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 gency 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 examples 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.
Another 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 Another 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 .