“Algie!” I cried, “Already?”
My boyfriend is not called Algie. You can therefore understand his concern when I shouted another man’s name in bed. Admittedly, I was reading and he was sleeping but that did not lessen his distress. The cause: the latest Regency Romance download on my Kindle. Page Six. Our alpha male hero was already insisting that he and the feisty heroine are on first name terms. Yes, Algernon Tightbottom, Six Earl of a Massive Estate in Devonshire wanted to be called ‘Algie’. They hadn’t even had the anachronistic kiss yet!
I’m a traditionalist, I guess. In my own Regency inspired WIP the heroine (feisty though she is) calls the hero by his title and surname. He is always Mr Birling, even after the first kiss (anachronistic and illicit though it is). I can’t bring myself to write it otherwise because in my head the reason Mr Darcy is so attractive is because he is Mr Darcy. We never call him Fitzwilliam or, heaven forbid, Fitz. If we did the whole idea of him would be inadequate.
In the Regency etiquette and codes of behaviour governed courtship, and there were lots of them, including correct forms of address. When you address Algie to his face he is ‘My Lord’. It is unusual that a female he has picked up on the side of the road (and not paying) would even address him by the title that goes with that massive estate in Devonshire. If you want to learn more about how to address an Earl go here
I am not a complete kill joy and I do find it satisfying to see the heroine and hero negotiate their way to happily ever after by some times breaking the rules. Even the epitome of Regency heroines does it. In What Matters in Jane Austen, John Mullan writes that Elizabeth Bennet arriving at Netherfield with mud encrusted hems is a situation that would probably not happen. Young women did not go ‘scampering about the country because her sister has a cold,’ as Miss Bingley snidely remarks. The improper behaviour therefore acts to define character because as Mullan insists, although Miss Bingley is correct, who would side with her against Elizabeth Bennet?
In the Kindle book however there did’t seem any particular reason for ‘My Lord’ to become ‘Algie’, not even to show him as a fun, laid back kind of rogue who can’t be bothered with all the rot of social behaviour. These days, however, it seems to be quite the thing that first name terms are reached quickly. For propriety’s sake the heroine may insist on formalities to show that she can be a good girl when people are watching, but generally it doesn’t last long. Normally until that first anachronistic kiss.
It does seem like a rather inconsequential thing, especially in a download I paid less than a pound for. However, I would argue that part of the attraction of the Regency Romance fairy tale world is the wit and ingenuity of the heroine (and sometimes hero) used to conquer the codes of etiquette as though they were dogs with eyes as big as saucers or bean stalks to be climbed. The right to call Mr Darcy ‘Fitzwilliam’ has to be earned through trial, as does the privilege of calling Miss Bennet ‘Elizabeth’. In either case, if the liberty is given or taken too freely than the significance of the prize loses a great deal of sparkle, if not all of its titillation.
You may be wondering how my boyfriend reacted to all this. Well, he listened with growing perplexity before laughing and going back to sleep. All things considered I think I got off lightly.