Posted by Erastes
One thing that I have a great deal of trouble with, as a writer in this genre, is the Happy Ever After.
It’s wonderful now of course, that any writer of contemporary gay fiction can literally include the “Will you marry me?” into their plot and even go on to describe the wedding. This is something that would once have only been believable in a fantasy universe.
I read blogs from gay authors and gay friends and it’s so wonderful to see them getting married, doing the whole “I do” thing (or “I will” over here, for the historical accurists!!)
There has always been a lot of gay marriage in fanfiction and there will, I’m guessing, now be more, now the laws are loosening round the world. In fanfiction the writer can assume enlightenment in future worlds or Alternative Universes. In Harry Potter, a thousand Remus Lupins have already married a thousand Sirius Blacks because J K Rowling hasn’t said “there is no gay marriage in the Wizard World,” and as the WW’s laws are different in many respects, it’s not a great leap of faith to write speculatively on the subject.
For the fantasy/spec-fic writers, all they need to do is have a world far far away, create their own rules and they can have men only planets, male marriages even male pregnancies.
And so now for the first time writers of contemporary fiction can encompass the Romance Genre more than ever they did before. Their gay heroes can not only fall into each others’ arms at the end of their novels but they can get married too. Good for them!
Not so though the men loving men of yesteryear…
My first novel was based in the Regency – 1820 onwards, and while the two heroes have myriad obstacles to their relationship throughout the book, (as befits a romance), the biggest obstacle of all is the time they live in.
Homosexuality was not only illegal in England and Wales (right up until 1967 in fact) but in the 19th Century it was still punishable by hanging. It was harder to convict than it had been; the law required a higher burden of proof than it had done in previous centuries, – penetration and ejaculation had to be proved and two witnessess were required, so you can see how difficult that should have been to prove, but even so, in England, the first quarter of the 19th century had more hangings for sodomy than at any similar time span before.
Even if the death sentence wasn’t pronounced due to that higher burden of proof, the court could reduce the sentence to one of “Assault with Sodomitical intent” (with the horrible twist that the person being “assaulted” could also be found just as guilty for acquiesing to such assault)
As you will see from the wonderful resources at The Old Bailey, this was a “misdemeanor” and NO TESTIMONY was required. Sentences of 6 months to 2 years were common, often with “hard labour.”
In this day and age this would not be a particularly scary sentence, but even a few months in Newgate Prison might kill you then: from disease which was rife; or if you weren’t strong, or didn’t have any money to pay for “extras” (such as food and bedding and your (strictly unofficial) release fee)
This may not have stopped the casual encounters around St Paul’s Churchyard or prevented men from visiting the Molly Houses that had been springing up for some time previously, but it must have made co-habiting difficult and dangerous. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, hell – we know it did! – but it would have had to have been done with some discretion. Even noblemen had been dragged from their homes under this suspicion, and you’d be a brave man to trust your servants when the rewards of betrayal might be more money than they had ever seen in their lives. Then add the constant threat of blackmail to the mix… The kind of fic I like to read emcompasses this reality.
As for earlier times? Hanging was too good for ‘em. Burning, castration, banishment (as outlaws!), castration FOLLOWED by stoning to death, and other such wonders.
So how to end it?
In “The Highwayman” (review to come) Emily Veinglory manages her Happy With Each Other Perhaps Forever very deftly, without making it unrealistic. Lee Rowan’s officers, both aboard the same ship in “Ransom” and “Winds of Change” may not find it easy, but close proximity and dark enclosed places aboard help a little – in spite of the risk of the dreaded Number 29 Article of War. You don’t doubt that they will do anything they can to stay together, but you do know that it won’t be easy and it may not last long. I LIKE that uncertainty.
Personally I like to leave a lot to my readers’ imaginations. I want the reader to think at the end -“What will happen? Will they find somewhere they can live out their lives? Or will the weight of society destroy them in the end? What must it be like, not even to feel safe when you lock the door at night?”
I like them to weigh up not only the danger of the period and make a decision of their own.
What about you? Are you a fan of Happy Ever After – the slow fade at the end and undying love? Or do you like a bit of bite to your historical? Will you only read a story that you know how it ends (e.g. a category romance) or do you revel in the fear that “SHIT – they might not make it!”
Filed under: discussion