If you were not more than aware already, I am a huge Regency romance fan. (Read one of my many posts on Bridgerton for proof.) When I found out the owner of The Ripped Bodice wrote a book on real women of the Regency era, I had to get my hands (or, in this case, ears) on it. Rengin Altay does a great job of narrating this audiobook, though if you prefer reading text to listening, you can score this one in print and ebook format as well.

Important note: Annually, The Ripped Bodice shares a report on diversity in romance publishing. This year, the report was rightfully critiqued for not presenting the full picture. I don’t approve of The Ripped Bodice’s response to this critique, and will be removing affiliate links from this post until they acknowledge their mistake and do better.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you click on and/or purchase from some links, I make a portion of the sale. This helps keep Bitch Bookshelf running.

Find out more about how I review books here.

The summary, from Amazon:

Discover a feminist pop history that looks beyond the Ton and Jane Austen to highlight the Regency women who succeeded on their own terms and were largely lost to history — until now.
Regency England is a world immortalized by Jane Austen and Lord Byron in their beloved novels and poems. The popular image of the Regency continues to be mythologized by the hundreds of romance novels set in the period, which focus almost exclusively on wealthy, white, Christian members of the upper classes.
But there are hundreds of fascinating women who don’t fit history books limited perception of what was historically accurate for early 19th century England. Women like Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose mother was a slave but was raised by her white father’s family in England, Caroline Herschel, who acted as her brother’s assistant as he hunted the heavens for comets, and ended up discovering eight on her own, Anne Lister, who lived on her own terms with her common-law wife at Shibden Hall, and Judith Montefiore, a Jewish woman who wrote the first English language Kosher cookbook.

As one of the owners of the successful romance-only bookstore The Ripped Bodice, Bea Koch has had a front row seat to controversies surrounding what is accepted as “historically accurate” for the wildly popular Regency period. Following in the popular footsteps of books like Ann Shen’s Bad Girls Throughout History, Koch takes the Regency, one of the most loved and idealized historical time periods and a huge inspiration for American pop culture, and reveals the independent-minded, standard-breaking real historical women who lived life on their terms. She also examines broader questions of culture in chapters that focus on the LGBTQ and Jewish communities, the lives of women of color in the Regency, and women who broke barriers in fields like astronomy and paleontology. In Mad and Bad, we look beyond popular perception of the Regency into the even more vibrant, diverse, and fascinating historical truth.

Lately, there has been a lot of discourse in pop culture about Regency romances, especially with the Netflix adaptation of Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons series. As a Regency romance fan, I know that there are many in the reader community who don’t appreciate what they view as modernized, “politically correct” spins on the Regency era. Bea Koch first examines the matrons of Almack’s, a popular club featured in many of these novels, and royal women of the time. Then she dispels the myth that there were few women in the arts and STEM, or that queer women, women of color, and Jewish women did not play an important role in society. She cites popular novels featuring characters in these fields and from these backgrounds as well as the racism and misogyny in the romance reader community before and after sharing mini-biographies of various women. I appreciated that Koch showcased women from the years directly leading up to and following the Regency too.

There were some women I knew nothing of before listening to the audiobook version of Mad and Bad, and some I was already very familiar with. I enjoyed the refresher on historical figures I knew about and learning about some new ones as well. This is really just a basic primer and could encourage readers to go off and learn more about any of the women that specifically interest them.

I found listening to be pleasant and easy at 1x speed. The narration is lovely, though the writing was a bit disjointed at times. I liked that Koch made sure to provide information on important figures associated with the women whose stories she told, but veering off to highlight one specific person before getting back to the main story could get confusing.

Overall, this was a fun and interesting read. If you’re looking for more in depth takes on any of these women, this book isn’t one I would suggest. It’s more for someone like me – a fan of Regency romances who wants to learn a little more about the real women from this time. I also think it would be a great book for a prospective Regency romance author to gain some ideas from, but they would need to research further once they settled on a heroine to base their story on. I rate it 4 stars.

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Mad and Bad: Real Heroines of the RegencyMad and Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book of mini-bios of Regency women from various backgrounds and specialties, with thoughtful notes on how women are represented in Regency romances (historically and in the modern publishing industry). I see some negative reviews complaining that this is just a book of the basics – but that’s pretty evident just from reading the summary. I listened to the audiobook which flowed smoothly, though there were times I found the writing a little scatter-brained as the author jumped from one woman to a highlight of another relevant figure before going back to the “original” story. I learned a lot about women I didn’t know anything about, and enjoyed hearing about women I was already familiar with.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Were you familiar with any of these women before reading this book? Did Mad and Bad expand your knowledge, or is there anything about these women that you are aware of that wasn’t included?
  2. Which woman featured in this book was your favorite or did you find the most interesting? Why?
  3. Do you plan to research any of the women featured in this book further?
  4. Did anything about the women in this book surprise you?
  5. Do you read romance novels featuring any characters based off of the women mentioned in this book? Which can you recommend?

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P.S. I listened to this book on Audible. Try Audible and get two free audiobooks!

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