cover image Mad and Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency

Mad and Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency

Bea Koch. Grand Central, $17.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0101-0

Koch, co-owner of Los Angeles bookstore The Ripped Bodice, debuts with an entertaining and fact-filled history of Regency England focused on notable women whose lives have inspired the mold-breaking heroines of historical romance novels. She describes the “ ‘marriage mart’ culture” of Almack’s Assembly Rooms and other upper-class social clubs, sketches the biographies of royal women, such as Queen Caroline of Brunswick, and highlights the personal agency and artistic accomplishments of famous mistresses of the era, including Lord Byron’s lover Caroline Lamb, author of the roman á clef Glenarvon. Koch also profiles marginalized female scholars, including astronomer Caroline Herschel and science writer Jane Marcet, who wrote educational books for young women. Other chapters explore queer identities; the presence of notable women of color in 19th-century fiction; and the work of Jewish women to improve the reputation of Judaism. Koch’s detailed profiles exhibit a storyteller’s flair and carry just the right whiff of iconoclasm, though she carefully notes the importance of social networks among her rule-flouting subjects. Throughout, she persuasively contradicts the notion that modern stories featuring accomplished and diverse heroines in 19th-century England are necessarily revisionist. This fun and informative account will be treasured by readers of Jane Austen and contemporary Regency romance novelists, as well as fans of feminist history. (June)