House, Home & Husband in historical romance fiction

Dr Sarah Ficke (Marymount University)
Session 7.1: 19th century legacies


Home. For Elizabeth Bennet, as for many real middle- and upper-class women during the Regency and Victorian periods, “home” was a concept fraught with anxiety. Legal restrictions on women’s right to own property, entailed estates, and limited economic opportunities meant that marriage was the most certain way for a woman to acquire a home of her own. It is no wonder that romantic novels from this time feature houses almost as prominently as they feature heroes.

While legal and economic conditions have changed for british women since the nineteenth century, historical romance novels set in the Regency and Victorian periods often feature impoverished or otherwise disadvantaged women whose search for a husband is also a search for a home. In this paper [Ficke examines] the role of houses and homes in twenty first century historical romance fiction by authors like Courtney Milan and Cecelia Grant in order to discover how modern authors negotiate the husband-home dilemma that was so central to the nineteenth-century British female novelists.

Do these novels “offer the reader a retrospective view of how things were” in order to foreground the real possibilities of social change? (Wallace 154) Or are these books a “symbolic expression of female concerns” that persist today? “Hughes 107) How do these stories reimagine the historical conditions that fueled Elizabeth Bennet’s teasing remark to her sister, or Charlotte Lucas’s unromantic acceptance of Mr Collins and his parsonage? Through these and other questions, [Ficke will] shed light on the significance of the grand London houses and country estates that are too-often seen as merely a backdrop in historical romance fiction.

Presentation notes:

This is a Regency subgenre – ie “I’m in love with this house”

Complexities of house and home

  • Insecurity of women’s place under law
  • Inheritance Law- first born male heir got house and land
  • Daughters may get money for marriage

Austen has daughter characters who are either visitors in their own home (Sense & Sensibility) or at risk of being turned out (Persuasion, Pride & Prejudice)

Houses are temporary spaces the women fundamentally cannot control

Coverture – husband and wife were one legal entity, with husband in control

This extended to daughters, unless specific provision made otherwise

Responsibility was taken over by brothers in the death of husband

These tropes picked up by modern authors:

  • Minx – Julia Quinn (1996)
  • Untamed – Anna Cowan (2013)
  • A lady Awakened – Cecelia Grant (2012)
  • Dukes are forever – Anna Harrington (2015)

Explore darker side of coverture

Risk of fortune hunters – eg Wickham vs Lady Catherine de Burgh in Pride and Prejudice


  • Estate management. Income, prevent insolvency etc
  • Charlotte Lucas gets satisfaction from domestic work and keeping a neat home, especially when her husband is not around
  • Childbirth – reproductive labour. But only if she gives a son
  • Even then, the work is not enough to ensure security – eg Persuasion, the fortune gambled away by husband, guest in her own (former) home


  • Calculus can bring answer of love
  • Elizabeth looks at how Darcy behaves and treats people at Pemberley, that was when she decided she loved him

Now: we can own property, so why are these books still popular? Perhaps as a reminder of how far we have come?

Addition: Darcy slides. Noted for the sake of accurate record keeping

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