A novel describing people and landscape of an actual locality outside the metropolis. Early examples are set in Ireland (M. Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent) and Scotland (J. Galt, The Provost) and are primarily studies of individual societies and characters. Sir W. Scott, however, combined a historically informed feeling for local customs with an aesthetic appreciation of natural scenery. By the mid‐19th cent. the localities described are often smaller, the focus being partly sociological, as in C. Brontë's Shirley, and in the rural fiction of Mrs Gaskell (Cheshire) and G. Eliot (the Midlands). Hardy set his works in a fictive Wessex where an appreciation of both aesthetic and geological aspects of landscape complements a concern with agricultural and economic issues. Thenceforward these two approaches tend to diverge.
In the mid‐19th cent., industrial or urban novels set in a specific town or city included Gaskell's Mary Barton, Dickens's Hard Times, and Eliot's Middlemarch, and the tradition continued in the 20th cent. in the work of Joyce. Following E. Brontë's Wuthering Heights and R. D. Blackmore's portrayal of Exmoor in Lorna Doone, other novelists adopted remote locations for romantic dramas (S. R. Crockett's Galloway, Eden Phillpotts's Dartmoor, H. Walpole's Cumberland). Other writers adopted fictional counties including A. Trollope (Barset), W. Holtby (South Riding) or towns (M. Oliphant's Carlingford). The genuinely regional work of R. Jefferies (Wiltshire), C. Holme (Westmorland), and F. Brett Young (Worcestershire) combines social analysis with a celebration of domestic allegiances, as do the domestic novels set in Radstowe (Bristol) of E. H. Young (1880–1947). More didactically slanted accounts of particular regions are found in the Shropshire romances of Mary Webb and the early work of H. Williamson (Devonshire) in which country life is contrasted favourably with that of towns.
The continued oscillation between romantic and realistic handling of regionalism in the 20th cent. is reflected in the popularity enjoyed by the Cornish novels of D. du Maurier, the Tyneside ones of Catherine Cookson, and the historical Cornish novels of Winston Graham (1909–2003), whose Poldark series appeared in 1945. Examples of regionalism of an exclusively naturalistic kind are A. Bennett's tales of the Staffordshire ‘Five Towns’, and the accounts of farming life of S. Kaye‐Smith (1887–1956) (Kent and Sussex) and Adrian Bell (1901–80, Suffolk). Emphasis on social realism becomes more pronounced in the 1920s in the work of Phyllis Bentley (1894–1977), who wrote of the textile industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and H. E. Bates (Northamptonshire). In D. H. Lawrence's The Rainbow (Nottinghamshire) and A Glastonbury Romance by J. C. Powys the potential limitations of the genre are surmounted through the integration of particular landscapes and places with individual psychological, religious, and emotional experience. In the second half of the 20th cent. regional writers continued to favour a realist approach, as in the work of Leo Walmsley (1892–1966) with his trilogy set on the north Yorkshire coast, John Moore (1907–67), with works based in Gloucestershire, and John Toft (1933– ), Staffordshire. In particular the regional novel has become a sociologically attuned vehicle for working‐class concerns, A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon anticipating the novels of Durham‐born ex‐miner Sid Chaplin (1916–86), Sillitoe, and Barstow in replacing nostalgia with radical questioning and social realism.