When I started reading romance novels, as a very, very young person back in the 1980s, my introduction to the genre was via the medieval.
My very first romance novel, still on my shelf in rather battered and dilapidated form, was one set during the civil wars of the twelfth century, featuring Eleanor of Aquitaine in a cameo role, with lots of “By my troth!” and “By God’s wounds!” Most of my subsequent romance reading was pre-sixteenth century: there was Jude Deveraux’s Velvet quartet (which I very cleverly managed to read backwards, from Velvet Angel all the way back to The Velvet Promise, which meant that I got to see the major plot threads in re-wind mode rather than the right way around) and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s Wolf and the Dove, and at least a dozen other Norman knight/Saxon maiden type novels of Wolf and Dove-ish ilk.
I know there was some eighteenth century that crept in there, in the form of Woodiwiss’s A Rose in Winter, a great deal of Scotland in multiple time periods– Julie Garwood’s The Bride, Elizabeth Stuart’s Heartstorm, and pretty much anything by Arnette Lamb– and, of course, Victorian Gothics featuring intrepid governesses beyond number, but I don’t recall reading a Regency qua Regency until the summer I was twelve.
When I spotted Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven in the supermarket checkout line, I had no idea that it was going to be one of those books that would change my life.
I fell in love with Almost Heaven, with Elizabeth and Ian, with McNaught’s zany side characters and signature mix of humor and pathos. In retrospect, McNaught’s Regency world isn’t terribly Regency-ish at all, but the basic trappings were there: the ton, the gossiping society matrons, the dukes, the dowagers, and the sharp-tongued chaperones. It was Almost Heaven that led me to Georgette Heyer, via a McNaught endorsement on the cover of a Heyer reissue, and from Heyer to the entire Zebra Regency aisle in the bookstore. Who needed those Norman knights with their bulging thews? (For some reason, those medieval heroes always did seem to have thew bulge issues.) There was an entire sub-genre featuring clever men with quizzing glasses and not a spare thew in view.
I abandoned the Victoria Holt knock-off I was writing at the time and started writing a McNaught knock-off instead. (Which no one will see. Ever. With the sole exception of my ninth grade classmates, who may or may not have had bits read dramatically aloud to them on the bus during a class trip. But that was a very long time ago, so it doesn’t count.)
And that’s the very long and roundabout story of how I came to the Regency, via Judith McNaught and the Fishkill ShopRite checkout line.
I’ve moved on to other favorite authors since then, but Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven will always have a special place in my heart.
What was your first Regency romance?