No, not that! While I prefer my heroes hard in my m/m historical romances, I don’t find it particularly difficult to get them hard. No, what I’m referring to is the HEA (happily ever after) in a m/m historical romance, Regency-set romances to be specific.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Regency time period in English history, it technically began in 1811, when the king’s son (George, Prince of Wales) was appointed Regent, and ended in 1820,when King George III died. But since the king’s illness (i.e. madness) started earlier than 1811, an extended or greater Regency time period is commonly used and goes from around 1790 to 1830. I personally prefer to set my books around 1820, give or take a couple years. Why? Because men’s trousers became accepted as eveningwear around 1816. I prefer my men in trousers versus breeches or pantaloons. Plus, I’m not a huge Napoleonic war buff. Therefore, I set the time frame for my stories accordingly.

The Regency is bracketed by the Georgian era (think powered wigs and highly stylized clothing – i.e. the movie Dangerous Liaisons) and the Victorian era (think uptight and VERY restrained). The Mr.Darcygency era is very elegant, with a strong emphasis on proper manners and spotless reputations. You get a mix of the extravagance of the Georgian era with the Victorian preoccupation with maintaining appearances. Makes for a very interesting time period to write in…at least I think so. And yes, I just had to throw the picture of Colin Firth from the movie Pride and Prejudice in there – I think Mr. Darcy just epitomized the Regency period. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it really is a shame Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley never hooked up. They would have been so great together!!

All right. Enough of the primer on the Regency and of my own fantasies involving Bingley and Darcy. Back to the topic of this post. In the Regency time period homosexuality was not just frowned upon by Society, but it was illegal. If you were convicted of ‘buggery’, you could be sentenced to death. And yes, they did have trials and they did hang men if convicted. In fact, the executions were public affairs and people gathered outside the prison to watch the poor fellow(s) die. Rather gruesome afternoon outing, if you ask me, but I guess there were some back then who found watching an execution a form of entertainment. The newspapers of the day seldom used the term ‘buggery’ in articles about trials and convictions. It was commonly referred to as an ‘unnatural crime’ – just further drives home how they thought of homosexuality.

Therefore when it comes to writing a m/m Regency-set romance, the whole ‘could get hanged if word got out’ thing is something that authors can’t ignore. It’s a constant opposing force acting on the romance. Add to that Society’s expectations that men of good families marry well (not necessarily for love, but to form alliances with other families, increase a family’s wealth or land holdings, etc) and the preoccupation for maintaining a spotless reputation, and it makes crafting a HEA for a gay couple very difficult. If a man held a title or was an heir to a title, then it was expected he marry and produce the required heir and a spare. Duty to one’s family was very important, and ingrained in men at a very young age.

So, given all that, is it possible to have a HEA in a Regency gay romance? Of course. But it is a challenge, and it most certainly had to have been a challenge for gay men in the time period. The constant need for discretion, to keep their love for one another behind closed doors, the fear of being discovered…it must have been a horrible truth to have to live with, and I can just imagine that it tried many a relationship.

Are you wondering yet how a gay couple could realistically have a HEA? I hope so, as I’m going to give you some Object_of_His_Desire 150x225examples from my own work, and from another author’s work. In Object of His Desire, Arsen’s a titled lord (the Marquis of Somerville) yet he has no desire to marry. Realistically, while most lords married, not every titled lord married. In Arsen’s case, he didn’t wish to marry, and was willing to let the title go to one of his brothers’ sons. Conveniently, he had four brothers, one of which already had an heir. So, the title would stay within the immediate family. As for the social pressures, Arsen had had enough of London and wished to remain at his remote Durham estate (in northern England). Henry, the other hero, was the 3rd son of a country gentleman. Since his family wasn’t titled, he didn’t have the huge pressure to produce an heir in the event his elder brothers died without issue (i.e. didn’t have any kids or only had daughters). The book ends with Henry agreeing to remain at Arsen’s country estate, where they would have greater freedom than in London, but would still need to be careful. Arsen had servants, and while they were loyal, one can never predict what employees will do (disgruntled employees and all that). So no heavy make-out sessions for Henry and Arsen at the breakfast table, but at least I tried to craft it so that the constant pressing threat of discovery would be lessened.

AM_BoundtoHim_coversmAnother example would be Bound by Deception. The two heroes, Vincent and Oliver, are both second sons to marquises, and as such are aware of the expectations placed on men of their station. In Vincent’s case, he was also very concerned about appearances. He strove to be the perfect gentleman, so his desires for Oliver were contrary to his own expectations of himself, and something he needed to come to terms with before the two men could have their HEA. Bound by Deception ends with Vincent coming to terms with his desires, and Bound to Him continues their relationship. It picks up six months after Bound by Deception, and in it I tried to give a glimpse for what it could have been like for a committed gay couple in Regency England. Of course, Vincent is still very concerned about appearances, and their relationship is further tested by the social expectations of the time period. Duty to one’s family, and all that. And, of course, you’ll have to get the book to see if the two men are able to maintain their HEA.

One last example for you, and it’s different than my own works because it deals with a widower. In Shawn Lane’s anotherchance_150x200Another Chance, both heroes are titled lords. Aubrey, Viscount Rothton, has a title though it’s not much of one anymore. One night during their last year at Oxford, Aubrey and his friend Daniel had a scandalous encounter in a carriage. But before their relationship could go any further, Daniel’s father unexpectedly died and Daniel became the Earl of Greystone. He married and produced the required heir and a daughter. Years later, his wife passes away and he’s left a widower. He and Aubrey reconnect, yet even though Daniel has already satisfied the ‘heir’ requirement, there are still many obstacles in the path to their HEA. Since he has children who will someday move about Society, he needs to keep up appearances and continue to move about the ton. Plus, well, he has children who live with him, so he needs to keep his relationship with Aubrey hidden from them, as well. Both men are left knowing that their relationship will not be an easy one, and that they likely won’t be able to see each other often, but it’s a reality they accept in order to be together.

So you see, a HEA in a Regency-set romance is possible, but it is a challenge to craft one that is realistic to the time period. Personally, I find the HEA the hardest part of a gay historical romance, but also the most satisfying element of the story. If a relationship can survive in the Regency, then it must be very strong and meant to be. A true love match.

All right. So what do you think? Do you like to read Regency-set m/m romances? And if so, what attracts you to them?

And to give credit where credit is due, this entry was originally posted on Shawn Lane Writes Romance .

Thanks!!

-Ava

www.AvaMarch.com

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I had been thinking about doing a historical novel based upon the life of Robert Schumann since 1990, when I discovered a translation of his letters in the public library in Seattle. I wrote several poems based upon what biographical material I could glean in those letters and other general biographies that were at that library, but beyond buying recordings of his piano and symphonic works and becoming a fan of his music, my hope of writing a book about this curious and tragic genius remained remote until I found a job working for the US Army as a contractor in the fall of 2001, became friends with a violinist in an orchestra in Darmstadt, who – like many career musicians, had a library of books about composers. It was here that my research began.

I was lucky, in that I had a day job that supported me more than adequately, allowed me weekends off as well as vacation time, and I was geographically situated near several spots where my research subject had lived – and most importantly, only 300 km from where he spent his final years, a private psychiatric hospital in Bonn which I found out – still stands.

I had already written three historical novels, and in each case, the actual places were too remote for me to venture to in person for a sense of place and for the kind of detail that would allow me to visualize my setting and character. The first book, which was about the Hunnic empire and Attila, took place in Asia Minor and what is now Hungary, and the only available sources I could find were some archeological studies, and the fragmentary work of the Roman senator Priscus, who had visited Attila in the early 5th century.

Due to a lack of research material, my planned trilogy languished, despite a plethora of maps from the time period, and assiduous study of the books I could get. Book study of an era and of a people were not quite enough for me to synthesize into a believable, coherent, and convincing historical novel.

I needed to be there. And in fact, still hanging on to my hope of finishing the Hun book, I set off in the late fall of 2001 thinking I would be able to draw enough from a day trip to Troyes, in eastern France, the site of Attila’s final battle, to renew my interest and give me enough sense of place to breathe life into my project again so I could finish it. I didn’t make it to Troyes – it was 4 hours away by car. But I did go to concerts, and I did go to Johannes Brahms’ house in Baden Baden, and to downtown Heidelberg, and in those historic towns, left intact by the ravages of WWII, I began to absorb the atmosphere and sense of place that would eventually get an historical novel off the ground – the book about Schumann.

 

Robert Schumann, 1839

Robert Schumann, 1839

Although it is not enough to simply go to a place that remains as it was a century before (or largely so), I have found that sense of place – its geography, its character, its smell, for want of a better word – is crucial for visualizing it in historic context, to make the people who lived then, breathe and move about enough for me to capture them. It provides specificity. One can read in a book that the baths of Baden Baden are situated in the woods, but to travel up the twists and turns of what was once a carriage road through the dense pines to a towering stone mansion mostly obscured on a high bluff, is to be able to picture it vividly and accurately. I took photos of the crumbling ruin of forts and castles that had been crumbling and in ruins when my protagonist saw them. Europe – the parts that survived the intense bombings, would be as he had seen them.

 

Heidelberger Schloss

Heidelberger Schloss

 

Heidelberg, where Schumann spent a year of university and first began to compose, was less than 15 miles from where I lived. I loved that city, and took hundreds of photos of the historic downtown, and the enormous ruin that hovered over it, Heidelberger Schloss. The views of the gardens of the Schloss are the most beautiful. One historical footnote is that by a curious coincidence of fate, both Hitler and the Allies had identified Heidelberg as a strategic goal for headquartering troops, so neither side bombed there – as a result, Heidelberg remained untouched by the war, while Mannheim to the northwest, was severely damaged, and is almost entirely rebuilt except for specific neighborhoods.

Gardens at Heidelberger Schloss

Gardens at Heidelberger Schloss

 

Besides touring the places my character lived, studied, and performed, I attended concerts, read books in German and English about the people and their times, got biographies of Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn that were published in the country that I would never have seen in the United States, which included photographs, daguerreotypes, facsimiles of manuscripts… and the motherlode of all primary sources: diaries. Fortunately for me, my subject, while he suffered from the scandal of being a suicide in the 19th century, was largely rehabilitated as a “great German composer” by the time Germany reunited and reconstruction began. The hospital in Bonn where he died, badly damaged during the bombing of Bonn, was reconstructed, as was the cemetery and his memorial, and made into a music library, not only of Schumann’s music and biography, but of all German music. I wasn’t able to take books out, but I was able to read their private collection at the library, and take notes. They also published and sold books that were only available in Germany, and here I found the detail I needed to be able to fashion a story. Despite the destruction of many personal letters between Schumann and his closest friend, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, there was enough remaining in his diaries and letters to reveal, however subtly, the details of a poetic and musical soul who fell in love easily with both men and women. The nearly-inscrutable, elaborate left-hand script. Where he took his walks, and what he thought about. His nightmares. His confinement and the visitors he had there. Perhaps ironically, the Staatsbibliotek holds regular chamber concerts in the library where Schumann spent his last days, wasting away from a depressive illness which had stolen his ability to compose music. Preserved in glass there, the final piece of music, entitled only “Theme”, a mere 9 bars of melody, left unfinished and marred by an inkblot.

 

Staatsbibliotek Bonn, formerly a private psychiatric hospital

Staatsbibliotek Bonn, formerly a private psychiatric hospital

I was about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of my novel when I took a two-week trip to the former East Germany, to see Leipzig and Zwickau, Schumann’s childhood home, now also a museum and concert venue. The entire city has undergone reconstruction, and by the time I got there in June of 2003 for their annual concert festival (in Schumann’s honor), the 7 million euro renovation of his home was complete.

 

Geburtshaus Schumann (birthplace), Zwickau

Geburtshaus Schumann (birthplace), Zwickau

 

There, I found a wealth of new material, including published reviews he had made of other composers such as Chopin (whom he adored from afar), Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, who was both an intimate friend and benefactor, the originals of all of his extant portraits, and his own piano. I jotted down quotes, took photos of his visiting card. I listened to lectures by professors whose careers are devoted to discovering how and why the troublesome Third Symphony was edited as it was, whose only concern was what he produced – not what he was. I was looking for the man behind the composer. Seeing what he saw and understanding, with my developing fluency in the language, how he expressed himself. I finally had the level of specificity to write with confidence not only about the person, but about Zwickau, Bonn, and Heidelberg – I knew as much as I could know about what it was to experience life as he did, because the German federal government had pieced it all back together for me, put it in glass cases, published monographs and presented lectures, concerts and put on festivals to celebrate the culture that thrived before the Nazi era.

 

Kornmarkt, Zwickau

Kornmarkt, Zwickau

In fact, all of downtown Zwickau was renovated and refurbished – the entire cobblestoned Kornmarkt, the central mercantile square, had been rehabilitated and restored to as original condition as possible, with the occasional “new” shop or restaurant peeking out of a historic facade. In this picture of the Kornmarkt, which is taken from the point of view of Schumann’s house, you can see a Burger King beside the original facade.

I absorbed all that I could of the places I could reach, I read all the biographical material I could buy or borrow, but by far the best resource for me – and this applies equally to biographical figures as invented ones – is diaries. How long it took to travel by carriage from Zwickau to Heidelberg (2 weeks.) How frequently a devoted son writes his mother (daily.) How much it costs for a private room in a sanitarium (50 thalers a month.) The philosophy I emerged from this research amounts to this: it is not so much that people change throughout history, it is the specifics of how they live that change. The detail of everyday life in that specific time and place, and how that influences their outlooks. And, for those of us who write historical stories of nontraditional sexuality – how they expressed it, how they hid it, their view of themselves in a society that at best, silently ignored what was universally viewed as a disgusting perversion. There were precious few crumbs to sift through. One biographer theorized that whatever evidence of homosexuality was left behind in diary or letters that was not destroyed by Schumann’s wife or Mendelssohn’s executors, was systematically destroyed by Hitler’s government when he was elevated as an official cultural hero of the Third Reich. But they missed enough for me reconstruct (and to fill in where there were no facts to draw upon) a life lived at least half in shadow.

 

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