On The Appeal Of Wartime Romance Novels, From Regency To WWII

by Mimi Matthews

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 1940s romance novel. Yes, I know. 1940s 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.

wwii kissV-J Day in Times Square: the iconic photo of a World War II sailor kissing a nurse in 1945

But consider, while the 1940s 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 1940s, a good way to test the waters is to start with a short story. Regency romance author Judith Laik has two short stories that take place in World War II-era Washington State. I recommend My Funny Valentine (WWII Series: 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.

This post originally appeared on MimiMatthews.com and is reprinted here with permission.

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