Georgian


Although I’ve done a number of historicals now – enough to say I am a ‘historical novelist’ – I still feel that not all historical eras are equal. People have said to me ‘the Tudors are very popular. I’d like to see you do something set in Tudor times.’ I nod politely, because there’s no predicting where my muse might take me next. But inside, I’m still going ‘ew, the Tudors. They’re all torture and paranoia and witch burnings.’ I can’t really imagine wanting to write in an era where my nation’s best battleship sunk because someone forgot to put the plug in.

This is slightly hypocritical of me, because I like the Anglo-Saxons a lot, and they are not without brutality either. Plus, their technological level is much lower. But they nevertheless seem more civilised to me – a thoughtful, religious, melancholy people with less tendency towards burning women alive. Maybe I’m reading too much from the example of King Alfred and the Venerable Bede – both the sort of humane intellects I wouldn’t mind meeting in real life.

The 18th Century, though, is still my favourite. Part of this is the clothes. I can’t take Henry VIII seriously in his padded bloomers, but when we’ve moved on to tricorn hats, poet shirts, tight waistcoats and frock coats with swirling skirts; tight breeches and men in white silk stockings, showing off their toned calves to the ladies, well, then you’re talking.

But it’s more than that. I prefer civilization to savagery – I like to write in a world in which I would not find it unbearable to live – and the 18th Century is a time in which it’s possible to exist as something other than a warrior. More than that, it’s a time of great exploration. The world was opening up before Western Man, and as a result the spirit of the age is one of excitement. New things are being thought of every day. New places are being discovered. The world and the human spirit is expanding, and for the first time people are beginning to think about freedom and equality and the rights of man. An awful lot of what we take for granted nowadays was first being thought of in the 18th Century and it’s fascinating to watch it blowing their minds.

I read a lot of 18th Century journals as part of my research, and I find no difficulty in liking these people. They are urbane and amused, confident and surprisingly open minded. They have none of the self-righteous imperialism and prudery of the 19th Century, and while you’d have to cover the ears of the sensitive, because of their vulgarity, I wouldn’t feel a qualm about inviting them around for dinner. The tendency to fight a duel at the drop of a hat would be worrisome, I suppose, and they do drink and quarrel a lot, but they’re never quite what you expect. I think Jane Austen, who was that little bit later, would be shockingly disapproving of them. But in a fight between Lady Mary Wortley-Montague, lady of letters, who travelled the world, wrote letters from Turkey, and invented an early form of smallpox inocculation, and Jane Austen, my bets are on Lady Mary. She, at least, had attended the Empress of Austria when the fine ladies of Austria exhibited their honed pistol marksmanship. I think she’d be the one to walk away from that duel.

BlessedIsle_200x300

Blurb:

For Captain Harry Thompson, the command of the prison transport ship HMS Banshee is his opportunity to prove his worth, working-class origins be damned. But his criminal attraction to his upper-crust First Lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, threatens to overturn all he’s ever worked for.

Lust quickly proves to be the least of his problems, however. The deadly combination of typhus, rioting convicts, and a monstrous storm destroys his prospects . . . and shipwrecks him and Garnet on their own private island. After months of solitary paradise, the journey back to civilization—surviving mutineers, exposure, and desertion—is the ultimate test of their feelings for each other.

These two very different men each record their story for an unfathomable future in which the tale of their love—a love punishable by death in their own time—can finally be told. Today, dear reader, it is at last safe for you to hear it all.

You can read an excerpt and buy Blessed Isle here at Riptide.

Author Bio

Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

You can find Alex on

her website,Facebook,Twitter or her Goodreads page

 

Thanks to The Macaronis for having me today to start off the Carina Press M/M Week Blog Tour. Today, Carina Press is releasing six wonderful M/M romances, (two of which are historicals) and in celebration, the authors are going on a blog tour. As part of the tour, each author is giving away an ebook bundle of all 6 book releases. Yes – all six! All you need to do is comment on this post to be entered into today’s giveaway.

To start things off, today we’re going to have some fun with Regency cant. Cant is slang, usually from an underground group. For the purpose of this post, the underground group is thieves. And why am I babbling on about thieves? Because I have a book releasing today from Carina Press titled Brook Street: Thief. The book tells the story of a romance between Lord Benjamin Parker (a younger son of a marquis) and Cavin Fox (the thief).

Cavin lives in a flash house on King Street, deep in the heart of the slums (or rookery) of Regency London. Not a pleasant place to live. Over-crowded conditions with many families living in one house, narrow and very dangerous alleys, buildings that were on the verge of collapse. The rookery was full of criminals of all sorts, including thieves.

Cavin is what we would term today as a hustler or con-artist. He picks up gentlemen from gambling hells with the express intent of having sex with them then robbing them afterwards. To put gentlemen at their ease, he’s learned to not sound like a lower-class thief. To Benjamin, he appears a friendly, lower/middleclass man. Even though Cavin’s speech isn’t littered with cant, some terms are deeply ingrained in him, such as terms associated with thieving.

So now that you have a bit of background, it’s time to have some fun. And fun means quiz time! Don’t worry, I’m an easy teacher. I give gold stars to everyone, and also provide the answers after the questions.

There are a few basic thieves’ terms in the following questions. See if you can pick out the terms that go with their definitions.

1. To steal on the sly (similar to shoplifting).

A.  Sneak

B.  Pinch

C.  Dive

2.  To rob a house or a shop. To slip in undetected and take whatever’s lying around.

A.  Sneak

B.  Pinch

C.  Dive

3.  To pick a person’s pocket.

A.  Sneak

B.  Pinch

C.  Dive

4.  If someone cries beef, what are they doing?

A.  Announcing they are in the mood for a hamburger.

B.  Shouting, raising an alarm after someone.

C.  Divulging a secret.

So how do you think you did? If you’re unsure, check the answer key below. And now you know a bit of Regency thieves cant.

Brook Street: Thief by Ava March – A lord intent on his first decadent night with a man finds love when he picks up a thief in a gambling hall.

http://www.avamarch.com

Buy Link at Carina Press:

Answer key: 1) B. 2) A. 3) C. 4) B.

Map Source: http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/1818map/1818map.htm

———————–

A glance at the six books coming out from Carina this week makes me amazed at the scope of our corner of the romance world. The settings span centuries, from long ago in Ava March’s 1822 London story of class boundaries stretched and Erastes’s evocation of light and art in Florence in 1875, to not so long ago, with Larry Benjamin’s chronicle of young love in the 1970′s and 80′s and all the way to Kim Knox’s story of passion in dystopian 2050. Dev Bentham’s story is set in the present with love finally found, as is KC Burn’s tale of a relationship rekindled. Our protagonists are artists and aristocrats, pickpockets and soldiers, all steaming hot.

A Brush With Darkness by Erastes

Brook Street: Thief by Ava March

Moving in Rhythm by Dev Bentham

Bitter Harvest by Kim Knox

First Time, Forever by KC Burn

What Binds Us by Larry Benjamin

Just leave a comment on this post to enter to win an ebook bundle of all 6 releases in Carina’s M/M Week.

———————–

Check out the other stops along the tour. http://carinammweektour.blogspot.com/

19th March – Dev Bentham at Fiction Vixen http://www.fictionvixen.com

19th March – Ava March at The Macaronis http://historicromance.wordpress.com/

20th March – Larry Benjamin at Joyfully Jay http://joyfullyjay.blogspot.com/

21st March – Kim Knox at Rarely Dusty Books http://www.rarelydustybooks.com/

22nd March – Erastes at The Macaronis http://historicromance.wordpress.com/

23rd March – KC Burn at Babbling About Books, and More http://www.kbgbabbles.blogspot.com/

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.

captain_cook

There are lots of modern myths about the past which it’s very easy for us as modern people to buy into. I was thinking about this today because I’ve recently acquired a number of reprints of 18th Century journals, and I keep coming across sentiments which are startlingly at odds with what popular thought believes about 18th Century people.

We’re accustomed to the idea that the past was a different place from the present – that people thought in ways which are at odds with our modern understanding – but I think that our tendency is to make that a value judgement. The people of the past were old fashioned and wrong. They believed things which no progressive modern person would ever believe. They were, in short, not as good as us.

One of the joys of reading original sources, however, is the way that they challenge this assumption. Yes, the past was different from the present, but it was often different in ways we don’t really suspect, and in ways that challenge our casual assumption of modern superiority.

For example, the idea that women in the past were somehow less critical of men; they were passive wallflowers without a thought of their own, in comparison with modern, kickass heroines.

By contrast I just found this opinion in the correspondence of Mary Delany (published as ‘Letters from Georgian Ireland’ edited by Angelique Day)

Dublin 17 January 1731/2

Would it were so, that I went ravaging and slaying all odious men, and that would go near to clear the world of that sort of animal; you know I never had a good opinion of them, and every day my dislike strengthens; some few I will except, but very few, they have so despicable an opinion of women, and treat them by their words and actions so ungenerously and inhumanly. By my manner of inveighing, anybody less acquainted with me than yourself would imagine I had very lately received some very ill usage. No! ’tis my general observation on conversing with them: the minutest indiscretion in a woman (though occasioned by themselves), never fails of being enlarged into a notorious crime; but men are to sin on without limitation or blame; a hard case!

It’s a complaint I hear daily echoed around my Livejournal communities, and so startlingly familiar that I laughed out loud. Who would have thought it – we’ve been complaining about the double standard for over two hundred years. Of course, in the next line she breaks that familiarity by continuing – not the restraint we are under, for that I extremely approve of, but the unreasonable licence tolerated in the men. How amiable, how noble a creature is man when adorned with virtue! But how detestable when loaded with vice!

These days we would rather argue for the right of women to behave with the licence she detests in her men, rather than the duty of men to behave with the self restraint she hopes for in women, but still it’s apparent that our foremothers were not quite as uncritical as they are sometimes supposed to be.

Another myth that doesn’t quite stand up to the evidence of the original sources is the idea that the 18th Century explorers went out with a doctrine of Imperialism and certainty of superiority, intent on dispossessing the peoples they found of their culture and lands.

With hindsight developed from watching the ghastly results of that first contact, we work backwards and assign the original explorers motives and world-views that are quite inaccurate. In doing so – in our haste to make it plain that as modern people we abhor imperialism in any form – we misrepresent the attitudes of the time.

This is Captain Cook exhibiting his feeling of cultural superiority in Tahiti

We refused to except of the Dog as being an animal we had no use for, at which she seem’d a little surprised and told us that it was very good eating and we very soon had an opportunity to find that it was so, for Mr.Banks having bought a basket of fruit in which happened to be the thigh of a Dog ready dress’d, of this several of us taisted and found that it was meat not to be dispised and therefore took Obarea’s dog and had him immidiatly dress’d by some of the Natives in the following manner. (Cook describes cooking in a hole in the ground.) after he had laid here about 4 hours the Oven (for so I must call it) was open’d and the Dog taken out whole and well done, and it was the opinion of every one who taisted of it that they Never eat sweeter meat, we therefore resolved in the future not to despise Dogs flesh.

Cook on the superiority of Christianity to Tahitian religion:

Various were the opinions concerning the Provisions &c laid out about the dead; upon the whole it should seem that these people not only beleive in a Supream being but on a futurue state also, and that this must be meant either as an offering to some Deitie, or for the use of the dead in the other world, but this last is not very probable as there appear’d to be no Priest craft in the thing, for what ever provisions were put there, it appear’d very plain to us that there it remaind untill it consum’d away of it self. It is most likely that we shall see more of this before we leave the Island, but if it is a Religious ceremoney we may not be able to understand it, for the Misteries of most Religions are very dark and not easily understud even by those who profess them.

My emphasis added. Do these sound to you like the opinions of a man certain that he was the spearhead of civilization? I’m not for a moment denying that his arrival in many of the places he visited was the start of a disastrous and appalling period of exploitation and oppression. Nor that the Imperialism and cultural superiority followed, but the myth tends to be that the first explorers arrived with ill intent. When you read the man’s actual thoughts it’s much harder to keep hold of that.

Cook is not what you expect. And he’s not what you expect in a different way from what you might expect, because although many of his entries read with an almost Star Trek ‘strange new worlds’ delight in discovering new things which I for one find easy to empathize with, in many other places he is as archaic and strange as you can imagine. Here’s his entry in the log for a tragedy early in the voyage:

In the morning hove up the Anchor in the Boat and carried it out to the Southward, in heaving the Anchor out of the Boat Mr Weir Masters mate was carried over board by the Buoy-rope and to the bottom with the anchor. Hove up the anchor by the Ship as soon as possible and found his body intangled in the Buoy-rope. Moor’d the ship with the two Bowers in 22 fathom water, the Loo Rock W and the Brazen head E Saild his Majestys ship Rose. The Boats imploy’d carrying the casks ashore for Wine and the caulkers caulking the Ships sides.

As modern people we would expect at least a conventional expression of emotion here, but there is none.

To sum up; the past is strange, but it’s strange in ways that we don’t expect. If it’s possible at all to find original sources there is no substitute for them in correcting the assumptions we take for granted as modern people. In many respects, once we start to hear the genuine voices of people from the past it becomes much clearer that we aren’t superior to them; that we, like them, are subject to our own culture’s prejudices. Original sources – there’s nothing like them for broadening the mind and the sympathies. (And in Cook’s case, also the spelling. I’m going to have such trouble not writing clowdy and intangled in future!)

‘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…)

The Language of fans.

No, I don’t mean OMGWTFBBQ! Or ‘squee’! Though I’m sure a post on the language of media fans in the 21st Century would be invaluable to the historical novelists of the future. No, I’m talking about the kind of fan you use to cool your face, particularly in the ballrooms of Regency novels, and the suggestion that they were used to convey coded messages through a well known repertoire of gestures.

Since I’m concentrating on the language of fans, I’ll pass over the other uses of fans throughout most of history by cunningly referring you to this handy website: Life was a Breeze with Fans

So… Googling on ’18th Century fans’ will inevitably turn up a number of sites like this

http://www.ideco.com/fans/language.htm or this http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/riley/200/fans.html

which give long lists of different fan positions and the different meanings which are to be attached to each. This struck me as extremely cool. But the lists were sometimes quite different from each other – sometimes dangerously contradictory. It’s a bit of a disaster to drop your fan, meaning ‘let us be friends’, only to discover you’ve really said ‘I am yours forever’. Suppose your right arm gets tired? Then you only have the choice of getting really hot or saying ‘do not flirt with that woman’ to your entire acquaintance.

This led me to wonder how much truth there was in the idea of a formalized language of fans at all. Sadly, a bit more digging brought to light the news that the well known language as practiced in Georgian ballrooms was actually an invention of a 19th Century fan maker named Duvelleroy. He printed out a sheet of instructions and enclosed them with his fans as a marketing gimmick. See this exhibition of the language in use in the delightfully named ‘Fan Slang’ page of the royal collection.

For people who are determined that there must have been an earlier version of this language in existence, some hope is held out by the fact that Duvelleroy is said to have adapted (and vastly expanded) an original German version of a pre-existing Spanish guide.

Liza Picard, whose ‘Dr. Johnson’s London’ seems to me to be a very reliable guide, mentions fan language, and gives a much shorter list of meanings, which comprises just fifteen gestures, including ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘hush, we are being overheard’. I wondered where she had got this from – whether this was the original pre-Duvelleroy list – but sadly there doesn’t seem to be a reference in the back of the book or a footnote to give her references.

So I thought I’d see what the people of the period have to say. Here is Addison in 1711 with a tongue in cheek proposal to set up a new academy of the fan for genteel young ladies:

Mr Spectator – women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them

I’ve linked that because it’s long and well worth reading in its entirety. But clearly Addison, in mocking the use of the fan to express its bearer’s emotions, has no idea at all that it might be used for sending coded messages. I’m inclined to think that if it had been so used at the time, he would have known about it.

It wouldn’t have been a very good language if none of the men you used it with recognized its existence. I’ve actually got a scene in False Colors where Mrs. Deane is attempting to tell the hero, John, that he is being indiscreet, and that the two of them will be good friends. But sadly John is entirely ignorant of the existence of fan language and doesn’t even notice that she’s trying to say something. If Addison is to be believed that may not be too off the mark!

Fans could be used for other communication, however – all sorts of information could be painted on the backs of them. This site has some lovely pictures of a fan with samples of botanical classification, another with dance steps, and another with a calendar of saints days marked on. They could also be used to demonstrate political leanings or patriotism – for example this fan commemorating the Battle of the Nile.

Of course there’s nothing to prevent there having been the occasional informal use of a fan to send pre-arranged signals – in fact it seems unlikely that that wouldn’t have occasionally happened among groups of friends or a certain ‘set’. But still, on balance I would be wary about including too much general knowledge of any ‘language of the fan’ before the 19th Century. I don’t think it was the popular phenomenon that some websites would have you believe.

“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.

Underwear in the 18th Century.

As The Costumer’s Manifesto say:

Many authors of modern historical Romances have a way of meticulously costuming their 18th Century heroines for their activities in the ballroom and drawing rooms, but conveniently forgetting the awkwardness of such attire in the bedroom. In order to live up their racy titles and covers, Romantic fiction portrays 18th Century passion as occurring as rapidly as if every dress seam was merely closed with Velcro, and corsets were fastened with zippers.

This is obviously not a good thing, so here is a short run down of what 18th Century ladies and gentlemen would be wearing underneath their gorgeous outer clothes, and what that means in terms of bedroom activity.

Ladies first, naturally:

The basic undergarment is a shift (aka a ‘chemise’ if you’re French, or a ‘sark’ if you’re Scottish.) A woman in her shift is ‘undressed’ for the purposes of the 18th Century. Though covered, she would no more walk about in it than a modern woman would walk to town in bra and pants.

The shift comes to somewhere just below the knee – short enough so that it does not show under any of the petticoats. Nothing is worn underneath except for stockings. Knickers did begin to come in towards the end of the century, but were regarded as being for prostitutes and women of loose morals only.

Stockings are not the sheer, lacy-topped things we are accustomed to in the 21st Century. They are knitted like hiker’s socks. In the best cases, however, when they are knitted of fine silk, they can be fine as a thick pair of modern tights. They are put on like modern stockings, but there is no suspender belt to keep them up. Instead, garters are tied around the leg just below the knee, and the top of the stockings can be folded down to sit comfortably on top of it. This means that in practice ladies’ stockings look like knee-socks.

Once she’s got her stockings on, the next thing a lady would put on would be her shoes. It’s much easier to do it at this point, while she can still bend in the middle!

Next comes the first of her petticoats (pleated skirts)

Then on top of the first petticoat comes the stays (corset)

(These stays by http://www.TheStaymaker.co.uk).

These are laced up the back, ideally by someone else. If the laces are long enough, you can put the stays over your head while loosely laced and then tighten them up yourself, but it’s much harder to make sure the lacing is evenly tight throughout. An upper class woman will have a lady’s maid to do this for her, a lower class woman will either have to do it herself or have a mother/sister/daughter do it for her.

A woman wearing a single petticoat and stays over her shift is regarded as being dressed. That is, a working class woman who had no outer garments would not be chastised for being indecently dressed if that was all she wore. It would be a mark of extreme poverty, though, not to have at least one outer layer.

If the lady is upper class, she may now put on hoops or panniers, to give her that fashionable galleon in full sail look:

If she wears panniers, she’ll tie her pockets underneath them. If not, the pockets tie on directly over the stays. The pockets are little bags tied onto a ribbon which ties around the waist. The lady will be able to reach them through slits made in the sides of her upper petticoat.

They are very capacious. She could easily carry a little dagger in one of them without disturbing the line of her dress at all.

On top of that goes a second petticoat, with the slits lined up above the slits in the pockets.

On top of that goes a fichu – a large square neckerchief folded into a triangle with the point down the back, which protects the gown above it from the unwashed skin beneath. It also conceals the cleavage, for modesty, and protects the lady’s assets from the vulgar tanning effect of the sun.

On top of that goes either a gown or a short jacket

In this case the gown is being worn on top of a petticoat made of the same material as the gown. The ruffles are sewn onto the sleeves of the gown and are not part of the underclothes.

The gown will be pinned shut, possibly over an embroidered stomacher

The whole dressing process takes at least three quarters of an hour – more, if the lady is wearing higher status clothes. So it goes without saying that she will not be willing to undress lightly.

The Gentlemen

The gentlemen get off fairly easily. Their basic undergarment is the shirt

This – like the woman’s shift – comes down to roughly knee-height.

Unlike women, a man may wear drawers under his breeches – cut and shaped like the breeches, but made of thin linen. (Still trying to find a picture of these. I know I’ve seen one somewhere!) Gentleman’s stockings are rolled as far up the leg as they will go (mid thigh) and secured with a garter around the knee, just as women’s are, but their breeches will stop the top part of the stockings from rolling down.

The gentleman then tucks his shirt between his legs and puts on a pair of breeches:

Breeches can be fly fronted (as these are) or drop fronted. In both cases the front of the breeches can be undone without undoing the waistband. In addition to being buttoned at the waistband and fly, they are also buttoned or buckled at the knee, often tight enough to pinch and restrict movement.

A gentleman wearing shirt and breeches is considered to be undressed. Though modestly covered by modern standards, by 18th Century standards he is considered to be in his ‘small clothes’ – his underwear. If he wants to take off his tight, movement-restricting coat anywhere where he might be seen, even in his own house, he will replace it with some other piece of outerwear such as a banyan (kimono-style dressing gown).

With his breeches and shirt on, he then ties a neck-cloth such as a cravat around the neck. On top of his breeches goes a waistcoat (with numerous buttons, all done up) and then a frock coat. The frock coat is cut in such a way as to pull the shoulders back and give an upright posture.

This young man has rolled his stockings over the cuffs of his breeches rather than wearing them underneath – that’s a fashion from early in the century.

But though restrictive, the gentlemen’s clothes are easier to get on and off than the ladies’. They probably could strip off with relative ease if they wanted to. Evidence suggests, however, that generally they didn’t care to:

Pornographic prints from the 18th Century almost always depict the people who are having sex as at least partially clothed. But 18th Century porn is a whole new post. I can recommend

if you want to delve into that a bit deeper. If not, there is an interesting sample, very much not safe for work, here:

Naval Naughtiness

I haven’t gone onto wigs and powder, cosmetics, or hats, because that seems like a subject for another post too, but here is a gorgeous snippet from ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ which demonstrates the process of getting dressed in such a way as to show that the clothes themselves have a slightly pornographic appeal.

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

Yes – that’s him.

As a fun post I thought I’d ask you all some questions based on Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) and see how many you get right.

No cheating now!!

1. What would you be doing if you were cocking your organ?

2. “She’s an owl in an ivy bush” – is this a good thing?

3. “The flashman bounced the swell of all his blunt” – Is this something you’d want to do?

4. What would you be doing if you were riding a horse foaled by an acorn?

5. If someone told you that your beau had been seen in his altitudes the night before, would you break off the association?

6. Someone’s just told you that your youngest daughter has sprained her ankle. Would you call a doctor or throw the baggage from the house?

7. Is Arbor Vitae the Latin name for a tree? Or something else?

8. You see a gorgeous man at the ball, and you overhear one rake say to another that the object of your attention is a great backgammon player. Surely that’s a good thing?

9. How many rolls ARE in a baker’s dozen?

10. What would you wear to a Balum Rancum?

11. Wow-wow Sauce – Invented by the Regency or by Terry Pratchett?

12. What’s a beau trap? An eager spinster? or something dirtier?

13. Your husband announces he’s off to Bedfordshire. You don’t have any estates there and it’s dark! Where’s he really going?

14. Where would you dance at Beilby’s Ball?

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/

There are the facts in the history books, and then there’s the fiction in my books. That’s the basic problem I have as an author – establishing a balance between the two. I’m a bit of a perfectionist; if I write a story set aboard a ship of the Royal Navy in the 18th century, I want the setting, the language and the characterisations to be as historically correct as possible. But there’s a group of people I’m not allowed to forget in my navy-induced euphoria: my readers! Some of them would appreciate a book written in the language of the 18th century, or lengthy descriptions of uniforms; they’d greatly enjoy tons of naval terms and information regarding a purser’s handling of payments and book-keeping.

But the majority wouldn’t. I write to entertain (myself and my readers), and I can’t expect the audience to buy three lexica, four guides and a special edition of The Young Officer’s Sheet Anchor just to understand what the hell I’m talking about. My work must be understandable. It’s a difficult balance act to find the right words and terms to keep the characters and their actions in the correct timeframe but not bore the readers out of their skulls. And don’t say that couldn’t happen – it happens faster than you think! Yesterday I went through a chapter I’ve been very proud of, only to realise that, from a reader’s point of view, it was about as exciting as an article about the mating rites of dung beetles. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t folks out there who would find great pleasure in the love-life of bugs, but – you know what I mean. The chapter had to go.

Too much realism or historical accuracy can ruin my work. I write historical naval adventure with supernatural elements and male/male romance, not a history book or a naval manual. Reading about a supper the heroes enjoy is probably more enjoyable than the details of the food’s contents. Of course, no Age of Sail story without mentioning weevils at least once, but personally, I draw the line at whipworms, hookworms and pinworms. It’s great if a reader thinks at the end of the story “Mmmm, now wouldn’t it be nice if Captain Denningham walked right through that door and stayed for dinner?” I don’t want said reader to add “…but I’ll have him deflea’d, dewormed, thoroughly bathed and sent to the dentist first before we move on to the dessert.” It might be true and historically accurate, but – no. Just no.

If I wrote gritty, realistic drama, things would be different. There couldn’t be enough dirt and stench and whips and whipworms, I guess. But I’m a 21st century person. I have to create a scenario in my head that allows me to throw some romance into the adventure, and that scenario does not allow too much dirt and parasites. Well, not of the animal-kind.

Looking at the final draft of “The Purser, The Surgeon, The Captain And His Lieutenant” now, I can say that all the characters are fitting into the time-period and behave accordingly. But the only character who’s really “authentic” to the core is the purser, Sebastian Quinn. And while many of his actions are ruthless from our modern point of view, they make perfect sense for the man he is and the time he lives in.

Actually – and that’s really a weird thing I noticed – I had more problems writing the chapters set in modern London than those in the 18th century! It was more difficult to describe something I actually know! Switching from one time period to the other really wasn’t easy, especially as the language of the characters differs greatly between the two centuries.

Denningham is not a problem, nor is his sister, but Quinn and Barnett? Somebody pointed out to me that these two are really bad role models, and that it might not be such a good idea to describe the “good guys” as drinking, smoking and swearing. But what can I do? They are swearing. They are drinking. They are smoking. It’s part of their lives and personalities.

I’m all for “cleaning up” the 18th century setting (far thee well, beloved ringworms!), but I refuse to clean up the characters for reasons of political correctness. This is non-negotiable. But maybe I’ll put a special warning label on the front cover: “Being the purser is hazardous for your health! Especially when the lieutenant is close by!” It might increase sales…

(c) Emma Collingwood

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

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

fatlady.jpg

Apologies for another ‘serious content lite’ post but I couldn’t resist sharing the link to this great website about the history of Opera. It has a slight relevance to writing, as I found it while researching opera for a scene in ‘Secrets’, but for anyone who likes the lighter side of history, it speaks for itself :)

PeoplePlay UK

Lee mentioned that the Macaronis might get a little cheesy at times, which naturally lead me to dig out this link.

I’m currently writing a WIP called ‘Secrets’ which is another Georgian Age of Sail novel. (Similar setting to Captain’s Surrender but different characters.) In the course of writing a certain intimate scene I was wondering to myself ‘I wonder how I can describe what John smells like’. I wanted something that combined cream, salt and citrus (from his lemon and bergamot cologne), and after a bit of Googling I came up with yet another reason that the 18th Century was indeed an age of Enlightenment.

Georgian Ice Cream!

OK, so I personally would not be so keen on the Parmesan Cream Ice, (which is where the cheese comes in) but the Royal Cream Ice – flavoured with lemon zest – was exactly what I was looking for. Also featured; Chocolate Cream Ice, Burnt Filbert Cream Ice, Punch Water Ice and Bergamot Water Ice.

Historic Food: Georgian Ices and Victorian Bombes

Oh and look, the bombes are in the shape of anarchist’s bombs! How cool is that?

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