no racing curricles or high-perch phaetons, when the hero takes the heroine for a spin in his gleaming yellow, 1941 Chevy Convertible, it can be just as exciting.  As for the costuming, you be the judge.  Are straw bonnets and empire waist gowns preferable to back-seamed stockings and shoulder-padded suits?  And is a simple chignon more or less attractive than a peekaboo bang?  Thankfully, there is no need to choose.  Romance novels offer us both worlds.

If you are still reluctant to put down your Regency and pick up a romance novel set in the 1940’s, a good way to test the waters is to start with a short story.  Judith Laik Romance CoverRegency romance author Judith Laik has two short stories that take place in World War II-era Washington State.  I recommend My Funny Valentine (WWII: When a Hero Comes Marching Home).  At 60 pages long, it tells the story of USO volunteers Norma McIlroy and Frank Atwater, two schoolteachers in Tacoma whose wartime friendship gradually develops into something more.  Sweet, poignant, and filled with references to Big Band music, it is a perfect introduction to the genre.

Have any 1940’s era romance novel recommendations of your own?  Share them below in the comments section!

10 thoughts on “Wartime Romance: Regency Era England and 1940’s America

  1. Vickie says:

    Mimi – thank you so much for this wonderful comparison – there is something magical about the 40’s for those of us who weren’t actually there – as you pointed out it has the same elements for great romance and can be just as entertaining!

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  2. Mimi Matthews says:

    Thank you for the comment! I agree. There is just something about the 1940’s that lends itself to great books and film. It was a decade that had everything – the best and the worst.

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  3. Renée Reynolds says:

    I love the comparisons that you reference between the two eras. War makes even the most disparate of situations and cultures have an immediate commonality. It’s an unfortunate equalizer. I’ve enjoyed LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory, and Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. I’ve also been reading my way through Georgette Heyer this year, and several of her Regency-set romances were written during the 30s and 40s; knowing that, it’s easy to see how her experiences bleed into those of her characters. You’ve found a great parallel between two seemingly unrelated eras.

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    • Mimi Matthews says:

      Thanks for such a great comment! I agree 100%. During periods of war, emotions at home (worry for loved ones who have gone to fight, fear about the changing landscape of the world, etc.) cross cultural boundaries as well time periods. I love to read about the everyday struggles on the home front. LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory is a classic. I’ll check out the Maisie Dobbs series!

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  4. Judith Laik says:

    Mimi, thank you for your article, and for featuring my story as an example of the romances set in the WWII period! I’m more flattered than I can express. There are already many fine novels and stories set in this time, but I, too, believe it’s a very rich period that’s ripe for exploring further by writers. There are so many possibilities, so many aspects to life in that time, it will take a long time to cover it all.
    A book I read recently and enjoyed very much is A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin. And, I’m currently reading Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart, a previously undiscovered novel by one of my favorite writers. It’s actually set just post-World War II and is a departure in style from other books by Stewart: the suspense aspect is a very mild one.
    I’d love to hear any recommendations by others!
    Of course, my love for the Regency period also continues unabated!

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    • Mimi Matthews says:

      Thanks for your comment, Judith! It was a pleasure to read your short stories. I hope they can help to introduce other readers to 1940’s romances. I agree, there are limitless possibilities for writers to explore in the WWII era. And it doesn’t even have to be WWII America. For those of us who love all things British, it could be set in England. Heck, it could even feature the lords and ladies we love so much in our Regencies!
      Thank you for the great recommendations! I will look up Sarah Sundin and Mary Stewart.

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  5. Jacquie Rogers says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed both Sentimental Journey and My Funny Valentine. Frank was a wonderful hero in the latter. And I loved the music–ended up spending about two hours on YouTube listening to the songs in the story!

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    • Mimi Matthews says:

      Thanks for the comment! Frank was a great hero. He reminded me of Cary Grant’s character in Bringing up Baby. The music was great too. Love how Judith Laik used it to set the scene!

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    • Judith Laik says:

      I had so much fun listening to songs on YouTube to find the ones that fit where I needed them in the story. That was the second best part of the writing for me. (Best was discovering how my characters grew, and how Frank proved he was a hero!)
      I also just discovered a new “must read” set in the World War II period: Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants, which I loved) has a new book, At the Water’s Edge.

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      • Mimi Matthews says:

        Thanks for the additional book recommendation, Judith! The music of the 1940’s is really wonderful. And there are so many good biopics of musicians of the era: The Benny Goodman Story with Steve Allen and Donna Reid, and The Glenn Miller Story with Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson. Not to mention the movies that feature entertainers who sang for the troops (like Bing Crosby in White Christmas.

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