gay


Cuchullain carrying Ferdia's body after their battle. Sculpture.

Sculpture in Ardee, County Lough, of Cuchullain carrying Ferdia's body.

Celtic culture was ever a warrior culture, no matter where and when they resided, and as such were part of the virtually global tradition of warrior lovers.

Celtic language, culture and traditions once spanned most of the continent of Europe, bringing it into contact with the classical societies of Greece and Rome for hundreds of years.  Celts at their widest expansion, that is, by 275 BC, ranged from the Ukraine west to Spain, France and, of course, the British Isles.  Rome sought to incorporate these peoples as they conquered their lands, but Germanic migration forced the contraction of Celtic language and cultures until they occupied only parts of the British Isles and Brittany.

Celts themselves relied entirely on oral tradition for perpetuating their way of life; so Classical scholars and military leaders recorded much of what we know about these peoples.  It is remarkable that coming from a culture that recognized and honored same sex relationships, the Greek teacher Aristotle comments in his Politics (II 1269b) on the greater enshrinement of warrior lovers among the Celts.  Coincidental with this was a sometimes-disputed tradition of warlike women, or at least greater liberty for women in and out of matrimony.  Brehon law, which governed Irish tribes, for example, permitted divorce initiated by wives.

In ancient Irish mythology, male warriors paired off much as the great male lovers of ancient Greece, such as Achilles and Patroclus and Alexander and Hephaestion.  They shared a bed and fought as a team.   Perhaps best known of these couples is Cuchullain and Ferdia.  Cuchullain was semi-divine, almost invincible and able to turn into a ravening beast in battle.    In the legend, the two lovers are forced to meet in battle to the death.  At the end of each day of hand to hand combat, they met in the middle of a ford to embrace and kiss three times.  When Cuchullain finally kills his friend, he mourns, singing over his body,

Dear to me thy noble blush,
Dear thy comely, perfect form;
Dear thine eye, blue-grey and clear,
Dear thy wisdom and thy speech.

(Quoted in “A Coming Out Ritua“l)

Even after the Christianization of Ireland the record in regards to acceptance of same sex relationships is ambiguous.  According to Brian Lacey’s new history of homosexuality in Ireland, Terrible Queer Creatures: A History of Homosexuality in Ireland,  St. Patrick traveled with a lifelong companion his that he is recorded as having great affection for and sleeping with.  In the famous illuminated gospel, The Book of Kells, there are numerous illustrations of men embracing.  In typical Christian revisionist manner, the Church has interpreted these illustrations as calling for the eradication of sodomy. 

One person in a chieftain’s household, the poet/bard called the ollamh was afforded great access to his lord physically, sharing his bed and demonstrating affection with him in public.  In songs or poems the ollamh  often referred to the chieftain as a beloved or even a spouse.  It is interesting in Dorothy Dunnett’s sexually ambiguous Lymond Chronicles the protagonist in the second volume, Queen’s Play, masquerades not as any other sort of bard but as an ollamh.  The tradition continued well into the Middle Ages. 

Ireland’s homophobia is now being confronted in its courts where it is likely the prohibition against same sex marriage will go the way of the ban on contraception.

Folks, I have been mulling about writing this post for some time now. Thinking I really need to speak up about it, but then pushing it away for fear that I might offend some of my online friends. But I kept coming back to the fact that by not speaking out about it, I am basically doing the same thing that I am about to accuse others of doing. That is, standing by and being silent because it serves my own interest.

So I’m about to tell you what has been troubling me. Now first of all, I completely understand why writers use pseudonyms to protect themselves and keep their private lives private. I have no problem with that at all. There are crazy people out there and it is wise not to put all your personal information on the Internet. But what I don’t understand is how some writers of gay-themed literature are so ashamed of what they write that they keep it secret from everybody in their private lives. Online, under a cloak of anonymity they are as proud as peacocks of their literary achievements, but privately they keep it hidden, feeling that it would be so humiliating if anyone found out that they write about gay love. And then I read blogs from these writers (again under pseudonyms) fuming about the injustices to gay people. They rant and rave about every suicide, every anti-gay politician, and every anti-gay referendum. That’s great. But I have a morbid suspicion that these same writers, so bold online yet privately so ashamed of the novels they have penned, are saying NOTHING in defense of gay rights to their families, friends and co-workers. That really steams me. Those who oppose us probably don’t have a whole lot of respect for anonymous bloggers, but they would be forced to re-evaluate their opinions if someone they knew personally stood up and challenged them.

Perhaps some of this shame has to do with the stigma attached to romance novels in general, and I’m sure there are writers of straight romance who conceal their professions as well, so it might be that this shame was partially inherited.

Recently there was a big brouhaha when LiveJournal temporarily allowed cross-posting of locked posts. I remember one writer getting very upset and said if anybody at her job found out she wrote gay books, she could lose her job. Really? Of course everyone I work with knows what I write and publish, but if I were in her shoes and my employer found out I write gay books and then fired me for it, I’d get a lawyer (Lambda Legal is ready and willing) and sue his ass for discrimination! I’m sorry, but keeping silent in the workplace while your co-workers are freely spouting their anti-gay rhetoric because you might lose your precious job is, in my humble opinion, cowardly.

Okay there I’ve said it. Now if you are a writer who is closeted about what you write but are still vociferous about gay rights, then I give you a pass, though I still think if you are ashamed of your work, then why bother, unless it is just to pay the bills, in which case I’d have to say you are merely prostituting yourself. I hope I’ve given some food for thought and haven’t offended anybody. But if I did, I can’t apologize for it, because I truly believe it needed to be said.

by Leslie H. Nicoll

The first cover in the Vintage series features the painting “Football Hero” by J.C. Leyendecker, completed in 1916. I thought readers might be interested in learning a bit more about the artist’s life and work on this, the anniversary of his death in 1951. Leyendecker was the pre-eminent illustrator of the early twentieth century, painting more than 400 magazine covers and hundreds of advertising images for diverse clients including Cluett, Peabody & Co. (Arrow Shirts), Interwoven Socks, and the US military. His paintings are iconic and instantly recognizable even now, a century after he first came to prominence.

J.C. Leyendecker in 1895

Joseph Christian Leyendecker—Joe to his friends and J.C. professionally—was born in Montabaur, Germany in 1874. He was the third of four children. In 1882 the family emigrated to the United States and chose to live in Chicago. His father worked in a brewery owned by a relative and from the limited information available, it sounds like they quickly settled into a comfortable, middle-class life

The three Leyendecker boys were all artistic. Older brother Adolph moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1894 and established himself as a stained glass artist. J.C.’s first commission came at age 11, when he designed a beer bottle label for his great-uncle’s brewery. At 15, he became an apprentice at J. Manz & Company, a Chicago engraving firm, eventually becoming a Staff Illustrator. He also enrolled in evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked hard and saved his money and in 1896 traveled to Paris, with his younger brother Franz (more commonly known as Frank or F.X.), to study at the Académie Julian. They spent two years in France, refining their skills, rubbing shoulders with other artists, and, sadly for Frank, acquiring a serious drug and alcohol habit that would eventually kill him at the age of 45.

Vintage Leyendecker

J.C. and Frank returned to the US and set up shop as artists and illustrators, first in Chicago and then in New York, where they moved in 1900. They rented a shared studio on 32nd Street and a large townhouse in Washington Square. Their sister Mary lived with them and took on the role of hostess and housekeeper in lieu of a career or family of her own.

Charles Beach (cover image from the book by Cutler and Cutler)

Busy as they were with their advertising and cover commissions, J.C. and Frank needed models and a regular parade of good looking young men made their way to their studio door. In 1903, Charles A. Beach walked into the studio and into J.C.’s life—never to leave. Beach became J.C.’s model, business manager, lover, and life partner. They were inseparable from the moment they set eyes on each until Leyendecker’s death, forty-eight years later. J.C. was 29 when they met; Beach was 17.

Shortly after meeting the Leyendecker brothers, Beach moved into a small apartment on 31st Street, one block from the studio. In 1910, the Leyendeckers took a step up, renting a large studio in the Beaux Arts building at 40th Street and Sixth Avenue. Beach established his residence in the studio and became its manager. Joe, Frank, Mary and their father Peter had moved out of the city in 1905 and were living in New Rochelle, although from the sound of it, J.C. stayed most of the time at the studio with Beach. In 1914, J.C. and Beach designed and built a fourteen room home on a nine acre estate on Mount Tom Road in New Rochelle. Beach officially moved in in 1916, shortly after father Peter’s death.

Like his brother, Frank was also gay but there is no record of him having a regular lover or long-term relationship. Interestingly, he was the one who hired Beach but he probably came to regret that decision. He and Mary both resented the influence that Beach had over J.C. There was a family falling out in 1923 with both Frank and Mary moving out of the Mount Tom house; Mary’s final act of defiance was to spit in Charles Beach’s face. Frank was dead a year later; Mary spent the rest of her life at the Martha Washington Hotel in New York City, dying in 1957.

Brian Donlevy

While Beach was J.C.’s most frequent and favorite model, he did paint other men, including Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton, both of whom went on to careers in the movies and television. Donlevy appeared in numerous Arrow collar ads and although it is not documented, I think he may also be the model in “Football Hero.” Hamilton also was the model in several Arrow advertisements and was the Doughboy (World War I soldier) in the 1918 Thanksgiving cover for the Saturday Evening Post. Leyendecker later gave Hamilton the painting—an unusual and gracious gesture on his part. Leyendecker only gave away two Post cover paintings in his life and never sold any of his original paintings—just the images. As an aside, readers may remember Hamilton as Police Commissioner Gordon in the Batman TV series in the 1960s. He appeared in all 120 episodes.

Neil Hamilton as Police Commissioner Gordon

Leyendecker was friends with many fellow artists and illustrators, the most famous of whom is probably Norman Rockwell. Depending on which biography you read, Rockwell was either a conniving businessman who stole Leyendecker’s ideas and commissions or he was a lifelong friend who considered J.C. a mentor. I prefer to believe the latter. Rockwell lived near Leyendecker in New Rochelle; they collaborated professionally and Rockwell was a pall bearer at Leyendecker’s funeral. Why then is Rockwell better known and well remembered? Probably because he has wives, children, and grandchildren to perpetuate his memory and legacy. J.C., Frank, and Mary were all unmarried and childless; Adolph had two children who likely never met their famous uncle since there seems to have been a family rift that occurred when he moved to Kansas City. There is speculation that it was because both of his brothers were gay but there is no way to determine if this is true.

An elegant lifestyle depicted in art

While Leyendecker was successful from the minute of his first commission at age 11, probably the pinnacle of his career came during the 1920s. His pictures, and those of his contemporaries such as Cy ­­Phillips, were everywhere, and illustrated a lifestyle that was emulated by many and imagined for more. In an interesting intersection of life and art, Leyendecker and Beach became the “it” couple, attracting people to their New York City haunts and later their home. Beach became known for organizing popular and risqué parties at the Mount Tom estate that were de rigueur among the celebrity and social set. Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist, was a regular, and his reports of the goings-on helped set fashion trends, smoking and drinking fads, and even deigned which automobiles acceptable—J.C. drove a Pierce Arrow. No one reported about their relationship, however, even though J.C. and Charles were clearly lovers and affectionate with each other in front of friends. How were they able to maintain such media silence? Apparently the simple threat of, “You won’t be invited back” was sufficient.

Charles Beach

The Roaring Twenties ended with a crash and Leyendecker and Beach also began to scale back their opulent lifestyle. Changes in the entertainment and publishing industries also took a toll and by the late 1930s, commissions for illustrated magazine covers were dwindling—not because Leyendecker’s talent was diminishing (or Rockwell’s fame eclipsed his, as some have suggested) but rather, because photography had reached a point of being faster, easier, cheaper and most importantly: more popular. The golden age of illustration, which lasted from the turn of the century until the mid-thirties, had passed. Leyendecker still held the distinction of being its premier artist.

The Mount Tom Estate

Charles Beach, up close and personal

For the last decade of their lives together, J.C. and Charles lived a quiet, modest life—a radical change from the lavish Twenties but also a reflection of a nation struggling with a depression, war, and its aftermath. J.C. died on July 25, 1951, in his lover’s arms. The post-mortem diagnosis was an acute cerebral occlusion. Charles followed him in death six months later. J.C. is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The location of Charles’ remains is unknown.

Upon his death, Leyendecker had instructed Beach to “destroy everything”; Charles began to do this, getting rid of letters, diaries, correspondence, and records. Fortunately, he realized that burning J.C.’s paintings and sketches would be a serious mistake and saved those from the bonfire. Later, he sold many at a yard sale with the most expensive painting fetching seven dollars. After Beach’s death, Mary inherited what was left—sixty paintings that were eventually donated to San Joaquin Pioneer and Historical Museum (now the Haggin Museum) in California.

I wonder how many of those yard sale paintings are tucked away in attics, waiting to be rediscovered. My attic has been well and thoroughly cleaned, but I can dream for others…

Joseph Christian Leyendecker
March 23, 1874 – July 25, 1951

Sources:

Cutler, L.S. & Cutler, J.C. (2008). J.C. Leyendecker: American Imagist. New York: Abrams.

Wikipedia entries on J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton

IMDb entries on Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton

When people ask me what I write, I usually say: “Penny dreadfuls. But they cost more than a penny and aren’t dreadful.”

A historian might point out that this statement is not really correct (and some may argue that, indeed, my writing is quite dreadful), because penny dreadfuls firmly belong in the 19th century, while I aim for an 18th century feeling. Amandine de Villeneuve’s woodcut-like illustrations for my books are in the style of the 18th century, too. And in the 18th century, it was the chapbook that ruled the readership.

Penny dreadfuls were stories published in parts over a course of several weeks, costing one penny each. And for that, the 19th century teenager got Adventure! Drama! Swordfighting! Highwaymen! Pirates! Vampires! A damsel in distress! Spring-heeled Jack and Knights of the Road!

The Victorians did a pretty thorough job at cleaning up the act of the “Penny Merriments”. There was also a shift in the readership. While chapbooks had been read by all ages and classes, penny dreadfuls were mostly aimed at male teenagers with a working class background.

The origins of the chapbook can be tracked back as early as the 1600s, and it could be just about anything from religious pamphlet to printed gallows speech to folk tale to coverage of the Great Fire of London. The natural lifespan of a chapbook was short; due to its very poor paper- and print-quality, it usually ended as toilet paper. It was intended for quick consumption and disposal. As a consequence, much of our knowledge is guesswork. Luckily, Samuel Pepys was an avid collector, so at least a few copies survived the centuries. His collection is held at Magdalene College in Cambridge.

Given the nature of many chapbooks, it’s not surprising that Samuel Pepys, naval administrator, diarist and Lothario was so fond of them.  To quote Steve from “Coupling”:  “When man invented fire, he didn’t say, “Hey, let’s cook.”  He said, “Great, now we can see naked bottoms in the dark!” As soon as Caxton invented the printing press, we were using it to make pictures of, hey, naked bottoms!”

Some months ago, the national press reported of a rare and exciting find:

STASH OF ‘SAUCY’ LITERATURE UNCOVERED AT HISTORIC LAKE DISTRICT HOUSE

“They often contained rather saucy and even rude tales, which were found to be very amusing by their 18th century readers.”

Here’s an excerpt from “The Crafty Chambermaid”, dating back to 1770; the tale of a chambermaid who tricks a young man into marrying her/of a London merchant who tries to romantically pursue a chambermaid (it depends on one’s point of view, I suppose…)

The Merchant he softly crept into the room,
And on the bedside he then sat himself down,
Her knees through the Counterpane he did embrace,
Did Bess in the pillow did hide her sweet face.

He stript of his cloaths and leaped into bed
Saying now lovely creature for thy maidenhead,
She strug led and strove and seemed to be shy
He said divine beauty I pray now comply.

Love and lust, presented in a raunchy, saucy and rude manner – what sells today also sold back in the 18th century. From erotic to pornographic: the chapbook catered to a great variety of needs and interests. And as this is the Macaronis-blog, the question begs to be asked: were there chapbooks with gay, lesbian or bisexual content as well?

Answer: as with so many details in history, we can only guess. There are some indications that such content was published, but one has to read between the lines, and there’s a significant difference in the way same-sex experiences were portrayed: what might have been acceptable for women was absolutely taboo for men.

Sexuality between women often featured in heterosexual erotica and pornography. However, this wasn’t a portrayal of sexual orientation, it wasn’t about lesbian or bisexual women: the ladies would always end up with the dashing hero in the end. The stories left no doubt that they were 100% heterosexual, and any same-sex experience only served the purpose of preparing a woman for “the real thing”, as an introduction to sexuality and preparation for her future (male) lover, often with the help of a more experienced woman.

In her book “Lascivious Bodies – A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century”***, Julie Peakman writes:

“Thus, in erotica, the reader is guided through the rules of sexual initiation in a three-stage process: masturbation, lesbian sex and, finally, heterosexual intercourse.”

Women were expected to be loving and affectionate, so being loving and affectionate in public was normal. Correspondence between women that we’d think to be “love letters” today were not unusual. Society would often turn a blind eye when it came to very close friendships which may or may not have been of a sexual nature as well, especially if the ladies were discrete. The case was different for women who tried to wear the breeches (especially if those were equipped with artificial “yards”!) and threatened the superior status of men in society, though. But that’s for another day and article.

Now, even if scenes of lesbian sex were written with the erotic imagination of male readers in mind, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that they were consumed and enjoyed by female readers as well. In any case it was much easier for a woman to get her hands on such content than for a man to find erotica involving male-male sex.

Homosexual men – “sodomites” – were almost universally despised. In the hierarchy of society, they were at the very bottom. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death, so it would have been very risky to publish erotic material which portrayed male-male love in a positive light.  “The most detestably sin of buggery” was sometimes brought up in a satirical way, but the connotation was always negative.

However – where there are customers, there are suppliers. Morals are good, but so is money. If a business could be made, it was very likely made, though not in public. An underground press for homosexual erotica – why not? After all, there was a potential audience. No matter how harsh the punishments and how determined the guardians of public virtue were in the prosecution of gay men: they still met, they still loved, they still had sex.

And if one looks at the professions of those “sodomites” who were brought to court, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if we’d learn one day that, among the butchers and blacksmiths and clerks and furniture makers, there also were a typesetter and printer who weren’t caught…

*** Review to follow.

“I should have been a more famous writer if I had written or rather published more, but sex prevented the latter.”

In case anyone missed this, The Sunday Times had an interesting article on the reason EM Forster didn’t (or rather, couldn’t) write anything after the publication of A Passage To India in 1924 – because he connected his creative output to the repression of his sexuality, and once he’d lost his virginity, at the age of 38, to ‘a wounded soldier on an Egyptian beach’, the creative urge was no longer quite so urgent.

Read the article in full here.

I particularly liked his diary entry that says:

“Now I am 85 how annoyed I am with society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges and the self-consciousnesses that might have been avoided.”

Indeed.

TOP FACTS

* Sadly not yet published by Mills and Boon.
* Covers. Started naff – getting better all the time.

* Many buttons
* Interesting lube possibilities
IN A NUTSHELL

* There’s not enough of it, for a start.
* Some Gay Historicals address the very real problems of being gay in a time when it wasn’t just unacceptable, it was reviled and illegal. (Basically after Christianity kicked in) However, there were times when man on man love wasn’t just acceptable, it was a normal part of everyday life. (Οι Έλληνες είχαν μια λέξη για το έργο)
* Thankfully, due to pronouns they are not called things like “The Mediterranean Tycoon’s Depraved Heiress” (With thanks to the Random Romance Title Generator)

THE HEROES

Not too different from the heroes in other historical romances. They are generally aristocratic (tall and handsome goes without saying – plus they are ALWAYS – always hung like horses, this is the law.)

So, create your character: Rich? check. Commanding? check. Handsome? check. Cock of unusual size?  Check and double check.
OK, you can stop checking now. Hello! Stop checking!

THE, er,  OTHER HEROES

Now here you can play around a little. You can either make your other hero a match for your arrogant alpha in every sense of the word (and sit back and watch those sparks fly and those buttons go flying (gotta have flying buttons, more later) OR you can create a sensitive little soul. A downtrodden artist, perhaps, or an impoverished tutor. A kidnapped sex slave or an abused and rescued young man. As long as you get a vast gulf between your alpha and your omega, it doesn’t really matter. Any excuse to make that boy cry his little heart out because the rough tough alpha doesn’t know how to handle him. Or rather – he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings – he knows how to handle him all right. (hur hur)

The important thing is the desecration of innocence™ – but don’t worry. No matter how nasty the alpha is, your sensitive soul will fall in love with him as he tops from the bottom.

THE BEST THING ABOUT WRITING GAY HISTORICALS
* Buttons. Oh GOD the buttons. I’ve coined the term breeches ripper before, but for me waistcoat ripping is far more exciting. Also cravats. You can have a LOT of fun with cravats.
* UST. (No, no, not there, Unresolved Sexual Tension. Buckets and buckets of it. “I’m homosexual!++ Argh! God he’s pretty. I wonder if he’s homosexual too? How can I let him know? What if he’s not? All right… so he is – he’s sleeping with Lord [Whossit] – how can I get him?”A writer of gay historicals have immense fun torturing her characters – making every glance count, and when one’s passing the port (to the left, of course) at dinner, fingertips are just bound to brush against each other.
* It’s much easier to get men together on a day-to-day basis. Whereas a hetero historical writer will have to write about dances, and chaperones and perhaps elopements men can simply hang out with each other, ride in each other’s carriages (and no, that’s not a euphemism!) without anyone fainting or ruining anyone’s reputation. Of course it’s pretty difficult to get them into sexual situation, but that’s another post…
*I think I may have already mentioned buttons…
THE BEST THING ABOUT READING GAY HISTORICALS

* Buttons! Ok, Is it just me and the buttons?
* Appreciating that the author knows exactly what the difference is between a sailor’s whipping and a double fisherman but that you don’t need to know anything as silly as long as the hero gets tied up.
* Sponge baths.
* Cocks! (sorry, but it did have to be said.) Lots of ‘em. Members, yards, rods, poles, perches, arbor vitae, gaying instrument. (yes, really.)

TOP TIP: beige…biscuit…blasé bleeding anachronisms

Check check check. You may think that it’s all right to say your hero’s breeches are beige but it wasn’t so and any eagle eyed reader will Mock You. They will, however realise if you are trying and make a small slip-up, but they won’t appreciate sloppy (or no) research, modern day speech patterns and contemporary men in fancy dress.

WHAT NOT TO SAY

* “Where’s the lube?”
* He climaxed, spunk spurting over his fingers.
* “I want to fuck his sweet hairy ass.”

WHAT TO SAY

* “Spit, and have done, man.” (other lubricants are available…)
* GOOD LORD, SHAG HIM ALREADY!
* I’m learning something! Oooo… cocks….

Over to you…

* What gay historicals would you like to see?
* What cliches are you sick of?
* Do you want better covers?
* Anything else?



++homosexual is also anachronistic until the early 20th century, too.

(Previously published on Lust Bites)

Last week I read a discussion on a mailing list in which an author asked for opinions on mpreg. It’s not a genre I pay much attention to, not since a scarring experience several years ago with a LOTR fanfic involving Legolas and Aragorn, but the recent discussion reminded me of what could possibly be the very first recorded mention of mpreg in literary history.

As with most non-fandom examples, the context is science fiction… of a sort. The author is Lucian of Samosata (c.125-180), a noted satirist who wrote dozens of rude and witty works, many of which served as a somewhat caustic commentary on the religious, political, and social mores of the provinces of the Roman Empire. In particular he poked fun at the beliefs of the Greeks, especially in his romance (in the oldest sense of the word!) A True Story—a spoof travelogue that’s regarded as the earliest known sci-fi text.

In his prologue, Lucian informs his readers that they’re about to read a bunch of fibs. He’s read so many stories purporting to tell the truth when they blatantly tell lies that he’s decided to have a go at writing his own completely fictional worlds:

I did not find much fault with [several named Classical authors, including Homer] for their lying, as I saw that this was already a common practice even among men who profess philosophy. I did wonder, though, that they thought they could write untruths and not get caught at it. Therefore, as I myself, thanks to my vanity, was eager to hand something down to posterity, that I might not be the only one excluded from the privileges of poetic licence, and as I had nothing true to tell, not having had any adventures of significance, I took to lying. But my lying is far more honest than theirs, for though I tell the truth in nothing else, I shall at least be truthful in saying that I am a liar.

Thus warned of the falsehoods awaiting them, the readers plunge into a crazy adventure in which Lucian and his heroic companions sail through the Pillars of Hercules and are blown off-course. Their ship is carried into the air by a giant waterspout and they land on the Moon, where they get involved in a war between the Moonites and their arch-enemies, the people inhabiting the Sun, over the rights to colonise the Morning Star.

Like any good travel writer, Lucian spends some time observing the inhabitants of the Moon and Sun. He writes about soldiers who fly on three-headed vultures, a bird made of grass with lettuce leaves for wings, archers mounted on gigantic fleas, infantrymen armed with mushroom shields and asparagus spears, and dog-faced men who fight from the back of winged acorns. During the war, Lucian is taken captive by the Sun armies but is later released, to the delight of the King of the Moon:

He wanted me to stay with him and join the colony, promising to give me his own son in marriage—for there are no women in their country.

Lucian goes on to describe gay marriage and mpreg amongst the Moonites:

First of all, they are not born of woman but of man; their marriages are of male and male, and they do not even know the word ‘woman’ at all. Up to the age of twenty-five they all act as females, and thereafter as husbands. Pregnancy occurs not in the womb but in the calf of the leg, for after conception the calf grows fat. After a time they cut it open and bring out a lifeless body, which they lay with its mouth open facing the wind, and thus it comes to life.

This section of A True Story is an artful commentary on Greek modes of life, specifically the tall tales of armchair historians such as Herodotus (known as the ‘Father of Lies’ for the inclusion of various mythological creatures and races in his history of the Persian Wars), and homosexuality within a given set of social constraints—age, in this case, which suggests that Lucian is modelling his Moonite society on the particular ‘state sanctioned’ form of homosexuality practiced in classical Athens, flourishing some 500 years before Lucian wrote his story.

It also takes a swipe at religion and mythology, pointing to the peculiar nascence of some of the gods (the Moonites being born from the calf seems to be a reference to Dionysos, who was born from Zeus’ thigh), and it also dismisses the philosophy of wind-fertilisation, an ancient belief first recorded in the Iliad that was considered ‘probable’ by no less an authority than Aristotle, who believed the wind could influence the gender of an unborn child.

The young Moonites are born dead; their life comes only from the wind, which, according to popular beliefs right across the ancient world, teems with the souls of those already passed into the afterlife. This neatly attacks both the philosophical element and the homosexual, suggesting that a male-male union is sterile and needs outside support in order to generate future lives, while dismissing as a fantasy the whole concept of wind-fertilisation.

Like all writers, Lucian had a point or two to make with his works. While those who write mpreg today in a sci-fi or fannish context may do so from an interest in gender equality, Lucian was more concerned with raising a laugh amongst his audience, albeit with a sly didactic twist:

Men interested in athletics and in the care of their bodies think not only of condition and exercise but also of relaxation in season; in fact, they consider this the principal part of training. In like manner students, I think, after much reading of serious works, may profitably relax their minds and put them in better trim for future labour. It would be appropriate recreation for them if they were to take up the sort of reading that, instead of affording just pure amusement based on wit and humour, also boasts a little food for thought.

***
Read Lucian’s A True Story in all its mad glory here. The m/m Moonites can be found at Book I.22 of the text.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently and one thing I’m beginning to notice more and more in the world of gay historicals is that some books are seeming very familiar.

It’s a bit of a worrying trend, and while it’s not “wrong” per se, it’s not exactly something I’m keen about, and something I really hope doesn’t continue.

What seems to be happening is, as writers think “what shall I write next?” or “I’d like to write gay historicals, but what about?”  some are taking pre-existing ideas and simply converting it to “the gay.”

This impatience with this trend has been growing in me for a while, and it reached a head this week when I was reading “Checkmate” which is about gay musketeers.  Now – if I had tackled this subject, I’d be very conscious of the huge fanbase of the Dumas books and the great (and the not so great films).  I think I’d probably write about one musketeer, on the fringes perhaps, who meets someone in the course of his duties–defnitely being careful not to take more than “he’s a musketeer” from the era.  But what the authors of this book have done is to have – no surprise – THREE musketeers who meet another man who (shock) isn’t a musketeer.  The three amigos are hard drinking, hard shagging types too – and one of them has a Dark Past™. Sounds familiar?

Now, while I haven’t read further than that, and I’m pretty sure that the plot won’t include the Queen’s necklace, the Duke of Buckingham and a mysterious ex-boyfriend of the musketeer with a Dark Past™ with a fleur-de-lys tattoo, you can’t be too sure…

"Bum for All and All for Bum!"

What I’m saying is that no book is original, unless you are some kind of mega genius, and within the Romance genre it’s pretty hard to do something that hasn’t been done before. If you are writing hetero-romance, particularly historical hetero-romance then it doesn’t matter what era you choose, Vikings, Romans, Pirates, Civil War – it’s all be done before.  But it doesn’t mean that you take “Gone With The Wind” and make your book about a feisty southern anti-heroine who has a crush on a man she can never have and gets married a bazillion times before finding the man she truly loves only to lose him.  Or in the case of gay historicals that you take GWTW and simply keep the main plot but make it gay.

I know that this sounds obvious, but as I say, I see more and more of it.  Without naming more names and offending more people, I’ve seen almost direct copies of films and books galore (including The Gay Witness, a contemporary book I reviewed for Jessewave recently) and it makes me a little sad.

Look – I’m not saying that any of my books are original. Standish is probably stuffed full of images and tropes etc that have stuffed themselves into my head during my life. Every Gainsborough film, every Austen book, every historical mini series, I’ve probably taken aspects from them and put them into the book. There’s a duel in the Bois de Bologne, complete with a misty dawn and horses clinking their bits. There’s Venice and love in gondolas. Transgressions has star-crossed lovers who end up on different sides in a Civil War.  Familiar aspects, yes – but the over-arching storyline is mine.

After all, people don’t write “The Straight Charioteer” do they?

In the interview posted yesterday, I stated that the very first book the Bristlecone Pine Press published was L.A. Heat by P.A. Brown which was wrong. Two months prior, I had launched Bristlecone with The Erotic Etudes by E.L. van Hine, a lyrical and deeply moving story about Robert Schumann, imagined from his diaries and writings. Erastes favorably reviewed the book on Speak Its Name; her review can be read here.

The Erotic Etudes can be purchased in a Kindle version from Amazon.com; for a variety of devices from Mobipocket.com and in print, also from Amazon.

My apologies to the author, E.L. van Hine for the error and oversight. Certainly I should have known better!

Leslie

by Leslie H. Nicoll

If you want to be a Macaroni, you have to be a stickler for historical accuracy. Not to scare anyone off, but to me, half the fun of writing historical fiction is doing the research. I love looking up things and learning new tidbits of information. Doesn’t everyone?

This is on my mind because I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. While it was a very good book and I enjoyed it very much, there were a couple of historical anachronisms that I picked up on instantly. Imagine my amazement when I got to the Acknowledgments and Postscript and the author actually admitted to them! Worse, she did not give a reason for why they were included and why she did not change them.

The errors, as she states, were, “Using the song, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin,’ even though it was not released until 1964 and Shake ‘n Bake, which did not hit the shelves until 1965.”

Certainly Bob Dylan is an iconic folk singer, but there were plenty of folkies on the radio waves in 1962 and 1963 (the principal time of the action in the book). If she wanted to stick with Dylan, why not use “Blowin in the Wind,” released in 1963, which certainly addresses issues of freedom and change. Peter, Paul and Mary would be another choice, with hits such as “Lemon Tree” (maybe not too applicable, although the character listening to the music does have a rocky-to-non-existent love life) or “If I Had a Hammer.” My point is, while “The Times They Are A-Changin” is compelling, I don’t think it is compelling enough to rewrite history to include it.

Then there’s the Shake ‘n Bake error. Shake ‘n Bake is mentioned three times in the book, in two different scenes. The first:

Miss Celia puts a raw chicken thigh in, bumps the bag around. “Like this? Just like the Shake ‘n Bake commercials on the tee-vee?”

“Yeah,” I say and run my tongue up over my teeth because if that’s not an insult, I don’t know what is. “Just like the Shake ‘n Bake.”

So the maid is teaching her employer to cook and the employer (Miss Celia) is all about shortcuts and making it easy. Fine, but does it have to be Shake ‘n Bake, three years before it was invented? How about a Duncan Hines cake mix or Betty Crocker brownie mix? Or, it the author wants to subtly address issues of race and class (the overarching theme of the book), why not have her suggest Aunt Jemima pancake mix? That would certainly be insulting to the maid, Minny, moreso than Shake ‘n Bake, which didn’t even exist.

The other time Shake ‘n Bake is mentioned in the book is in this line, “Wondering if, for no good reason I started thinking about Sears and Roebuck or Shake ‘n Bake, would it be because some Illinoian had thought it two days ago. It gets my mind off my troubles for about five seconds.” Just draw a blue line through that Shake ‘n Bake. No need to even include it.

As I said at the beginning, I enjoy doing the research for writing a historical story. I just finished a 33,000 word novella (due to be published in six months). The story takes place in the era of World War II and after.  Some of the things I learned while researching various facts for the book:

  • Western Union delivery methods, in both the city and the country. In the city, they had delivery men who rode bikes. Out in the country, the Western Union operator was responsible for delivering telegrams, usually in the afternoon after receiving the telegrams in the morning.
  • Gone With the Wind premiered in December, 1939, but did not go into wide release in the US until 1941. For six months in 1940, it was in shown in “reserved seat, roadshow engagements,” a format for showing movies that was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s, but is non-existent now. (Note: Gone With the Wind doesn’t even show up in the book. The characters go see The Wizard of Oz, instead, which came out in the summer of 1939.)
  • In 1942, the Queen Mary was transporting more than 15,000 US servicemen to England, in preparation for the D-Day invasion. Off the coast of Ireland, the Queen Mary collided with—literally sliced through—one of her escort ships, the HMS Curacao. The Curacao quickly sunk and 338 men perished; only 102 of the crew survived. This tragedy was not made public until after the war ended. Even now, it is sort of hushed up. It is not a proud moment in British and US naval history.
  • US families who had loved ones killed in Europe in WWII did have the option to have the soldier’s body sent home to the US for final burial, although it was a complicated and time consuming process that could take years.
  • Gay bars in New York city in the early 1960s were dingy, dark, dumpy places that served overpriced drinks, didn’t meet basic sanitation codes, and were run by the Mob. There was a crackdown on all sorts of “undesirable activity,” including known homosexual hangouts, in New York in 1962 and 1963, as Mayor Wagner was trying to “clean up the city” for all the visitors who were expected to come to New York to attend the World’s Fair. Reading about gay bars got me off on a tangent about bath houses and I learned a lot about those, too. In the end, my character didn’t even go to a gay bar, he just went to the bar in his hotel. The logistics of getting him from Madison Avenue and 45th Street to Greenwich Village, location of most of the gay bars, was just too convoluted.
HMS Curacao

HMS Curacao

Those are just a few facts off the top of my head—I could come up with plenty more. My point is, if you are going to step up to the plate to write historical fiction, then you need to accept the fact that part of the writing process will involve research and fact checking. If you skip this important component of the process, you run the risk of making finicky readers—like me—unhappy.

Kathryn Stockett, shame on you.

Leslie H. Nicoll writes fiction under the pen name of E. N. Holland. Her novella, Our One and Only, will be included in the military history anthology, Hidden Conflict: Tales from Lost Voices in Battle, due to be published in January 2010 by Bristlecone Pine Press and Cheyenne Publishing. You can learn more at her Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/leslie.nicoll or LiveJournal, lazylfarm.livejournal.com.

by: Leslie H. Nicoll

We live in the age of safer sex. Men who are sexually active are encouraged to wear condoms to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS. Contemporary erotic authors, in an effort to respond to current social and sexual mores, generally have their characters use condoms appropriately or if they don’t, include an explanation as to why not and comment on the risk they are taking by not doing so. But stories that take place prior to the emergence and identification of the human immunodeficiency virus generally do not include condom use. If the author of a historical fiction story wanted to include characters using condoms, would it be anachronistic? Based on my recent research, probably not.

There is evidence that condoms were used by early Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. While some speculate that Egyptian men wore a type of penis sheath or sack to prevent against sunburn and bug bites, others have found artifacts of sheaths made from animal intestines or bladders. They were so small and covered such a small portion of the penis that they could not have been used for protection from sweat and sun and thus must have been used during sex.

Hippocrates, the Greek father of modern medicine, had some understanding that conception involved both the man and the woman. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that the man’s semen was what produced an embryo; the woman was just a receptacle. Even so, both men wrote that birth control was the woman’s responsibility. Despite their advice, there were Greek men who chose to practice birth control on their own. Ancient writings discuss intercourse “not according to custom,” which might mean coitus interuptus or anal intercourse. But there is also evidence that men used animal intestine condoms, similar to the Egyptians, as a birth control device, too. Given that Greek society was sexually permissive, it makes sense that men would take some responsibility for contraception – especially those men who chose to consort with women of lower ranks or slaves.

The Romans also used condoms for contraception but it is in their writings that the notion of sexually transmitted disease prevention comes up for the first time. Soldiers recognized different types of infections and realized they were likely getting them from the prostitutes and “comfort women” (usually captives) who traveled with the legions. Soldiers lumped all such diseases together under the term Mount Vesuvius’s Rash. Legions kept herds of goats for milk and meat and the soldiers used the bladders and intestines as penis sheaths – a technique they might have learned from their enemies, the Greeks.

Except for the one little blip with the Romans, condoms were used primarily for birth control for the next 1800 years or so – and in agrarian societies that valued large families with children as workers, birth control wasn’t particularly desired, period. Much of the knowledge about condom materials and use that had been passed around among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans was forgotten during the dark and middle ages.

Figure 1. An ancient condom, oldest in the world. This reusable condom is from 1640 and is completely intact, as is its original users' manual, written in Latin. The manual suggests that users immerse the condom in warm milk prior to its use to avoid diseases. The antique, found in Lund in Sweden, is made of pig intestine.

Figure 1. An ancient condom, oldest in the world. This reusable condom is from 1640 and is completely intact, as is its original users' manual, written in Latin. The manual suggests that users immerse the condom in warm milk prior to its use to avoid diseases. The antique, found in Lund in Sweden, is made of pig intestine.

Then, in 1495, the first widespread epidemic of a sexually transmitted disease occurred. Called at first “the Great pox,” to differentiate it from smallpox, syphilis was named by Girolamo Fracastoro in his epic poem, written in Latin, entitled Syphilis sive morbus gallicus (Latin for “Syphilis or The French Disease”) in 1530. Until that time, as Fracastoro notes, syphilis had been called the “French disease” in Italy and Germany, and the “Italian disease” in France. It is not clear where Fracastoro got the name of his main character, the afflicted shepherd, Syphylus, from which the name syphilis emerged. Some think he borrowed it from Sipylus, a character in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, while others think he made it up. Whatever the source, the name seems to have caught on because it did not identify any one group, country, or culture as being the source of the scourge.

Figure 1. A page from De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease), Gabriele Fallopio's treatise on syphilis. Published in 1564, it describes what is possibly the first use of condoms for disease prevention in modern times.

Figure 2. A page from De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease), Gabriele Fallopio's treatise on syphilis. Published in 1564, it describes what is possibly the first use of condoms for disease prevention in modern times.

“Treatments,” none of which were very effective, abounded but it wasn’t until 1564 that anyone put forth the notion of disease prevention. Gabriello Fallopio wrote a treatise on syphilis and in it, he described the first modern condom. He claimed to have invented it which is understandable, given the fact that all prior condom knowledge was buried in ancient texts that Fallopio likely did not have access to. As an aside, if Fallopio’s name looks familiar, that is because he was an anatomist and is credited with identifying and naming the Fallopian tube.

Fallopio’s condom was linen, tied to the glans of the penis with a pink ribbon. His instructions were precise: prior to intercourse, a man should wash his genitals, then tie the linen over the glans, drawing the prepuce forward. He should then moisten the linen with saliva or lotion. Fallopio claimed to have tested his condom with 1100 men, not one of whom became infected with syphilis. To further prevent infection, Fallopio soaked the condom in a chemical solution which also acted as a spermicide. Thus his invention had a dual role: disease prevention and contraception.

From Fallopio’s writing, condom use spread. In addition to linen, condoms during the Renaissance were made out of intestines and bladder, same as in ancient times. In the late 15th century, Dutch traders introduced condoms made from “fine leather” to Japan. Unlike the horn condoms used previously, these leather condoms covered the entire penis.

Figure 2. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.

Figure 3. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.

From at least the 18th century, condom use has been opposed in legal, religious, and medical circles for essentially the same reasons that are given today: condoms reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, which some believe is immoral or undesirable; they do not provide full protection against sexually transmitted infections, but at the same time, belief in their protective powers was thought to encourage sexual promiscuity; and they are not used consistently due to inconvenience, expense, or loss of sensation.

Despite this opposition, the condom market grew rapidly. In the 18th century, condoms were available in a variety of qualities and sizes, made from either linen treated with chemicals, or “skin” (bladder or intestine softened by treatment with sulphur and lye). They were sold at pubs, barbershops, chemist shops, open-air markets, and at theaters throughout Europe and Russia. They later spread to America, although in every place they were generally used only by the middle and upper classes, due to both expense and lack of sexual education. In the US, fine “French letters” and other imported condoms were always preferred, even after “the rubber” was invented by Goodyear in the 1850s. In London, “condon hawkers” were a common sight, especially in St. James’s Park, Spring Garden, and the Pall Mall, all known spots for illicit assignations between men and women, and men and prostitutes, both male and female.

What about men who were having sex with men? Were they using condoms? Present day experts contend that they were not used by gay men until the 1950s and then only as a sex toy; however, poetry from the past contradicts this. Besides, if people understood that sexual intimacy led to infection, it wasn’t much of leap for men to realize that if they could infect their female partners, they could just as easily infect their male partners, too. As an example, the following excerpt is from the poem, Almonds for Parrots, written anonymously in 1708. While it was meant to be a satire about sex, it does give a hint about condom use by men having homosexual relations:

But Art surpasses Nature; and we find
Men may be transform’d into Woman-kind.
O happy Change! But far more wond’rous Skill!
That curse’s Loves Wounds, without the Doctor’s Pill:
Anticipates ev’n Condon’s secret Art,
At first invented to secure the Part.

Writing a sex scene that includes condom use can be a challenge for an author; putting one on is a somewhat clinical act that can interrupt the flow and passion of the moment. (People make the same argument about using them in real life but to that, the best advice is: figure it out.) Historical authors have more free rein to ignore and skip the issue altogether. But if a daring author wanted to have a male character cover his “lovely manhood” with a linen sheath and tie it with a pink ribbon, as a way to protect his lover from disease, evidence suggests this would not be an unheard of action and in fact, may be more common than previously thought.

Leslie H. Nicoll is the owner of Maine Desk LLC, an editorial writing and consulting business located in Portland, Maine. She is also the Publisher for Bristlecone Pine Press, an ebook publishing imprint and subsidiary of her business. While she desires to write fiction, she seems to have more success in the non-fiction world. Her latest books (both 2008) are The Editor’s Handbook, co-authored with Margaret Freda and published by Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins and The Amazon Kindle FAQ, co-authored with Joshua Tallent and DeLancey Nicoll and published by Bristlecone. For more, please visit http://www.mainedesk.com and http://www.bcpinepress.com.

happy_condom

This article pays homage to a place where sense of fashion coicides with uncompromising rugby; Stade Francais, the team which sneers at suggestions of effeminacy. Any players who can go into a rolling maul wearing this kit

stadefrancais3rdrugbyt0607deserve respect.

Normally rugby teams huff and puff onto the pitch looking incredibly butch and rugged, wearing this sort of shirt.

leicwsSensible, isn’t it? The nearest the English teams get to exotic are the wonderful old Harlequins strip

quins37785news1 although an honourable (or is that dishonourable?) mention should be made for the Gloucester kit of a couple of seasons back, the side panels of which seemed inspired either by Liz Hurley’s infamous safety pin dress or some sort of bondage theme.

vickerySo it’s across the channel we must go to encounter the truly daring kit, the shirts which only a real man could get away with wearing.

mike_james_in_pink Now it has to be said that Stade isn’t without its share of pulchritude, which adds to the general pleasure and means that the Cochrane household is filled with shouts of joy when it’s a Heineken Cup weekend and “Stade are on the box!”

0002ghf7 I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours in the televisual company of these guys?

sf_rep1_d_ah301_1_440Imagine them in this kit and it gets even better. This season they have excelled themselves, opting for a home strip which features Andy Warhol type images of   Blanche de Castille, the wife of Louis VIII.

081018_beauxis21 

No, your eyes don’t deceive you.

FRANCE RUGBY EUROPEAN CUP 

Pretty, eh?

Other sports please take note: wearing pink makes a man neither gay nor effeminate. Try spouting that argument in a Paris bar after the match…

‘I never knew a woman brought to sea in a ship that some mischief did not befall the vessel
Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood



That ladette of the Royal Navy (movie “Carry On Jack”)

It usually starts with the question “… and what are you writing about?”

I’ll reply “historical gay romance” to keep it short. Actually, I write historical adventure with supernatural elements and gay romance. However, “romance” is all people hear, and they immediately wrinkle their noses. They think of the novelettes about handsome rich doctors and beautiful poor nurses you can buy at the newsagents. Or of a 800 page novel with a cover showing a half-naked damsel in distress, kneeling in front of Fabio with a torn shirt. To them, romance is icky. It’s not intellectual. It’s written by women wearing fedoras and read by women with no career or too much time at hand. Romance is the equivalent to stepping barefoot on a slug.

Once they learn that my stories are set in the 18th century and the main characters are serving in the Royal Navy, things get pear shaped. Accusations of “supporting imperialism and war crimes” are thrown around. The 18th century, so I’ve been told, can’t be used as background for any romance because it was a brutish age full of injustice, and placing a loving couple right in the middle of it would be far too frivolous.

Darn it, there go Aimée and Jaguar.

(more…)

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/index.jsp

I’m sure you’ve already discovered this site – and for any historical writer it’s an essential bookmark and a huge wealth of resource. When I first found it it only had cases in a range of about 100 years, but it expands – and now there are cases from the 1670s to the 1910s. it’s a very easy site to navigate too, and has a lot more information than first appears.

When researching Standish I found so much that I didn’t know – the offence that Ambrose is accused of – that of “consenting to an assault of sodomitical intent” sounds incredible to our modern ears, but it’s true – the person having the sodomy perpetrated upon him, could be charged and could be found as guilty as the person performing the act.

Assault with Sodomitical Intent

This charge was levelled in cases of attempted or actual anal intercourse where it was thought impossible (or undesirable) to prove that penetration and ejaculation had actually occurred. This offence was a misdemeanour. See also: Sodomy. Prosecutions for this offence become markedly more common from the 1840s.

What I found interesting was that the burden of proof – penetration AND ejaculation had to be attested to by two witnesses – which would have made it more difficult to prove. However people often lied, I’m sure – leading to more hangings than were necessary, perhaps.

Sodomy

Anal or oral intercourse between a man and another man, woman, or beast. In order to obtain a conviction, it was necessary to prove that both penetration and ejaculation had occurred, and two witnesses were required to prove the crime. Both the “active” and “passive” partner could be found guilty of this offence. But due to the difficulty of proving this actual penetration and ejaculation many men were prosecuted with the reduced charge of assault with sodomitical intent. Details of sodomy prosecutions were censored from the Proceedings from the 1780s onwards. For more information on the gay communities of London see the Homosexuality pages.

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Gay.jsp

Don’t forget that a “lenient punishment” such as pillorying or imprisonment (usually in Newgate, as that prison was attached to the Old Bailey by an underground corridor) were hardly lenient at all, and could both of them mean a death sentence. Unlike Hollywood and the BBC portrayals of the Pillory, people didn’t always throw rotten fruit and vegetables to the general amusement of all. Rocks were often used, faeces and “cannonballs” of mud and stones. People died in the Pillory – John Waller (perjurer) was stoned to death – and the six convicted members of the Vere Street Coterie (men arrested at the White Swan, a Molly House, in 1810 – had to have the protection of 200 armed constables to prevent the crowds from killing them in the pillory.

And a sentence, even a small one, for a stay in Newgate depended very much on your financial circumstances.  The prisons of days before the reforms instigated by Elizabeth Fry and Dickens during the mid 1800’s were dreadful places. You had to pay an (unofficial) fee upon entrance to the warders – food wasn’t provided as a matter of course, you had to buy it – so if you didn’t have money you were in danger of starving to death.  Before you could be released you not only had to pay your fine (difficult if you were in prison and not earning money) but again, another strictly unofficial “release fee” to the warders. If you couldn’t pay this – you didn’t get out, simple as that. Of course if you had money, or a way to earn money within the prison walls, or kind friends and relations – anything was for sale inside the jail itself. Including a a cleaner or a maid, alcohol (Newgate had two bars) and sex of any type.

Here’s a small selection of cases: (more…)

Hello!

This week we have a bit of a research theme for the rendition of readers of redoubtable romances.

On Tuesday, Emily Veinglory will be sharing some resources for Victorian m/m writers.

On Thursday we’ll be exposing some of the seedier sex cases at the Old Bailey.

Come one, come all!

Between 1905 and 1924, E M Forster published five novels, three of which – ‘A Room With a View’, ‘Howards End’ and ‘A Passage to India’ – are rightly regarded as classics. He also produced one of the most acclaimed gay historical novels. ‘Maurice’, finished in 1914, wasn’t published until after the author’s death, so it doesn’t come under my remit here. I want to explore if there were any indications of Forster’s sexuality in the books which appeared in his lifetime.

What I don’t want to do is play “hunt the closet gay character”. I once saw, in an introduction to ‘The Longest Journey’, the proposition that Rickie Elliot’s congenital lameness is perhaps a metaphor for homosexuality. Only Forster himself could answer that. What I’m looking for are little touches, scenes and characterisation, which reflect Forster’s inclinations, themselves largely unexplored at the time he was writing, according to his biographer. It was possible that the man was still sexually inexperienced when ‘Maurice’ was written.

It has to be said that, with one strange and notable exception, there isn’t a lot to show for my search.

There are the occasional touches of homoeroticism, instances of men sublimely happy in the company and contact of other men. For example, in ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’, Philip Herriton is pulled up into a box at the opera, a box full of enthusiastic Italian men.

“Philip would have a spasm of terror at the muddle he had made. But the spasm would pass and again he would be enchanted by the kind, cheerful voices, the laughter that was never vapid, and the light caress of the arm across his back.”

Now, it’s hardly Alan Hollingshurst, is it, but this novel was published in the days when love really couldn’t speak its name, when Oscar Wilde’s trials were as close in the memory as George Michael’s coming out is in ours.

There are two instances in Forster’s books of a male friendship where one man takes umbrage at the other’s interest in women and subsequent marriage. Stuart Ansell in the ‘The Longest Journey’ even refuses to say that Rickie’s friend Agnes exists and when the pair marry, cuts himself off from them, not even answering Rickie’s letters. Similarly in ‘A Room with a View’, Mr Beebe is grieved and turns away from friendship with George Emerson when it’s plain he’s going to marry Lucy. “…he no longer interests me.” I wonder if Forster saw either of these characters as in the closet (as they would have had to be at the time) and suffering from unrequited, unrequitable, love.

When ‘Howard’s End’ was published in 1910, The Chicago Tribune thought the author was a woman. Forster was supposed to have no knowledge of sex between men and women at the time and may well have still been sexually inexperienced himself. Katherine Mansfield wrote that she was puzzled about how Helen Schlegel got pregnant, if it was “by Leonard Bast or by his fatal forgotten umbrella”. But eight years earlier he’d written the most remarkable – for our purposes – short story, ‘The Story of a Panic’.

Fourteen year old Eustace is holidaying with his aunts in Ravello. He gets lost in the woods and something (it’s never clear what – an encounter with Pan perhaps) happens to him which leaves him unnaturally happy, changed in character, and walking “with difficulty, almost with pain”. As they return to the hotel, he’s desperate to find Gennaro, one of the waiters, into whose arms he leaps, quite literally. I won’t spoil the rest of the story, there’s enough so far to be getting on with.

The interpretation which springs to mind, although Forster said he didn’t consciously mean anything like this, is a disturbing one. The waiter’s having a relationship with the boy, and they have an assignation, presumably sexual, in the woods. If the author was speaking the truth, then it seems an extraordinary working out of his sub-conscious, hidden desires. Could he really have been so naive that he couldn’t see what other people did? P N Furbank says that prior to writing Maurice, Forster ‘had been seeking relief by writing facetious stories on a homosexual theme’. The Story of a Panic must have been one of these – it’s certainly the most overtly suggestive of the short stories I’ve come across, although there’s said to be one I’ve yet to track down about a baby being created from two men’s seed.

Is there more? I’m sure there is, bits and pieces I’ve missed, stories I’ve yet to turn up. It’s certainly fascinating reading these books with the benefit of hindsight and with knowledge, that most of Forster’s readers lacked, of the man’s true nature.

“As well-bred as if not married at all”
~ Lady Mary Wortley Montagu on the Hervey marriage

Sweet, pretty Mary Lepell was one of Princess Caroline’s “Virgin Band,” as her Maids of Honour were known. The royal chaplain had complained to the princess that her maids were causing distractions during his sermons. When attempts to discipline them failed high panels were erected around their pew to prevent them making eyes at the gentlemen of the court.

Bishop Burnet perceived that the beautiful dames
Who flocked to the chapel of hilly St James’
On their lovers alone did their kind looks bestow;
And smiled not on him while he bellowed below.

~ Lord Peterborough

Lady Mary Lepell (known as Molly) won acclaim at court for her beauty and amiable character. She was unusually well educated for a woman of her day, and developed intellectual interests which she shared with correspondents and friends.

She met with the infamous bisexual Lord John Hervey at court and was very soon his companion.

Lady Molly was one of the most popular of the Virgin Band and was celebrated in verse by great men of the day such as John Gay, Alexander Pope and Voltaire. In 1720, Gay wrote of the couple, “Now Hervey, fair of Face, I mark full well, / With thee, Youth’s youngest Daughter, sweet Lepell!”

However, unbeknownst to John Gay, the couple had actually been married in secret for six months. Despite the later scandals of homosexual behaviour by Lord Hervey, it can be assumed because the match was secret, and both parties were relatively impoverished, that it was a love match. The proof that Lord Hervey was not simply a homosexual followed shortly afterwards as Lady Molly bore him four children in swift succession.

However Hervey appears to have bored of his wife and sought amusements in London and Bath, and it was there, in 1727, that he met the man who was to shape the larger part of his life, Stephen Fox, universally known as Ste. Lady Molly knew both Stephen and his brother Henry but her opinion of Stephen was not high. He was a country mouse rather than a town one and as she wrote to Henry Fox, “Ste is such a country gentleman that unless one could be metamorphosed into a bird or hare he will have nothing to say to one.”

She was, literally, abandoned–ordered by Hervey to remain in Ickworth, Suffolk, whilst he and Ste socialised from London to Bath, but this did not seem to dampen her love for her husband as her outpourings of letters seemed to prove. However, she could not help but sound a little bitter, adding in one, “yet I think I should in his case rather have desired, than forbid, one I loved to be with me.”

Even when Hervey went abroad with his amarato, she played the dutiful wife and wrote to Ste, rather than to Hervey himself asking for news of his ill-health. If she resented Ste’s affections with her husband she was sensible enough not to speak openly of it. This loyalty paid off, as upon Hervey’s return to England they were temporarily reunited, and nine months later, her fifth child was born.

This was the pattern of her life, and some have said, that her willingness to be so estranged from Hervey bored him more. Hervey’s relationship with Fox continued until 1742, after which Hervey retired to Ickworth and to his wife, to die.

After her husband’s death in 1743, Molly moved to a beautiful little house off St. James’ Park where she entertained some of the great names of day, such as Chesterfield, Horace Walpole and Thomas Carlyle.

She remained good friends with Stephen Fox until she died in 1768.

It’s not that I don’t like modern art…

Ok, that’s a lie. I don’t like modern art. I don’t want a dog poo on a dish to tell me of the human condition and if an unmade bed is worth a lot of money then my entire house deserves to be framed and I should be the richest person on the planet.

I digress – and so early!

I like rich, deep paintings with thick varnish, deep colours; I like symbolism and a story you can get lost in. I like unusual pieces, and portraits that look straight back at me. So here are ten of my favourite art pieces with a homoerotic theme.

Placing this entire post under a cut, and if you click on it, you confirm you are old enough to view art. ;)

(more…)

This seems to be a perennial question. Answer it once and it dies down like a dandelion only to spring up in three new places in a week’s time. People seem terribly concerned that women should do anything so strange, and they offer explanations which to me seem stranger than the fact itself.

The latest of these concerned commentators surfaced recently on the ERWA ‘Smutters’ column here: http://www.erotica-readers.com/ERA/SL/JR-Turn-ons_and_Squicks.htm

If I’m reading this correctly it seems to conclude (it’s hard to say, because the reasoning is not exactly coherent throughout) that in this author’s opinion women write m/m because they dislike women. If they did not dislike women, she seems to think, then they would naturally want to write about women. They would not want to write a genre which by its very nature excludes the possibility of a woman being one of the two main characters.

This explanation sounds quite convincing until you start asking actual m/m writers why they write what they write. Once you do that, it rapidly becomes clear that the picture is more complicated and that one size very much does not fit all.

So, here is a quick summary of the reasons I personally write m/m, and the reasons I have heard other people give for why they write it.

First of all – why shouldn’t we write m/m?

Why do some people decide to write crime when others decide to write romance? Why do some desperately want to write science fiction, and some can’t imagine doing anything other than horror? What is it that draws some authors to chick lit and some to historicals? I venture to suggest that the same mechanism is in play with the m/m genre. This is simply what some people are wired up to write.

For my part, the stories which have come into my head have been m/m stories from the moment I started writing at age 11. I didn’t choose it – it’s just been the way my mind has always worked.

Surely the question ‘but why do you write m/m of all things?’ indicates more about the questioner’s attitude than the writer’s. Is there something wrong with m/m? Something more peculiar about it than other genres? Something that needs more justification than other genres? I don’t think so.

No one asks a crime writer to become a murderer in order to write about psychopaths, or insists that science fiction writers ought to be alien lifeforms before they can write about other species. Why should a woman not be perfectly capable of, and entitled to write about men?

But still, some reasons:

There are several different reasons I’m aware of for women to want to write m/m, and I’m sure there are other reasons I’m not aware of. This is a short list off the top of my head:

1. One man is sexy, two men doubly so.

Just as many men enjoy the thought of two women together, many women enjoy the thought of two men together. Why not? Men are sexy. If you’re reading a story in which they are both viewpoint characters you have the treat of being able to identify with whichever hero you find it easiest to empathise with and still be able to admire the other one through his eyes.

Rationalizing the appeal of two men together can probably be done, but why should we have to? Too many people have tried to tell women in the past what their sexuality should be. To them I say ‘tough’. I find this sexy. Whatever guilt trip you try to impose on me to try and ‘correct’ this kink, I’m not buying it. Why shouldn’t I write stories celebrating and enjoying something that I find very lovely?

2. M/M relationships are not plagued by the same gender stereotypes as m/f.

If we want to examine what a truly equal relationship feels like – a relationship without any of the inbuilt prejudices and assumptions which have dogged us as women for millennia – m/m is a good place to do that. We don’t have to struggle with or against the reader’s expectations. We don’t have the baggage of centuries to deal with. We can just put that all down and start off at a position of equality that in real life we still haven’t necessarily reached. It’s a refreshing imaginative break from a society that still at times treats us as second class citizens.

3. M/M fiction is edgy and transgressive and it makes the writer feel as though they’re doing something cool.

4. M/M fiction is an attempt to correct an overwhelming preponderance of heterosexual messages in the rest of the media, whether that’s movies, books or TV, and make sure that another segment of the population has romance novels which are relevant to them. The desire to examine and celebrate love is the same whether the love is m/m, f/f or m/f.

5. M/M fiction is a way to write about GBLT relationships without having to fit the story into the more constrained, domestic sphere which history has traditionally allotted to women. In other words, particularly if you’re writing historical fiction, it’s easier to believably add a mixture of action/adventure to m/m fiction than f/f fiction, simply because society made it all but impossible for women to be involved with the ‘outer’ world of politics, war, the professions etc.

6. M/M fiction is selling well, and to market-savvy writers it looks like the up and coming place to be.

I’m sure there are more reasons than this. If you have a different one, why not add it in the comments? J

To the question ‘can m/m fiction ever be motivated by misogyny?’ I’m sure the answer is ‘yes, at times it can’. I would be surprised if there was any genre of fiction where none of the writers were tainted by misogyny, if only because it’s such a staple of our culture that – like other sins – if we say we are without it, we deceive ourselves. But to tar the whole genre with the same brush is both unhelpful and unscholarly. It smacks of having come to the conclusion beforehand and bent the data to fit it.

In my experience, most people write not because they have an agenda but because they have stories to tell. If you have an explanation for why some stories turn up in your head and others don’t – why some are impossible to write and some can’t be stopped – you’re doing a great deal better than I can. Do comment! I’d love to hear it.

I’m excited to be able to announce that my second historical novel, Beyond the Veil, was recently released by Phaze Books. It seems I’ve been waiting for this to be published for ages, but when the release finally happened RL played an unkind trick on me and I wasn’t at my best, so I’m a little late with my notice.  However,  I’m posting the Blurb below, together with the first few paragraphs to give a taste:

BLURB:

Captured by the aggressive pirate captain of a Barbary corsair ship off the North African coast in the latter half of the eighteenth century, David Jordan faces a life of slavery of the worst kind when he is taken to the specialist markets of Tripoli.  However, the enigmatic man who finally buys him is not at all what David expects.

Robert Charteris has a very personal reason for fighting against the iniquity of slavery and, in disguise, witnesses the disposal of the slave cargo from a captured English ship and, for the first time in fifteen years, Charteris feels an interest in another man.

His decision to rescue the young man has repercussions he could never have expected in this tale of high passion and forbidden love.

EXCERPT:

David was forced to duck yet again as a cannon ball screamed overhead, this one slamming into the ship’s mast, the cracking of the wood drawing everyone’s attention, but miraculously it held. More cannon balls whizzed and shrieked as they tore through sails or broke off some of the smaller spits holding the shrouds aloft.

Slipping further back into the shadows, David cursed his stupidity at ignoring the perils of travelling in the Mediterranean as he watched the Barbary Pirates pouring across the ship’s tilting deck, its surface already awash with blood. The crew manfully attempted to fight the pirates back but they were not only outnumbered, they were outfought. David had no weapon and weighed his chances if he tried to help.

His attention was drawn by the angry bellowing of a pirate who was chasing Miss Bateson, her long blonde hair coming loose from its tortoise shell grip and streaming out behind her. As she looked back over her shoulder, her eyes showed fear yet her mouth was set in a determined line. David was debating his options when he saw young Tom Bateson struggling with one of the pirates.

Almost immediately David understood that Tom had been attempting to help his sister, who ducked hoping to avoid another pirate trying to intercept her.

Without a second thought, David ran out of his hiding place and launched himself at the pirate who shook the sixteen-year-old youth like he was a rat in the teeth of a dog. The man was huge, his bare arms bulging with muscles where the split sleeve of his shirt fell open, his legs braced with a wide stance. David landed on the pirate’s back but the man was not even unbalanced. He dropped Tom instantly though, and twisting from his shoulder he reached back and cuffed David upside the head.

David hung on even though his head was spinning and his ears were ringing. With a growl, one of the man’s beefy hands gripped David’s right arm and his vice-like hold broke David’s grasp as if it was nothing. He yanked David towards him and his other hand slammed into David’s chest, throwing him clear across the deck where he landed heavily, his head ringing.

Suzanna Bateson’s forward rush came to an abrupt halt when she ran into a solid object. Strong arms wrapped around her, keeping her from falling. For a moment she looked grateful for the help, until she glanced up and gasped in shock.

She was held tight in the grip of another pirate. A tall man whose dark eyes were all that could be seen of his face, the rest of it covered by a black veil edged in silver attached to his burnous, and the long hooded cloak favoured by the Turks, which was also edged in silver. The burnous fell over loosely fitting black pantaloons and a loose silver shirt worn split open to the waist where it was tucked inside the wide waistband.

“What have we here?” he asked in English but with an odd accent.

The woman struggled in his grip, but he merely pulled her closer to him. “I like a woman of spirit. I think I might keep you,” he said as his eyes swept over her.

He leaned in towards her, obviously intending to kiss her and she shouted in shock, “No!”

Ignoring his increasing dizziness, David attempted to roll to his side to try and get his knees underneath him but just then Tom Bateson barrelled out of his hiding place among some fallen sails and leapt at the tall pirate.

“Leave my sister be, you bastard!” he yelled as he attempted to land blows on the man’s kidneys.

The tall pirate swirled the girl away into the arms of her erstwhile pursuer while he grabbed up the fair-haired youth. “I can clearly see you two are related,” he said with a smile, his oddly accented voice warm with amusement.

David just managed to hear the captain say, “Take them to my cabin, Achmed,” before everything dimmed and he gave in to the pain pounding behind his eyes, momentarily losing consciousness.

A rough voice calling out in a language he knew he ought to recognize dragged David’s attention back to his surroundings. He tried to open his eyes but swiftly closed them again as the brightness seared his pupils. He tried to listen to what was being said, but at first he could not even remember which language it was, let alone interpret it.

However, he realized it was the pirate Captain speaking and with growing horror he did recognize a few of the foreign words, “…kill the injured men too. They’re no use as new crew and even less use on the slave block.”

<end excerpt>

Buy today from Phaze: http://www.kingcart.com/Phaze/product=Beyond+The+Veil

Stevie

http://steviewoods.com

My Publishers:

http://www.phaze.com

http://www.torquerepress.com

I’ve recently had the great pleasure to talk with Alex Beecroft, author of “Captain’s Surrender”, about her work, her plans, fanfiction and God, and I’m very happy to share this interview with you. Special thanks to Alex for putting up with me!

Emma Collingwood: Do you remember when you first had the wish to write? Did it start in your childhood, or later?
Alex Beecroft: I think it started when I was about 11. That was the time that I started writing things down in little booklets, and hiding them!

EC: What did you write about?
AB: I think I wrote typical bad fic. I was a big fan of “Emerson, Lake and Palmer”, and I wrote about them being in an intergalactic band, having adventures in sleazy space stations and saving the universe with the power of music. It was a sort of crossover between my love for progressive rock music and my love for Star Wars. I have to say though that I never inserted myself into the stories. No Mary sues for me!

EC: What a pity. Mary Sues are fun! One could say your first stories were SF then… being into Star Wars, have you ever considered heading for SF with your writing?
AB: I did. For a long time science fiction was what I wanted to write, but as I got older I realised that my scientific knowledge was not really up to scratch. The kind of science fiction I enjoyed was the hard science fiction, but after I failed physics at school I rather lost my confidence in being able to cope with the science. So I switched to being into fantasy and writing fantasy. Although that is simplifying matters really, because if think about it now I loved fantasy too in parallel.

EC: From Asimov to Tolkien…?
AB: Tolkien and Asimov together. I think what I really liked was the experience of being in another world – a world that wasn’t like the one I lived in.

EC: Has your environment been supportive of your writing ambitions?
AB: In general I’d have to say – no. I was always too busy, and I’ve never had a lot of energy, so when I came home from work I would be too exhausted to do anything. I honestly don’t know how people cope working and writing at the same time. When I had my children, I left work, and then I immediately took up writing, even though my first novel had to be written during the one hour a day that the first baby was asleep. I think it was the only way I stayed sane!

EC: I can well imagine! Things are different now?
AB: Yes, they are. Both of my children are at school now, so I have from ten o’clock in the morning to three o’clock in the afternoon to write. Naturally, this has led to a drastic reduction in the amount I actually get done – procrastination is my worst enemy!

EC: You can treat your writing like “a real job” now, then. Have you settled into this routine?
AB: Yes, I have. I do in general sit down and write or edit from 11-3. The rest of the time I am answering e-mails or doing self-promotion or writing blog posts. I don’t count writing blogs as part of my writing time! But I’m a very slow writer. Today for example it did take me the full four hours to do just under 800 words.

EC: Does blogging count as “promotion time”?
AB: I think writing for something like the Macaroni’s Blog counts as promotion, but fiddling about on Livejournal counts as relaxing and enjoying myself )

EC: When did you first share your writing, and where/who with?
AB: I first allowed another person to read my writing about seven years ago. I had discovered fanfiction on the internet, and I started writing a Star Wars novel based on the new film “The Phantom Menace”. It was somehow easier to share fanfiction because I already knew that other people were using the same characters and settings. It wasn’t quite the same level of exposure as showing somebody my original work.

EC: Fanfiction as a “training ground”?
AB: Not really. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to writing, and while I could look at my own writing and say ‘that’s not as good as anything you’d see published’ I did not want anyone else to see it at all. Not even in fanfiction. Only when I got to the stage that I could pick up published books and think ‘I have done better than that’ was I ready to allow people to see it. But fan fiction got me used to the idea that I was writing for an audience – that my writing was not some kind of elite art form that didn’t have to mean anything to anyone apart from me. It got me used to the idea that I was writing to entertain people. And also it got me accustomed to the idea that there were people out there who would enjoy what I wrote, and therefore there was some point in my continuing to share it. It was a great easing in to the idea that my writing wasn’t just self therapy, it could sometimes be entertainment as well.

EC: One could say then that the way your work was received (with enthusiasm and admiration, as far as I can tell!) moved you from the audience to the stage?
AB: *g* Yes. It gave me the confidence to know I was doing something right.

EC: You did!
AB: Thank you!

EC: After Star Wars, there came LOTR…?
AB: Yes, I don’t quite know how that happened. I’d grown up on Tolkien, reading and reading “The Lord of the Rings” over and over. And then the first film came along, and I still felt no desire to write anything in that universe. I think what sparked me off was finding the Henneth Annun site and seeing what other people were doing with the material. And then of course I found out that nobody liked my favourite character – and after that I had a crusade!

EC: Tell me more…
AB: LOL! In my multiple readings of Tolkien, I had become very fond of Celeborn, Galadriel’s husband. He was rude and acerbic, and he had his own agenda, and he dared to criticise Gandalf, and he was like no Elf I’d seen before in Tolkien. I thought he was really cool. Unfortunately, everybody else seemed to think that he was a henpecked husband who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. He tended to get ignored, or at the very best he was written as a character with no personality of his own, who existed merely to worship Galadriel. I wanted to put some of the aggression and lordliness back into the character.

EC: Fully agree with your perception of Celeborn. How were your stories received?
AB: Surprisingly well, really! Considering that they were mostly dialogue pieces where I examined politics and prejudice in Elven life!

EC: Tolkien’s language is a very formal, even archaic form of English, especially the way Elves communicated. Did you find it difficult to adapt to this style?
AB: I was quite at home with Tolkien’s language, as I studied the Anglo-Saxons at university, and had read a lot of Saxon and later medieval poetry. I did manage to do two novel-length stories where something other than dialogue happened though. ‘Oak and Willow’ was the tale of the courtship of Celeborn and Galadriel, which contained lots of First Age history.

EC: Lots of research for those ones, I suppose…?
AB: There was actually very little research in ‘Battle of the Golden Wood’, because the whole thing was based on two paragraphs in one of the Appendices of LotR. But ‘Oak and Willow’ and some of my later stories which revolved around the issue of Calaquendi/Moriquendi politics and racism took a lot of hunting through the 12 volumes of the History of Middle-earth. I admire Tolkien’s ability to make a history for his world which feels just like real history – all the same gaps and lacunae and differences of interpretation. The man really was extremely clever! And ‘Battle of the Golden Wood’ was the first really large scale story with battles, siege warfare etc. that I’d ever tried. In that respects it was almost like writing historical fiction.

EC: Which is what you are doing now. “Captain’s Surrender” has been published and received lots of praise – how does one get from the Golden Woods aboard a ship of the Royal Navy in the 18th century?
AB: *g* I got into the Royal Navy via another film. Ironically enough it was ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. I say ironically because it seems to have made the majority of the world fall in love with pirates, but it made me fall in love with the clean cut boys of the Royal Navy. They were so sarcastic, and so fine in their wigs and stockings, and so totally impervious to danger. I had to find out whether any of it was really like that. And to my amazement, a lot of it really was! (Except possibly for the sarcasm.)

EC: So you started researching and writing as a reaction on the movie?
AB: Yes. I made the very good impulse decision to buy Patrick O’Brian’s ‘Master and Commander’ – the first novel in the series. And that was so fantastic that I was hooked. I settled in for about two years of massive Royal Navy joy. I moved on from Patrick O’Brian to Forrester’s ‘Hornblower’ (which I didn’t like as much) and textbooks like ‘The Wooden World’ by N.A.M Rodgers. And I made friends with a wonderful group of fellow enthusiasts on LJ – one of whom is of course the estimable Emma Collingwood. I think we spurred each other on with our enthusiasm.

EC: That’s definitely true! You’re certainly not a writer who exists in a vacuum. And shared love is better love. All the discussions and research shows in your work. Having read “Captain’s Surrender”, I can only compliment you on your ability to write a three-dimensional setting. Reading about it is really like actually being there. So you have not created a new world (to go back to your Star Wars days), but successfully resurrected an old one. Do you write from a “watcher’s” pov or rather as somebody who feels she’s right in the middle of the action?
AB: Thank you! One of the advantages of writing as slowly as I do is that you do have plenty of time to think between words. ) I do often find myself thinking ‘hold on, three paragraphs have gone past without mentioning the setting. Do something descriptive now!’ I tend as a writer to ride along inside my characters’ heads, and sometimes I get so immersed in what they’re thinking that I have to stop and remember what’s going on outside them. So yes, very tight third person view. I don’t ever see both characters at once. I wish I could, sometimes! )

EC: As far as “Captain’s Surrender” is concerned – in whose head did you spend the most time?
AB: Without going back and adding up the pages, I think it’s about equal between Josh and Peter. Possibly slightly weighted towards Josh, because Peter is so oblivious that he’s hard to use to observe things with!

EC: Josh and Peter – that brings us to one of the core points of your book, which is the relationship between the two men. Homosexual love in the Royal Navy of the 18th century – how did that come to happen for you?
AB: I think I’m just hardwired to tell m/m stories. The first one I remember writing was a little vignette about Khan and Joachim from the movie ‘The Wrath of Khan’. I was in my teens then. For a long time, in fact, I tried not to write m/m because I’m a Christian, and I thought then that it was a wrong thing to do. My fascination with the Royal Navy coincided with the point where I really worked out my issues and prejudices and came to realize that God is love – and that therefore if I wanted to celebrate the love that I clearly was born wanting to celebrate, then I should do it. Apologies for talking religion!

EC: No need to apologise. Has your religion influenced your writing?
AB: Oh lots! Or not at all! ;) It influences what I think about things, and that influences what I write. I hate the revenge plot, for example. You know, where the hero’s family is killed and he sets out to murder all the people who did it? I firmly believe that forgiveness is the right way to go, so I could not approve of a hero of mine behaving like that. I also am interested in engaging with questions about how ones belief in God affects ones’ life. Both Peter and Josh, in Captain’s Surrender, have to work through what their religion is telling them about them, and come to self acceptance at the end. I suppose I’m aware of it being a big influence on people’s characters and the way they behave, for good or ill. So it enters the work like that. But I wouldn’t dream of attempting to preach. That puts me off a book!

EC: “Captain’s Surrender” has been published by Linden Bay Romance – how did you find that publisher?
AB: Oh, I found out about Linden Bay by a wonderful coincidence. A friend of mine in the RN appreciation society on LJ reviewed Lee Rowan’s ‘Ransom’, which she loved. Lee replied to her to say thank you for the review. We all ended up chatting and I mentioned that I had been thinking of doing something like ‘Ransom’ myself. Whereupon Lee said ‘well, my publisher’s running their annual competition at the moment to see who they will publish next – why don’t you submit it to them?’ I thought ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ and spent a month turning the series of short stories I had into a novel. I submitted it to Linden Bay, and it won the competition and here I am! )

EC: That’s fantastic! Not only for you, but also for us readers! What was your first reaction when you got the big news?
AB: Hee! I clapped both hands over my mouth and squeaked. Then I said ‘no way!’ and got up and walked ’round the house – bubbling over with joy – then I came back, read the email again and did it all over again about five more times. I wanted to tell someone but I didn’t really believe it, and I was afraid to jinx it. In fact apart from telling my husband, I sat on the news until I’d signed the contract – just in case it all fell through somehow.

EC: As I’m having the book in front of me now, it all worked out well! Was a lot of editing involved?
AB: There was a lot less editing than I expected. I was very impressed with the editor, whose comments made me feel that she was a safe pair of hands. I could see why she was saying everything she said, and it gave me such confidence in her that it was a really positive experience making the changes I did have to do. She was a bit worried about Emily thinking Walker was an ass! Would a well bred lady think such a thing? That was a bit of a poser, as I couldn’t explain in the book that Emily meant donkey, not arse.

EC: Anything you’d change about the book if you could? Or are you completely happy with the way it turned out?
AB: If I could I would have spent more time on Josh’s sojourn with the Anishinabe couple. I think the development of his relationship with them happened too fast, and it would benefit from happening slower and in more detail. But I was limited to a word count of 60,000 words and I couldn’t fit anything more in.

EC: I’ve really learned something new there, btw. The Anishinabe might make a good book as well.
AB: Yes, having spent several weeks immersed in the inter-tribal wars and politics of the era (not to mention what the French and British were up to with their allies) it is obviously a period that needs *way* more time to do it justice. I had to have Opichi and Giniw be Anishinabe because they were the closest tribe which had the two-spirit tradition; which is what Josh was there to learn from them. The Iroquois, who were the natural candidates to rescue a stranded Brit did, according to my hurried research, not approve of same sex relations, so they wouldn’t have done for this story. But I’d love to go into the different cultures and politics for a different one.

EC: Your book – beside the obvious entertainment value – really does encourage readers to do some further research, which is something I appreciate a lot in a book. Now that your first “baby” is on the market, what’s next? You’ve published another book in the meantime, haven’t you?
AB: I published ‘The Witch’s Boy’ which is a dark fantasy. It’s sort of closet m/m, as I wrote it before I worked through my issues. So there are lots of m/m platonic relationships, visibly straining at the seams. ;)

EC: But you haven’t abandoned the navy, have you…?
AB: At the moment I’m working on another Age of Sail novel, provisionally called ‘False Colors’. It has different heroes from ‘Captain’s Surrender’ and is more action packed, I think. Lots of pirates in this one, but none of the pirates are particularly nice people! I’ve also got a short story coming out in an anthology by Freya’s Bower. The anthology is called ‘Inherently Sexual’ and the story is called ‘90% Proof’, which is a sort of AoS love triangle.

EC: Most pirates *weren’t* particularly nice people (I just like to mention here the recent capture of a French ship and the subsequent violence), yet people love them. It’s refreshing to see a different approach.
AB: Thank you! I feel exactly the same. It is a mystery to me why people love armed robbers on the sea when they wouldn’t like them on land.

EC: You used to be a member of fandom – now you might have your own. Has anybody written fanfic about Captain’s Surrender yet?
AB: Not that I’m aware of! That would make me so proud, if it ever did happen, though. I’d really feel that I’d arrived, then )

EC: Thanks a lot for your time, Alex.
AB: Thank you!

(c) 2008 Emma Collingwood

GAY PSYCHOLOGY, EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STYLE

Ann Herendeen

fnallady

Alex Beecroft’s last post, on Romance vs. Research, leads neatly into this topic. From discussing historical factual research, such as shoe buckles and weevils in ships biscuit, she progresses to something intangible and hard to define: the question of people’s beliefs, outlooks and attitudes in the past—their psychology. Beecroft rightly points out that we don’t want to create fictional characters who are merely modern people in costume, that we need to give our historical characters appropriate ways of thinking for their time. But I wonder how much we can know of people’s inner lives in the past, or whether we can know at all.

During most of the recent past, few people wrote memoirs as we define the term, or were deeply introspective on paper. And chances were, if they did leave anything revealing behind, a relative or friend had the presence of mind to destroy it. Even if nothing scandalous was recorded, it was nobody’s business. Privacy was all-important; self-knowledge merely vanity.

As writers, we have to extrapolate from the facts, which often means choosing between two diverging paths of interpretation. We know that in most previous centuries the level of infant and child mortality was high. But what did this mean for people’s emotional lives? Did parents stoically accept the deaths of their children, perhaps even shrug off the losses as a common occurrence? Or did most parents live in a constant state of grief and mourning? An article in The New York Times comparing modern Americans’ health and vital statistics with those of their Civil War (1860s) ancestors, brought out a remarkable finding: not only did most 19th-century people die in their 50s and 60s, but many relatively young people lived with painful undiagnosed or untreatable ailments. Rheumatism, arthritis, heart and lung disease, hernias and a host of unknown complaints—the sort of misery we wouldn’t put up with for five minutes—was the chronic condition for the majority of adults only a hundred and fifty years ago. But how did this affect their outlook on life? Did they consider their lives wretched? Or could they not imagine a different way of existence?

No, it’s not the facts that are missing; it’s the insight. Anybody trying to get a sense of how people thought in the past comes up against the almost complete lack of reflection. People confessed their misbehavior in diaries (like Samuel Pepys’) in meticulous, often coded detail, and wrote encyclopedic volumes of letters dissecting every social event, stray remark and shortcoming of friends, relatives and acquaintances over a long, verbose life. But too much concern with oneself was just…wrong. It was like cheating at cards or spitting in front of ladies. A gentleman (or a lady) didn’t do that. Most people of every class didn’t do that. It wouldn’t have occurred to them.

One of the oddest innovations of the modern world, the byproduct of our exposure to the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry, is our acceptance of constant, routine self-analysis. Not only do we ask probing questions of ourselves, but we discuss them endlessly with each other and keep journals and blogs for fear a waking moment should go by without our striving to understand ourselves better, and we keep dream diaries, searching for clues to what’s going on in our sleeping brains.

We are so accustomed to the idea of hashing over our every thought and emotion that we can’t imagine a time when people didn’t. People a mere two or three hundred years ago couldn’t be fundamentally different from us—could they? But it can be astonishing how “other” they can appear. When we read Samuel Pepys’ account, totally lacking in irony, of beating his boy servant—a child of perhaps ten—so hard and for so long that Pepys was only forced to stop because he hurt his own hand; when we see the 1742 portrait of the young Thomas, Baron Mansell, shotgun and dead partridge in one hand, his other hand holding his blind half sister’s, their fingers touching over the bird’s bloody wound, we know we’re dealing, on a psychological level, with some very different people, or at least people who haven’t spent hours on the analyst’s couch.

Once we get into the subject of gay historical fiction, the question becomes even more complicated. Sometimes it seems as if we can only speculate, and it’s not easy to know when we’re simply projecting out own outlook onto our characters. The facts are grim: capital crimes leading to threats of blackmail and arrests; suicides, emigration, hangings, the pillory and jail; lives ruined or led in fearful secrecy. Combine repressive laws with our instinctive feeling that people’s basic psychology hasn’t changed in the past two hundred years, and we can come up with some pretty depressing stories. Most of us, and certainly a comic novelist like me, can’t work with characters who are so severely demoralized as to be incapable of romantic feelings or heroic acts, or lack the self-confidence to be witty, sexy and brave on occasion. But can we justify any other way of being—and thinking—for our historical characters?

Many people I speak to about my work wonder aloud whether gay people existed in the past at all. The idea that there were not only self-identified “sodomites” or “mollies,” but that they had a vibrant, thriving subculture usually comes as a big surprise. If we set our story in 1700 or later, we can be true to the period while allowing our heroes, at least those who lived in a large city, to recognize their same-sex feelings for what they are and to identify, in a very modern sense, with a community, not just an individual relationship or sexual act. Once we establish that there was a gay identity similar to the modern one, many readers might logically assume that “gay” men of 1790 thought about their “sexual orientation” in the same way as gay men of 1990 did. But the world of 1790 was not much like the world of 1990—or 2008—and I’m not convinced the inhabitants of that world looked at it the same way we look at ours.

Alan Bray, in Homosexuality in Renaissance England, writes of a time, before the late seventeenth century, when the urge to have sex with one’s own kind was seen as natural to men. Men are superior to women; it is only to be expected a man will prefer another man. But “natural” didn’t equate with “right.” The urge was sinful, and must be suppressed. This attitude continued to find adherents well into the eighteenth century. Rictor Norton quotes a letter-writer to the newspaper who complains that if sodomy were not strongly punished, all men would choose it over marriage to women and the human species would go extinct. So, if we’re writing of a gay man in 1600 or even 1650, we might decide that he saw himself as having a strong natural, if sinful, urge that he must conceal, but was not really different from other men.

By 1700, Bray writes, “what had once been thought of as a potential in all sinful human nature had become the particular vice of a certain kind of people, with their own distinctive way of life.” This was the molly subculture so thoroughly documented by Norton. There’s a much more modern feel to this world, and it seems logical that our gay characters might have shared some of our own existential or at least psychological worries when faced with brutal, repressive laws that criminalized their natural sexual expression. Did they hate themselves? Deny their sexuality? Or did they swagger boldly through life defying the authorities, ending up on the gallows and shouting, “Kiss my arse,” before submitting to the hangman’s noose? Amusing as that last choice is, it’s highly improbable, difficult to justify for writers of realistic fiction. But it’s not immediately clear from what we see of the historical record that the first two are much better.

Reading of the men who committed suicide and those who felt the need to emigrate, it’s easy to conclude that they were the broken, demoralized people I rejected as desirable heroes for my writing. But is this the right way to see them? We know today that many suicides occur, not because a person wants to die or thinks he deserves to be dead: it’s simply that he can’t find another solution to his problem. Tragic as these stories are, they’re not proof that these men hated themselves. They were victims, but they defended themselves the only way they could.

And the emigrés—well, they were the ones with enough money to say “The law be damned” and live abroad on their own terms. William Beckford, who spent years in Portugal, kept scrapbooks of newspaper clippings about homosexual scandals, making sympathetic notes in the margins on the “poor sods.” James Ogilvy, 7th Earl of Findlater, who spent most of his life in what are now Germany and Austria, was “outed” at his death in 1811 by his relatives, not for reasons of morality but for his estates worth 40,000 pounds a year, which he had left to his lover. These are the men saying, “Kiss my arse,” as they board the boat and watch the White Cliffs of Dover fade in the distance.

What about the majority of men, the ones not wealthy enough to live abroad? Surely these men were timid, cautious, even depressed or downright miserable a lot of the time. This is where I think we as writers have to make an imaginative leap of faith. Yes, the laws criminalized some sex acts between men. Yes, a man could be hanged if convicted of committing “sodomy” (anal sex) with another man. Yes, even if penetration couldn’t be proved, he could be pilloried, fined and imprisoned—almost a death sentence for anyone frail, old or just unlucky—for “attempted sodomy.” He could be arrested for being in a molly house during a raid, or for walking in a known cruising spot and being accosted by a mugger who could then accuse his victim of being a sodomite. And yes, he could be investigated, blackmailed, informed on, his life ruined, just for living in his own house with his boyfriend, bothering nobody.

But…here’s the interesting part: we know this because men did do all these things. They went to molly houses and danced and drank and had sex with other men. They visited the streets and parks and public toilets frequented by men looking for casual sex. They bought men drinks in taverns and went upstairs with them to private rooms; they hooked up with soldiers and sailors; and they lived with their boyfriends and didn’t get married (to women). We know this because some of them were arrested and put on trial and we can read the records.

And when we read the testimony, very little of it sounds like intimidated, miserable suicidal losers. Some of these men were ignorant of the law, but most were, like most of us, just hoping that they won’t get the speeding ticket this time, that the employer won’t check to see if I really have that Ph.D. from Harvard, and that a tube of mascara in my bag won’t set off the alarm, and besides, the checkout line is so damn long and so slow, I shouldn’t have to pay for this overpriced junk anyway. Yes, the stakes were much higher for the mollies, but when we look at all the drunk-driving fatalities today we can see that risk-taking hasn’t disappeared from our psychology; it’s just moved into other arenas.

In most of the past, as now, people did what they had to or what they could, or, occasionally, if they were very fortunate indeed, what they wanted to. If it was illegal or dangerous or sinful, they made some sort of mental adjustment. Many obvious dangers (to us) like drinking unfiltered water without boiling it first, or being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes, or going horseback riding without wearing a helmet were either unavoidable or not perceived as dangerous. Life was dangerous—and violent—in the past to a degree unimaginable to us. Even the concept of sin could be construed in various ways, like our modern, “It’s wrong in general but right for me.” Sex outside of marriage was a sin, but there were far more female brothels in any large city two and three hundred years ago than now.

Another factor to consider is how astonishingly (to us) naïve many people were about basic sexual acts. The eighteenth-century physician telling of his patient who contracted a sexually–transmitted disease from being fellated by another man—who did it by choice—has the same breathless, semi-apologetic tone as today’s gullible friend who passes on every e-mail urban legend and Internet scam. “Yes, I know it sounds incredible, but I heard it with my own ears.” The modern mind, sexually overexposed from early childhood, reels. But this was the emotional and sexual universe our characters inhabited. George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman books, put an excellent example of this dissonance in the first novel, when the antihero narrator relates his future wife’s pleasurable loss of her virginity. “Was that what the minister means when he talks of fornication?” she asks afterward. Told that it is, she wonders, “Why has he such a down on it?”

Norton makes a compelling argument that the increasing number of raids and arrests as the eighteenth century progressed and into the nineteenth was due, not to a growing population of “mollies,” or more molly houses, but to the public’s greater awareness that homosexuality existed. The sixteenth century and most of the seventeenth saw very few prosecutions. Of course gay men existed before 1700; they simply had not yet developed a visible culture. As Bray tells us, after the Buggery Act (1533) was established during the Protestant Reformation (part of Henry VIII’s campaign to give the secular court prominence over the ecclesiastical court), the crime of “sodomy” came to be associated by lawmakers, and in the popular imagination, with witchcraft, treason and heresy. But on the individual level, who in his right mind would connect his loving friendships or simple lusts of the body with such demonic offenses? Throughout the next 150 years, as the gay subculture developed, I doubt many gay men lost much sleep over where they belonged in the witchcraft-treason-heresy-sodomy continuum.

When I set out to write this post, I was convinced that gay men of the Georgian era were freer psychologically before the mid-nineteenth century’s “medicalization” of homosexuality, in Norton’s phrase. Being a criminal or outlaw sounds less emotionally damaging than suffering from mental illness. A pirate or a highwayman can be glamorous, a popular hero; someone who’s sick is a patient at best, more likely a lunatic, or a bedlamite—or just pathetic. But as I reread Bray and Norton’s work, I changed my mind. Sodomites were never admired like highwayman; they were despised by the mob and treated worse than other offenders. Each era characterized the “problem” of homosexuality appropriately for its own way of viewing the world. As the dark, religion-dominated seventeenth century gave way to the Enlightenment, so sodomy moved from being a sin to “just” a crime. By the later nineteenth century, with the recognition of how natural homosexuality was in a biological sense, it seemed more humane to call it a disease, a condition beyond the sufferer’s control, rather than a sin or a crime, behavior that a sinner or criminal could change.

And so it is with gay “psychology” in the past. There can’t be one answer that fits all; neither diverging path of interpretation is always Right or always Wrong. Some parents mourned their dead children and sank into despair; others conceived more babies, and hoped. Some of the young sick people took on the persona of the “invalid;” others soldiered on uncomplaining. Some gay men internalized society’s views; many others accepted their sexual orientation as innate, perhaps even reveled in it. Norton cites examples throughout the eighteenth century and on into the twentieth of men who knew themselves to be gay and ignored the attempts by religious leaders, lawyers, judges, doctors and psychologists to “explain” what was as natural as breathing. As William Brown, arrested in 1726 and facing ruin, said at his trial, “I think there is no crime in making what use I please of my own body.”

Creating gay historical characters and writing queer historical romance gives us the perfect opportunity to do what novelists do, what writing fiction is all about: make stuff up. When I first set out to discover what the gay world of 1800 was like, I never in a million years expected to find that precursor of the late 1970s disco age I encountered in Rictor Norton’s work. Maybe his interpretation is slanted by his agenda of gay empowerment. Or maybe not. But I believed it. I hope, in my writing, to do a good enough job that I can make my readers suspend their disbelief, disregard the prejudices of the modern world, whatever they are, and convince them, for the length of the book, that this is how it was.

*****

Sources:

Alan Bray’s work, He published “Homosexuality in Renaissance” England back in 1982.

http://www.amazon.com/Homosexuality-Renaissance-England-Alan-Bray/dp/0231102895/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210753096&sr=1-2

Rictor Norton’s website:

http://www.infopt.demon.co.uk/

I also used his out-of-print “Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830.”. There’s a new edition out last year.

Another source I like is the glbtq encyclopedia:

http://www.glbtq.com/

I’ve managed to get my mitts on a the most wonderful academic essay – “Prosecution for Sodomy at the beginning of the 19th Century” by D Harvey from The Historical Journal Vol 21 No 4 Dec 1978- pp 939-948 and it’s not only wonderful enlightening reading, but it also shores up a lot of the research I did when writing Standish and other regencies.

The trouble is, that I did the research for Standish so long ago, that I used the facts I knew, absorbed most of it like a sponge, weaved it into the book and then promptly forgot about the research. Not the facts, so much, but where I’d got them all from individually. I should have, I realise now, have cited them all in the back, so at least I looked like someone who had actually worked their socks off on the period, rather than some moron who made it up as they went along!! But, lesson learned, and I’ll certainly not make that mistake again. I did acknowledge Etymology Online and Rictor Norton both of whom I spoke to via email and both of whom couldn’t have been more helpful.

Anyway, this article: I’m going to mention some of the salient points, not bang my way through the article because I’m sure some of you will be as interested in the period as I am, and might find the facts surprising. Direct quotes are in italics

It was the case that in the first third of the nineteenth century, trials and executions for sodomy were much commoner than they had been in any earlier period

That is to say that fifty men were executed within that time, and trials, punishments and executions were more common than at any earlier period.

This reached a peak in 1806 when more men were executed for Sodomy (6) than for murder (5). Not huge amounts but rather telling when compared with the murder figures.

HOWEVER – these figures don’t take into account the Naval Courts Martial which of course dealt with these matters themselves and produced a steady flow of cases similar to that in the civilian courts. An average of two or three were sentenced to death for sodomy each year.

The article also goes to state (thank you article!!) that it wasn’t just the hoi-polloi and the rabble who were subject to the full force of the law, the aristocracy and wealthy were just as vulnerable.

It was a naval captain, Henry Allen, convicted of sodomy and hanged on board the Adventure on 15 May 1797 who had the unfortunate distinction of being the most socially prominent victim of his society’s intolerance in this period.

The most notable civilian to be hanged for sodomy in these years seems to have been Isaac Hitchen, one of a homosexual coterie at Warrington which was prosecuted in 1806; he was said to be one of the richest men in Warrington , worth £60,000.

There were also rumour concerning even more distinguished personages such as the earl of Leicester, afterwards Marquess Townshend, and King George III’s unpopular 5 th son, HRH field marshal the duke of Cumberland, afterwards king of Hanover. One of the most notorious scandals of the time was that involving the fabulously wealthy William Beckford, M.P. for Wells, and the Hon William Courtnay, afterward Viscount Courtenay and earl of Devon in 1784. Both Beckford and Courtenay spent the following TWENTY FIVE YEARS virtually ostracized by society and in 1811 Courtenay was forced to flee from his ancestral home at Powderham Castle and go into exile to avoid prosecution for sodomy. The nearest a member of the aristocracy came to indictment for homosexuality in this period was in 1822 when the bishop of Clogher, the Hon Percy Jocelyn son of the first earl of Roden, was caught buggering a Guardsman in a public house and escaped trial by jumping bail and fleeing to Scotland.

(!!!!!!)

So Rafe was lucky, really. I was not hard ENOUGH on him in a true historical context – particularly as he was not entirely English and NOT a member of the aristocracy.. But I imagined that he’d stay in Wiltshire afterwards. Perhaps. .

This single article might not show that men were in danger in their own houses, and I don’t think they were – not in the way that the police (such as there was) would break in to arrest them as they did do after the Labourchere Amendment – but they were very much in danger if they went into other “private” establishments to have sex.

The laws against buggery and sodomy have nearly always been known as “The Blackmailers’ Charter” (see the wonderful film “Victim” for that, filmed before sodomy was legalised) and this was no different here. A lot of prosecutions (as in Ambrose’s case) were begun with letters. Many men would succumb to blackmail rather than face their chances in court, for obvious reasons – a lack of social standing – being excommunicated from society must have been almost as terrifying as the risk of prison or death.

The article goes on to try and explain why there was so much more legal and punitive activity at this particular time and says that it is unlikely that increase of prosecution was merely an index of the increased frequency of homosexual acts. – After all, it’s not as if homosexuality was fashionable, like cuff frills.

The essayist purports that it wasn’t a case of more men being homosexual, but more that it was a case of urbanization, where they concentrated together and were able to form a sub-culture for the first time. And such a “large” proportion of homosexuals in a city (there were 20 houses of male resort in London, compared with 80 years later when there was only four) was more likely to draw attention to the authorities (and the people who would denounce them) than two men living quietly together in more remote areas.

Public opinion was violently against homosexuals at this time and the subject was an extraordinarily emotive one.

In the 1780s, when 15 Exeter homosexuals, ‘most of whom were men of rank and local situation’, were tried and acquitted, they were burnt in effigy by the mob, and in 1810 when 30 homosexuals were arrested in a raid on the White Swan, Vere St, London, those discharged for want of evidence were so roughly handled by the crowd as to be in danger of their lives.

The hardening of sexual stereotypes also, sexual slander became rife at this time, sexual knowledge become more widespread – more people were learning about such “Unnatural acts” which then led to sexual intolerance.

“Damn the fellow! Now I think of it, I never remember his having a girl at college!” remarked an acquaintance of a man who had brought a charge of malicious prosecution against a solider who had accused him of attempting an unnatural act.

There were other reasons, too, all of which helped – The Evangelical Revival probably helped spread the intolerance, the overhaul of the whole system of law enforcement, public pressure (letters to the papers, etc) which all helped to bring the “problem” to the public eye, calls were made to “do something about it.”

All of which goes a long way to explain why – instead of being more tolerant in the early 1800’s, things were actually a lot lot worse.

Never mind boys! It will soon be the Victorian Age..

*rolls eyes*

It seems strange to introduce myself as a veteran writer of m/m historical romance when the fact is that my first book was only released on the first of January this year (2008). However, ‘Captain’s Surrender’ certainly is a gay historical romance. Set in 1779, just before the end of the War of Independence, it’s a sea-faring adventure in the tradition of Patrick O’Brian. If PoB had given greater prominence to his gay characters, that is.

Captain's Surrender

Unlike many more professional writers, it never occurred to me to find out what the market was like; what was hot, what was not. If I had, I might have been discouraged by the fact that there seemed to be fifty contemporary novels and ten paranormals for every historical. This was an instance in which my own lack of savvy came to my rescue, because I just wrote what I wanted to read.

I’ve been in love with the 18th Century Royal Navy since watching ‘Master and Commander’. I wanted all that military glamor, all the excitement of battles, storms, shipwrecks, combat and life-or-death peril, combined with a strong focus on characterization, star-crossed, forbidden romance, true love conquering all, and a happy ending. In short, I wanted a book that would satisfy both the masculine and the feminine side of myself. I have to say that – for me at least – I managed to succeed in that.

My other published novel is called ‘The Witch’s Boy’, but as a pseudo-early-Norman fantasy, which is neither historical nor particularly gay (though hero and villain are ex-lovers), it’s probably not appropriate for this blog.

I do however have an Age of Sail short story called ‘90% Proof’ coming out soon in an anthology (called ‘Inherently Sexual’) from Freya’s Bower.

Inherently Sexual

And at the moment I’m working on a second Age of Sail novel, under a working title of ‘Secrets’, examining how society’s condemnation of same sex love harms not only GBLT people but society itself. Which sounds very pretentious, I know, but which also involves battles with pirates, the white slave trade, cannibals, threesomes, family angst, and recurring appearances by famous castratos, so it can’t be all bad.

I run the ‘In Their Own Words‘ blog, which is a promotional resource for GBLT novels, where authors can put up interviews with their own characters. I also moderate the Gay and Lesbian Excerpts blog on both WP and Myspace. I occasionally review on ‘Speak Its Name‘ and I blather on incessantly about anything that takes my fancy on my own blog: HMS Gruntleship.

I’m really hoping that The Macaronis becomes a great place for anyone who loves gay historic fiction, and if you have any great ideas for how to make it better, do get in touch.

Mother Clap’s Molly House, (The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830) by Rictor Norton


Review by Alex BeecroftFirst published in 1992 by GMP Books. A Second, Revised and Enlarged edition published in October 2006 by Chalfont Press (Tempus Publishing, UK).

Available through Amazon, or via Rictor Norton’s site HERE which is a great place to go for a more detailed run down of the contents. It’s also a fascinating site in itself, where you can find essays on all sorts of queer issues from the homosexual pastoral tradition to bawdy limericks.

Table of Contents
Introduction
1. The Renaissance Background
2. The Birth of the Subculture
3. Mother Clap’s Molly House
4. The Sodomites’ Walk in Moorfields
5. Maiden Names and Little Sports
6. Caterwauling
7. Popular Rage
8. Blackmail
9. The Third Sex
10. The Warden of Wadham
11. The Case of Captain Jones
12. The Macaroni Club
13. The Vere Street Coterie
14. A Child of Peculiar Providence
15. Men of Rank and Fortune
16. Tommies and the Game of Flats

Review:

Basically, for anyone interested in what it was like to be gay during the 18th and early 19th Century, this book is a must. By combing through records of criminal prosecutions for buggery, and the documents kept by the Societies which persecuted gay men, Rictor Norton has amassed an enormous wealth of evidence about a heretofore unknown subculture. He’s able to prove that our own century was not the first to have cruising grounds, gay bars and even a sense of gay pride. On the contrary, our own views on homosexuality and our own modern gay culture have their roots in the culture which came to light in the 18th Century.

I say ‘came to light’ because as the book shows, it’s entirely possible that this gay subculture had already evolved by the 16th Century. The first chapter of the book describes King James Ist’s court, in which the King’s love for George Villiers made the court a relatively tolerant place for gay relationships to flourish.

Norton holds that the specific subculture we see in the 18th Century did not spring to life in that century, but was merely revealed as a result of the purges organized by the newly formed Societies for the Reformation of Manners. These societies organized ordinary people to shop their neighbours for immoral behaviour, and as a result an awful lot of gay men were prosecuted for buggery. With the result that there were a lot of executions, but also that for the first time we have documented existence not just of one or two isolated individuals but of a whole culture of homosexuality.

In successive chapters, Norton explores some of the plays that show the playwright’s knowledge of this culture; the locations of the cruising grounds; the most famous gay bars (or Molly Houses). Incidentally, I was amused and a little relieved to find out that Mother Clap’s molly house was so called because it was run by a gay-friendly lady called Margaret Clap, and not because that was what you could expect to acquire there!

Norton also covers the molly’s slang, some of their stranger rituals – like the practice of having pretend marriages, and sometimes even pretend childbirth. We’re introduced to an enormous variety of characters, from blackmailers to Dukes. I have to admit my heart was warmed to read of the butcher ‘Princess Seraphina’, who borrowed the clothes of his female neighbours and was obviously treated as one of the girls by the neighbourhood. It was also good to read of Reverend John Church, the ‘child of peculiar Providence’, who as a gay priest had worked out a theology of God’s love long before our own time, and officiated at some of the marriages at The Swan molly house.

Less happy, however, are Norton’s accounts of so many trials and executions, and the enormous hatred of the general public for the mollies. Such hatred that even those who were only sentenced to the pillory often barely made it out alive.

There is also a very interesting final chapter on Tommies or Lesbians – Norton is able to show that the word ‘lesbian’ was already in use in its modern sense at this time.

The strength of this book is its reliance on primary sources, so that the reader almost feels she is meeting the people described and participating in their tumultuous, dangerous, but ultimately surprisingly positive lives. They seem to have been, despite the level of hatred and persecution surrounding them, confident, unashamed and well able to justify themselves to themselves. The sense of positive, courageous joy in life is a welcome antidote to the statistics of trials and persecution. I came away impressed by their resilience and convinced that it was not necessarily all doom and gloom, after all, being a gay man in the 18th Century.

The weakness of the book, I think, also comes from its reliance on primary sources. There is a sense that although we’re meeting a number of fascinating individuals, the writer hasn’t managed to synthesize this information into very much of a larger picture. There was a feeling of listening to repeated anecdotes, and by the end I yearned for some sort of pulling together of the evidence into a summary.

That didn’t happen. I didn’t get any sense that an argument was being made, or a logical plan was being followed through the sequence of chapters. There’s a sense in which this is simply a disorganized dumping of information on the reader. But really, it’s such interesting information, and so lightly and amusingly told, that asking for more would be grasping.

A must have book for anyone writing m/m historical fiction from the late 17th Century to the early 19th.

Buy: From the Author: Amazon UK: Amazon USA

Okay, get your minds out of the gutter! *G* My upcoming gay historical paranormal is finally on the “Coming Soon” page of my publisher. No cover yet, but I just finished the first edits and that’s always a good thing!
Re-reading it made me fall in love with my characters all over again. If I had any doubt that my story belonged here, it vanished after doing these deep edits.

All the research and love I poured into my guys’ stories came through – I hope!

More to come!

Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: (Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century), by John Boswell.

boswell.jpg

Available at Amazon.com for $17.25

Author bio: John Boswell (1947-94) was the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History at Yale University and the author of The Royal Treasure, The Kindness of Strangers, and Same-Sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe.

Contents:

1. Introduction

2. Definitions

3. Rome: The Foundation

4. The Scriptures

5. Christians and Social Change

6. Theological Traditions

7. The Early Middle Ages

8. The Urban Revival

9. The Triumph of Ganymede: Gay Literature of the High Middle Ages

10. Social Change: Making Enemies

11. Intellectual Change: Men, Beasts, and “Nature”

12. Conclusions

Review:

This is rightly called ‘a truly ground-breaking work’. For the first time in the debate over homosexuality, John Boswell has gone back to the sources and combed through an immense amount of writings by Latin, Greek and Early Medieval authors to find out what they really had to say. And it turns out that the picture is nothing like what we expected. As is often the case when human beings are involved, everything is much more complicated than it initially seemed.

Even in the society where we think we have the gay relationship pinned down to a socially acceptable model – the ‘classic’ Greek relationship of older lover with younger beloved – Boswell unearths numerous exceptions which disprove the rule.

That complication persists and increases when Christianity enters the picture. At this early date, in the process of formation, Christianity is being influenced by many different, conflicting, strands of thought, and – of course – is reflecting a society in Rome quite unlike our own. But Boswell picks these influences apart and shows that though Christianity took on board a Stoic distain for earthly pleasures, a Manichean distrust of the flesh and various other philosophies which valued chastity over sexuality, none of these sources are particularly homophobic. They are against sexual pleasure in any form. In contrast, at the same time, abbots, bishops and saints were writing love poetry to their same sex ‘friends’ which would later go on to form the seed of the medieval courtly love tradition.

Boswell acknowledges that there is no way of knowing whether sex featured in these passionate friendships, but he points out that the society of the time made no distinction between passionate friendships which did include sex, and those which did not. And he casually drops into the text the mention that gay marriage was legal and well known in Western society up until 342ad, while there were forms of Church liturgy for uniting a same sex couple in a forerunner of civil partnership. He follows the ups and downs of society’s tolerance through the fall of Rome to the rise of Medieval Europe, and draws interesting parallels between the fate of homosexuals and the fate of the Jews.

But it is hopeless to try and write a summary of what is a densely researched book, covering over a thousand years of social flux, and explaining the attitudes of ages which did not have the same conceptual framework as our own, let alone the same words. Better to read the book itself, taking it slowly to let it all sink in. Boswell’s style is pleasant, and the astonishing material makes for a compelling read, but it is heavy going, particularly while wading through footnotes in Latin and Greek. It could not be more worth it, however. Suffice it to say that this is an eye-opening book, a must read for anyone thinking of setting their work in antiquity, and a recommended read for everyone who did not know that our own age’s tolerance is part of a long tradition.  It’s a warning too that it’s possible to have such tolerance and then to lose it so thoroughly that even the memory of it is wiped out.  Something we should bear in mind if we’re ever inclined to grow complacent.

Or how I wound up a part of the Macaronis.

My first books published were part of a paranormal trilogy. The second book included two sets of characters who engaged in m/m sexual activity. One couple was comprised of the villain and his cohort. The shared sex verged on nonconsensual and was portrayed in a negative manner — not the gay aspect, the forced, cruel aspect. My other couple were written in a positive light. One character, traditionally for his position as a “shaman”, felt compelled to give up his love and remain celibate. This precipitated a break of twenty years since the rejected fellow misconstrued this rejection as a revulsion toward his feelings and left the community. My book was set twenty years after this breakup and the characters reconcile. Now, these guys were secondary characters, but I loved their scenes together. Several books later and only one contained m/m characters but in the back of my mind characters were begging for release.

I love history and more and more of my books have an historical overtone. So, finally, this year I thought of my favorite period in American history and wondered how was it for men who loved men? I knew a little about Walt Whitman’s vacillating homosexuality, but that was about it, and so, before I set out to write this book, I researched as much additional information about homosexuality in that time frame as I could.

Man, talk about don’t ask don’t tell. I did find material, but it was an arduous task. Anyway, now that I’ve dipped my toes in the water, I’ll be writing more m/m historicals because I love writing them!

Whew! Glad to get that off my chest!
Jeanne

BOYS AT SEA
Sodomy, Indecency, and Court Martial in Nelson’s Navy

by Professor B. R. Burg (Arizona State University, USA)

Hardcover, Palgrave/Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-230-52228-2

B. R. Burg

“(…) ‘Boys at Sea’ is a study of homoerotic life on board ships of the Royal Navy in the age of fighting sail. It deals not only with sex among ordinary crewmen, but reveals that the most conspicuous feature of prosecutions for sodomy and indecency from the reign of Queen Anne almost to the dawn of the Victorian age involved officers forcing their attentions on unwilling ships’ boys. (…) It provides a probing look into the careers of youngsters who served on board Britain’s warships, revealing a dark and terrifying aspect of their lives. (…)”

* * *

I’m aware that my researches have always been one-sided – had to be, because I have neither the means nor the connections to get insight into archives. I’m not a scholar; I’m a writer of Age of Sail adventure with a touch of supernatural and male/male romance. I write Penny Dreadfuls, not the 50980986th biography of Nelson. While I try to keep the historical settings correct, I’m well aware that the characters I write about are fictional not only because I created them, but also because they would not have behaved the way they do in my stories if they had been real. That’s why it’s called “fiction”. But this doesn’t mean I’ll wear blinders when it comes to the dark side of history.

History, so they say, is written by the winners. That’s true, but I’d like to add: history is also written by those who could actually write. When researching information regarding the Age of Sail, we find journals, reports and letters by the officers – but it’s very unlikely that a ship’s boy or powder monkey would have kept a diary. At least I don’t know of any such case. Those who could write might have sent a letter, but oral tradition and the odd article about a mutiny in the papers aside, the voice of the lower deck is a faint whisper compared to the mighty choir the higher ranks have left us as a legacy.

One of the few occasions where “Jack Tar” could be heard was in front of a court. The words of the illiterate have been immortalised by clerks, the records are now in libraries and museums, for us to read and study. Professor B. R. Burg’s book is mostly based on court martial records, which gave the ones who couldn’t leave a track in history their own voice.

“(…) a large majority of the defendants were officers and that in almost every case the officers were accused of forcing sodomy and indecent acts on unwilling boys. Ordinary sailors customarily found partners among their peers, as did midshipmen, but no officer was ever called to account for buggering another officer. Neither did men holding commissions or warrants select those immediately below them in rank as sexual partners. They chose only those in the lowest tiers of the naval hierarchy. Captains did not have sex with lieutenants; lieutenants did not have sex either with petty officers or with the “ratings” or “the people,” as seamen were variously called by those in posts of authority. The preferred partners for officers of every level were the boys that comprised between 8 and 10 percent of ships’ crews. (…)”

Learning about homosexuality in the Royal Navy of the 18th century is like trying to put a puzzle together. Letters. Reports. Journals. Gossip. Court records. Paintings. Caricatures. These are all part of the puzzle, but what we’ll never know is how many men were not “caught in the act”; how they felt, lived. It’s speculation, so a large part of the puzzle will always remain missing.

What we do know, though, is that not every case of “buggery” or, when played down for decency’s sake, “uncleanliness”, found its way in front of a court martial. There were various reasons: it took ages to get the number of captains together that were required for a court martial. Buggery was considered such a heinous crime that even the mention of it, no matter how insubstantial the claim was, could ruin a man’s career and the precious reputation as a “gentleman”. Last but not least, the reputation of the ship was tarnished as well.

We know that Collingwood, for example, absolutely “wouldn’t suffer” officers calling the men “buggers” when unsatisfied with their work, as he considered it an outrageous insult. Then we have Captain Graham Moore’s journal entry about a case of “uncleanliness” aboard his ship:

“(…) Yesterday I did what I had no right to do, in flogging and turning a seaman ashore, who had acted in a manner disgraceful to the character of an Englishman. I must either have acted as I did, or taken the fellow round to be tried by Court Martial; it was impossible for him to remain in the ship after it. The horror and indignation which our countrymen have for attempts of that nature could not brook such a man remaining amongst them. Besides I am of opinion that morality suffers by such practices becoming notorious. (…)”

(For source and more information, please see here.)

I think we can assume that Moore wasn’t the only one who preferred to punish a man for a lesser offence than risking a court martial, and we know of another instance where two “buggers” were encouraged to desert the navy (with the knowledge of the officers!) rather than drag them in front of a court martial and get the ship a bad reputation. It’s very likely that many occurrences of “uncleanliness” were swiped under the sea chest.

The court martial records are at times explicit, yet by far not as bad as your average news report on television. They deal with crimes of a sexual nature, so you can’t expect modesty when it comes to abuse or rape. The court martial records show that every detail of the “crime” was researched and questioned – who topped? Who was the bottom? Was there an agreement about the act? What, exactly, did the act consist of? Did one or both parties ejaculate? If yes, where? What was the light condition like? Did the moon shine or not? At times, the mind boggles, and some of the reports make a downright absurd read.

But it’s exactly the ancient style of the records which helps reading them with the distance needed, and we have to see them within the context of the century they have been written in. A “boy”, for example, was not necessarily a child (the distinction between “child”, “adolescent” and “adult” was not as clear-cut as it is today); it was also a position aboard a ship. Every officer had his boy(s) – servants, aides. They could be every age up to eighteen. It takes a while to understand that our modern words might not have had the same meanings in the 18th century.

Luckily, Professor Burg doesn’t fall into the trap of applying our 21st century viewpoints and morals on the 18th century. He reports and analyses, he doesn’t judge; a difficult task. Of course the first reaction when reading of an officer trying to get his way with a fourteen year old boy is “give me ye olde rusty knife so I can cut ye sick tossers balls off” – but pretending no such occurrences happened would be a beautification of history. It’s the last thing we need; we shouldn’t forget that there weren’t only heroes in the Age of Sail.

What I found the most interesting and to me new fact was victims of unwanted sexual attentions and aggression did inform their officers. They told their ship mates, each other. They didn’t mind going to court. They didn’t mind giving testimony, with exceptions of some cases where they feared retribution. This doesn’t only show courage, but also a trust in the authority of the court martial to serve justice.

Was this trust justified? I’d say “yes, but…” – sometimes the words of the victims were doubted, especially when they were very young or had a bad reputation for lying. A “gentleman” would be considered to be more trustworthy than a common man. Still, they were heard out, and the younger the victims, the less likely there would be any punishment for them, even if the court suspected “agreement” from their part.

We can also catch a glimpse at the way the navy dealt with the people of colour in their service. The British Empire was huge – there were men serving from all places serving in the navy, and according to some sources, a third of them were not white. That’s a separate field of research, but the fact that a sailor’s word was deemed to be less worthy because he was “a foreigner” and not white gives us a hint of the way the authorities dealt with POC. Maybe aboard a ship, a world and society on her own, ones origin didn’t matter much, but it certainly did in front of a court martial!

The closer the records get to the Victorian age, the more difficult they are to understand. New prudery and more deeply religious officers in the navy had a strong influence on language. While the old records called spades spades and arses arses, you will have to make your way through “yards” and “fundaments”. With some excerpts, you can almost imagine the clerk writing the testimonies down blushing and cringing.

To me Burg’s core sentence is that

“(…) Ordinary sailors customarily found partners among their peers, as did midshipmen, but no officer was ever called to account for buggering another officer. (…)”

He seems to be of the opinion that “partners” (willing or unwilling ones…) were always chosen from the “(…) lowest tiers of the naval hierarchy. (…)” – captains did not have sex with their lieutenants.

And that’s where I disagree. Just because there were no court martials about it doesn’t mean it never happened. All through mankind’s history people have broken the law out of love, not to talk out of lust (probably even more so!) and of all the men aboard a ship, high-ranking officers were the ones with the most privacy and the most opportunities to break that specific Article of War. Considering how much weight was put on reputation and honour, on being a “gentleman”, they would have been extra-careful and had only chosen partners on whose discretion they could rely.

I refuse to believe that in a century of naval history, not once an officer has been involved with another officer.

I bought “Boys at Sea” despite its horrendous price (£ 50.00 regularly and £ 32.00 if you’re lucky to get it used) – a price which is justified, by the way, considering the research that has gone into it – because I want to complete the puzzle as far as possible. Can I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely, if you’re interested in getting a halfway realistic view on homosexuality and the legal system within the RN in the 18th century. And for me, and my writing, it’s important to understand the general spirit, the way of thinking, the morals, values and social structures aboard a ship. For that, “Boys at Sea” is an excellent source.

(c) Emma Collingwood

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