Where Are All the Post WWI Romances?

bowenA few months ago Lynn did a post here calling for more romances set in Italy. Soon after, Jean wrote about her desire for more romances set in France. I heartily agree with both of those posts; I’d love to read more romances set not only in Italy and France but also in places such as Egypt, Malta, and Greece.

However, I’ve recently been thinking not so much about my desire for different place settings, but for different time settings. In the past year I’ve become hooked on two mystery series set in Post-World War I England. The first is Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series featuring former WWI nurse and now professional investigator and psychologist Maisie Dobbs. The second is Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series featuring Lady Georgina.

While these series share the same time period and are both set in England, they’re very different, and give just a glimmer of the possibilities for the Post-World War I period. Maisie grew up in relatively impoverished circumstances, and became a servant for a wealthy London family while still a young girl. Her life was fairly miserable, until she began to sneak into the library of the home and read books. Caught in the library one night, it seemed as if things were going to get much worse. Instead, her employer brought in a rather mysterious man to interview Maisie. The man turned out to be a famous investigator. He not only sensed Maisie’s intelligence, but began years of tutoring to help her reach her potential.

In contrast, Lady Georgina, great-granddaughter to Queen Victoria, is 34th in line to the English throne. Lady Georgie’s received the traditional education for a woman of her class, and is expected to make a “good” marriage, something Georgie rebels against.

While the two series have a very different feel, they both touch on many realities of post-World War I England, including such themes as unemployment among war veterans, the rise of fascism in Europe, and the role of women in society. Although Lady Georgina finds a lot of dead bodies, and is generally strapped for cash, there’s a lot of humor in the books. Lady Georgina travels at the upper levels of society, and is periodically called in by the Queen to help out with various royal problems.

The mood of the Maisie Dobbs’ books is generally very dark. Maisie and her doctor fiancée were seriously injured in the war, leaving Maisie with permanent scars, and her fiancée permanently hospitalized with serious brain injuries. Although Maisie has risen far socially, she routinely deals with working class people. However, in the most recent book, things seemed to be improving for Maisie on a personal level, with the potential for love.

I’m finding these glimpses into post World War I England fascinating, and am eager to read more books set in this time period, but in particular, I’d love to read some romances set during this time period. However, I don’t recall seeing any recent romances set in this time period. I’m sure there must be some older romances set during that time, but again, I don’t remember seeing them.

I’d love to get some suggestions from you about some books you’ve loved set during this time period. Any suggestions?

- LinnieGayl AAR

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26 Responses to Where Are All the Post WWI Romances?

  1. Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter books. A wonderful romance running through them, too. Fabulous reads.

  2. LinnieGayl says:

    Lynne, I love the Lord Peter books!

  3. Carrie says:

    I wonder if it’s a difficult time period to write romances about because of the horrors of WWI, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and the looming threat of WWII. It might be difficult for readers to buy an HEA knowing the character living in the 20′s and 30′s are about to go through so much more, and maybe lose each other or children in WWII. While historically it fascinates me, it’s not a time period that interests me much in terms of romances for the above reasons.

    I do love the Lord Peter Wimsey books, although only 4 (or if you count the last one) have Harriet Vane in them. I love them for the mysteries and the incredible writing of Sayers. But even those books have a dark melancholy to them.

  4. The 1920s were a bustling, booming time, with everyone desperately having fun to forget the last war and ignore the one approaching. The stock market was rising, smoky dark jazz clubs doubled as speakeasies, and forensics rose as rapidly as Fascism. That seems a fertile breeding ground, not only for mysteries, but also for romance.

    And if everyone knew the end was approaching for the Long Weekend, as the English referred to those years between the wars, what better way to face the Depression and World War II than with the man of your dreams beside you?

  5. Hannah says:

    How about Clare Langley Hawthorne’s Ursula Marlow mysteries? They are pre WWI however. Or how about the Jade del Cameron series which is billed as “Exotic East Africa in the 1920s”? I admit that I haven’t read either series but they’re both on my TBR list. There seems to be a lot more variety in settings in the mystery genre rather than the Regency-Victorian, lather, rinse, repeat that you see in historical romance.
    Miss Pettigrew lives for a day by Winifred Watson is set before the beginning of WWII. And while I think it’s more “women’s fiction” than romance, Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher is set before and during WWII.

  6. Carrie says:

    I’m sure it appeals to many people, and it was an exciting time in many ways. I’ve read many mysteries set in that era, but few romances. The mysteries appeal, but for me, the romance don’t appeal as much. I generally read romance for escape, and knowing what’s ahead puts a shadow on that for me. I thought maybe others might feel this way, and that might be why LinnieGayl couldn’t find many romances set in this time period.

  7. Those are good points, Carrie. Another is that there’s obvious demand and an established market for the Regency-Victorian time slot romances, and much less for the Long Weekend, deserved or otherwise.

  8. Carrie says:

    Here are some authors I’ve read that have books set in this time frams. There is often some romance involved in the plot:

    Lost Among the Angels (Five Star Mystery Series) by Alice Duncan (1926) (She has other series and books set in the 1910′s and 1920′s.)

    Georgette Heyer mysteries are set in the late 1930′s.

    Margery Allingham Mysteries (1930′s)

    Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries by Carola Dunn (early 1020′s).

  9. Carrie says:

    Obviously, the date on the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries is 1920′s! ;-)

    I’m not a big historical romance fan, either. ;-) I do love Georgette Heyer books, but overall don’t care the the amount of sex in most historicals. Funny that, because I love sex in my contemporary romances! It’s not the prude factor at all, because I’ve been known to read some contemporary erotica on occasion. But somehow it doesn’t feel right in historical romances for me. Again, personal tastes here, and I don’t even stick strictly to my own tastes. I really enjoyed In for a Penny by Rose Lerner. Like I said, some of my favorite mystery series are written in the early 1900′s, like Sayer, Christie, Allingham, etc. I love that time period for some books.

  10. Kate Tate says:

    I believe this is simply an untapped market as far as written fiction. It’s NOT completely untapped in the form of movies. When romantic fiction for the sake of romantic fiction became popular (mostly in the late 1960s/early 1970s), this was still a memory that people who read didn’t want to relive. Therefore people went for the present or the very distant past. I don’t think it has anything to do with the depression looming, otherwise why would 1700s Scotland (pre-battle of Culloden/fall of Scotland) be so popular? It’s just a case of no one really considered trying it. For myself, I wouldn’t care to read anything that took place in the 1960s, which I lived through, even though there is a LOT of romantic fodder during those times, as well. Younger people today might actually surprise folks by enjoying the reads and romance from those WWI to pre-WWII times–my own kids love dust bowl books.

  11. Carrie, so it’s not just me where the sex doesn’t always feel “right” in an historical romance? Yes, it’s true that way back then people had sex, in and out of marriage, with mistresses, toys, games, and you name it. But it really was a different mindset and behavior, and taking a modern romance into the past really doesn’t work for me.

    Some of the best mysteries were written in the first half of the 20th century. I love it that they’re still alive.

  12. Kay Webb Harrison says:

    I just started reading Barbara Cleverly’s books; she has two series that are in the mystery genre, but both contain wonderfully romantic elements. The first centers around Joe Sandilands, a WWI vet who joined Scotland Yard after the war. In the first book, The Last Kashmiri Rose, Joe has been sent to India to help “educate” the police there about modern procedures. He is about to return to England when he is asked to investigate a series of murders at a British army base. The second series features Laetitia Talbot, an aspiring archeologist, to goes to Crete to study the Minoan culture; this book is The Tomb of Zeus. I highly recommend both of Cleverly’s series.

    Another modern author I recommend is Nicola Upson. So far, there are two books in her series featuring Josephine Tey as the protagonist. They are An Expert in Murder and An Angel with Two Faces. They are set in the 1930s. Again they are “mysteries,” but with romantic elements.

    I second the recommendation of Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series.

    Also, Agatha Christie’s early books are set in the 1920s and 1930s.

    For purely romance books set in that time period, you can’t go wrong with Emilie Loring, who was writing through those years. Of course, when the books were published, they were “contemporaries.” Also her books usually feature “mystery” elements.


  13. LinnieGayl says:

    thanks everyone, for your thoughts. Initially I thought that I might not like the time period for romance, as being too depressing, but honestly, there’s so much promise and hope about the period, as well.

    Hannah, I haven’t heard of either of those series. The one set in “exotic East Africa” sounds particularly interesting.

    Carrie, I’ve read the Daisy series, but not the others you mentioned.

    Kay, the series featuring Laetitia Talbot sounds exactly like something I would enjoy, so much so, that I just downloaded the first book. An archaeologist? On a Greek island? Late 1920s? Perfect!

  14. Carrie says:

    @Kay Webb Harrison

    Josephine Tey is another favorite mystery writer. I love Daughter of Time and Brat Farrar. I didn’t know there was a mystery series featuring her as a detective. Sounds fun.

    I’m really interested in the Barbara Cleverly books. I’m off to see if my library has one so I can try them out. Thanks!

  15. Dabney says:

    It’s so not a romance, but the best historical fiction I’ve read about post WWI England is River of Darkness by Rennie Airth. (http://www.amazon.com/River-Darkness-Madden-Mystery-Mysteries/dp/0143035703/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_2)

    It takes all the issues that Tolkien wove into his very long trilogy and compresses them into one mesmerizing mystery novel. It’s all there–the rise of a different sense of self, the change in class, the remaking of what we know think of as pre-modern optimism. There are three books in the series, and River of Darkness and, the second one, The Blood Dimmed Tide, are phenomenal.

  16. Kay Webb Harrison says:

    Dear LinnieGayl and Carrie,
    I am happy to spread the word. I really enjoy the Cleverly books, both series. I think that someone on AAR recommended Nicola Upson. I have read all of Tey’s mysteries. She isn’t so much a detective in the books as a person involved with the victims. Her friend Archie Penrose is a Scotland Yard inspector.

  17. AAR Lynn says:

    I love reading about this period, too. I know that a lot of dark and terrible things happened during this time, but people still found joy and love. I first learned about the early 20th century through stories from my oldest relatives. Mixed in with the horrors of war and the Depression were some truly romantic tales.

    In terms of romance novels, I’ve been seeing a fair number of post-WWI romances in the inspy market (Summerside Press, especially), and I hope this carries over into the mainstream market as well.

  18. Chartreuse says:

    Not mentioned so far: David Roberts series with Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne.

    I strongly recommend the Rennie Airth and Barbara Cleverly novels.

  19. Sarah says:

    One of the issues with post-WWI romance, especially in Britain, is that so many men, of all classes, were killed in that war that there were simply not enough men to go around, as it were, and an entire generation of women spent their lives knowing they would never get married. Take Vera Brittain, of TESTAMENT OF YOUTH fame – her brothers, her best friend, and her fiance were all killed.

    THE CRIMSON ROOMS by Katharine McMahon is a recent, one-off mystery/suspense set during that period. THE PALACE CIRCLE by Rebecca Dean is set in Britain and the Mideast and continues into the 1930s. EAST OF THE SUN by Julia Gregson is set in India during the 1920s. Interestingly, both McMahon and Gregson have published recent novels set during the Crimean War (THE ROSE OF SEBASTOPOL and BAND OF ANGELS, respectively).

    You could probably find more titles published in the UK for this period – check http://www.amazon.co.uk. BookCloseouts also has great deals on books published abroad.

  20. Susan/DC says:

    I love the Maisie Dobbs series. Winspear weaves the history and culture of 1920s Britain so cleverly into her mysteries. She truly gives you a sense of what it must have been like to live in an era of tragic losses yet expanding opportunities for women (in part precisely because so many men had been so tragically lost). The Rhys Bowen series is fun, but for some reason I lost interest after the first two or three.

    At first I loved the Joe Sandilands books, in part because they were set in India and the atmospherics were so wonderful. Haven’t read the last few, however, after the first one set in London. Does he ever have a love interest? As for Cleverly’s Laetitia Talbot books, I’ve enjoyed them. I’ve read the first two, and Laetitia has a different potential romance in each. Both are with older men, so perhaps that’s a theme (not my favorite romance trope, but I read these mainly for the settings and the mysteries, so it doesn’t bother me as much).

    Another mystery series set soon after WWI are the Ian Rutledge books by Charles Todd (a mother/son writing team). Ian is a Scotland Yard detective who suffers from what we would now call PTSD. The books are pure mysteries, however, no romance. He has met a few women who might be potential interests, but the authors seem intent on keeping him single.

    Vera Brittain did get married and had children. She kept her maiden name, however, which was quite unusual at the time.

  21. RachelT says:

    Not only did Vera Brittain get married and have children, but her daughter, Shirley Williams, has been one of our foremost female politicians of the past 30 years.

  22. Sarah says:

    Yes, Vera Brittain did get married – I did not mean to imply that she never did so. But many many other women did not, which was my point. I was using Vera Brittain as an example of a woman who lost most of the men of her generation during the war.

  23. Jean Wan says:

    I’ve frequently seen a series about an Australian oddly-named flapper detective – but I’ve never managed to remember the author, the heroine, or the series. Phrynge?

    Aha! That’s it. The Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood.

  24. Nikki says:

    Storm clouds on the horizon for 1920s characters?

    Truth be told, it’s fairly likely one or both of our Regency lovers will be dead with ten years gone by.

    Word: Antibiotics.

  25. LinnieGayl says:

    I’m about 3/4 of the way through with The Tomb of Zeus, the first in Barbara Cleverly’s mystery series featuring Laetitia Talbot. The setting of Crete is just wonderful. At first I thought the solution to the mystery was going to be very transparent, but she just keeps piling layer upon layer upon layer for all of the main characters. Really very interesting. I will definitely continue with this series. Thanks again, Kay!

    Nikki, excellent point.

    Jean, I’ve never heard of the The Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood. I will have to check it out.

    Lynn, I still haven’t dipped my toe into the inspirational romance field, but have been meaning to. Knowing some are set in post WWI will be further impetus.

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