Where we are with "historical accuracy" in romance

By Laura Vivanco on

This is really just a quick note, rather than a proper post, because I wanted to keep hold of the details of Zeahaa Rehman's recent article about historical romance. It's about the ways in which a particular version of history has been perpetuated, the consequences of that, and how it might change:

The version of Regency England that viewers are accustomed to, both onscreen and in books, is one that excludes BIPOC and queer characters. Piper Huguley, a Black English professor and author of both contemporary and historical romance that features Black characters, believes that the genre’s popularity and homogeneity come from an unhealthy relationship between publishers and readers. “If a publisher only prints out a certain kind of thing, then the readers are only going to want that,” she says.


This leads publishers to believe “that’s what readers want,” adds Cat Sebastian, a white bisexual author who writes queer historical romance. Publishers then acquire similar books—often not factoring in the success that many self-published authors are now finding with diverse historical romance.


Purveyors of the accuracy argument are [...] inconsistent in the kinds of imaginative leaps they’re willing to make. If it is unfaithful to have queer and racialized aristocrats, then it is equally false to see plentiful wealthy, titled young people with perfect teeth, no STIs, and a healthy relationship with alcohol—as well as heroines with shaved bodies; great hygiene (soap, after all, was expensive); no after-effects of cholera, typhoid, or scarlet fever; and a distaste for the corset (which, as many costume enthusiasts on YouTube will tell you, was not restrictive). Charles also points out that so-called historically accurate all-white, all-straight romances rarely mention significant events in their eras, like the assassination of British prime minister Spencer Perceval, in 1812, or the Peterloo Massacre, in 1819.

There's a lot more in the article, and I've just pulled out a few quotes. The examples given there, and the comments it includes from authors, provide an update to/complement earlier work on this topic, such as (again, I'm putting this in here mostly so I can find the details quickly next time), from two 2018 academic romance conferences, Jennifer Hallock on chronotopes and Elizabeth Kingston on white supremacy.


Rehman, Zeahaa, 2021. "Adding Colour to the Romance Genre." The Walrus. 29 April 2021.

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