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Why Accuracy in Historical M/M Romance Matters (to Joan/SarahF)

Since my review of Bonnie Dee‘s m/m historical romance Jungle Heat, there has been considerable discussion in Romancelandia about historical accuracy. The ones I noticed were at Katiebabs’ blog, Kalen Hughes at History Hoydens, and Courtney Milan’s blog. I thought the conversations were interesting specifically in light of writing and reading historical gay romance. So, today we have my opinion piece on why (and what type of) historical accuracy matters *to me* in m/m romance specifically. And tomorrow we’ve got interviews by some of the leading m/m historical romance authors, to see what they have to say about the issue.

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First off: I do not want perfect historical accuracy in my historical romances. I care very little about the historical provenance of champagne flutes and while the wrong underwear might make me roll my eyes, it won't stop me from reading unless it's a symptom of a much larger problem with historical inaccuracies. Although I love accurate historical detail, if something has to give to serve the story, that's fine and I get it, really.

But romances to me are about the way people THINK and that is as historically contingent as how they dress.

Case in point: I'm a scholar of eighteenth-century literature, and specifically of the Romantic-era novel (end of the eighteenth century), because that was the century that people most started thinking like we do nowadays about love and marriage and class and, in small part, race, but also about freedom and democracy and civil rights. And I love that time of change. I love figuring out WHY people started thinking that way and how they got to that point. The eighteenth century is the century that produced the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the abolitionist movement, proto-feminism, and the primacy of companionate marriage. Before the eighteenth century, people literally did not think like we do about their own identity, their relationships with others, or their society. Traveling back in time to before the eighteenth century, even in Europe, would be like someone who has never traveled beyond rural Arkansas going to urban Japan. This is why I don't read medieval romance (except Laura Kinsale's For My Lady's Heart). Because it's almost impossible to get the way they THINK right in a way that would make SENSE to a modern reader. Medieval Europe was as foreign a country to the modern USA (or Europe) as the hunter-gatherer desert Khoi San culture is, or deeply religious Saudi Arabia.

More particularly: starting with the Renaissance but culminating in the Enlightenment philosophies of the 18th century, the way people thought about their status and worth as individuals changed in ways that would be unrecognizable to pre-Renaissance people. These Enlightenment philosophies privileged the individual over the institution (most obviously, the individual over the Church) and reason over dogma (ditto for the Church). Only the 18th century could have made the idea of marrying for love the dominant narrative. For reasons both social (rise of middle class, literacy, leisure time, disposable income) and technological (paper, printing, book binding), only the 18th century could have invented and popularized the novel. And, most importantly, only the 18th Century could have focused that novel on the feminine and the domestic, on the ways in which two people negotiate their love, form a relationship, and become the ideal social unit. We think about love and relationships the way we do today because of the 18th century and, in unavoidably connected ways, we read the romance novels we read today because of the 18th century roots of the novel.

This all goes double for the way homosexuality has been viewed in Western culture through the centuries. That very word, “homosexuality,” as we understand it nowadays as an identity, would be a historical anachronism anytime before the 20th century, some might even say anytime before the middle of the 20th century, depending on how you read history. Our modern understanding of homosexuality as an identity, as something people ARE, rather than as a series of acts that people do, is less than a century old.

Which is not to say that you can't write a historical romance with characters who think about their sexuality as an identity. Alex Beecroft does an amazing job with that: her characters know that they're different, know that they're not attracted to the opposite sex, know that it's an integral part of who they are. But they don't think to themselves "I'm gay" or discuss their homosexuality with others. The closest they come is thinking that they’re “inverts” or “sodomites.” But, still, writing about a man in the eighteenth century, who is what we would now consider gay, fall in love with another man entails detailing how he comes to realize that he CAN fall in love with his sexual partner. And that type of historically-specific internal conflict can be fascinating to read and can show us exactly how far we’ve come in our societal understanding of homosexuality.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Why bother writing historical m/m romance if you’re not going to show how far we’ve come as a society to accept two people–any two people–who love each other? Why bother writing historical m/m romance if you’re going to ignore how HUGE and BRAVE a mental and emotional leap it was for GLBT people to fall in love and to pursue that love, despite everything society told them about how wrong their actions were, but more importantly, how impossible their emotions were.

Absolute historical accuracy–whether we’re talking about things or thinking–is impossible, impractical, and even undesirable, because we are always writing and reading from our own historical moment. But if historical fiction is written (in part) to reflect our own feelings about a contentious issue at a potentially safer distance, as Courtney Milan suggests in her blog post, then surely the very fact that the way we think about homosexuality has changed so much over the past 200 years is precisely the point? Historical accuracy about precisely when someone could consider themselves to BE “a homosexual” (rather than just doing homosexual things) is therefore a vitally important political act. "Imagine how homosexuality will be viewed in another 100 years," historically accurate novels say, "if we have come so far in the past 100 years." More importantly, to have historical m/m romance claim the same narrative as m/f romance, a narrative that is inextricably intertwined in the political, social, and civil rights of the individual to choose their own destiny, makes writing m/m romance a political act, and writing accurate m/m historical romance vitally important.

But if we want to take it down from the political level back to the level of the story, back to the ROMANCE part of HISTORICAL ROMANCE (to use Kalen Hughes’ terminology), then for historical m/m romance in particular, the historical accuracy is of paramount importance to HOW the romance progresses. It’s not like an anachronistic champagne flute or a red silk nightie when only white cotton (linen?) was used. The historical accuracy of the way people thought about themselves, about love, about sex, about IF they could fall in love and WHO they could fall in love with, the etymology of the terminology they used to imagine their relationships, is vital to the progress of their relationship because the very WORDS we use define how we think and how we see and interact with our world. So why write m/m HISTORICAL romance if you’re not going to play around with that?
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Tomorrow we’ll have author interviews with Josh Lanyon, Charlie Cochrane, Lee Rowan, Erastes, and Alex Beecroft, and Kate Rothwell and Bonnie Dee. Stay tuned!

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

118 Comments

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  2. Darlene Marshall
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 08:02:30

    One of the best essays on romance I’ve read this year. I just finished reading False Colors and part of what I enjoyed most about it was the historical accuracy of how the characters see themselves and are viewed by others.

    I also recommend the history Homosexuality and Civilization to M/M romance authors looking to bring more accuracy into their historicals. It’s a chilling and detailed look at how gay men and women were viewed–and imprisoned and killed–over the centuries.

  3. Carolyn Jewel
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 08:07:36

    But romances to me are about the way people THINK and that is as historically contingent as how they dress.

    You are my complete and utter heroine for saying this.

  4. katiebabs
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 08:19:25

    I really have to start reading Alex Beecroft!

    For me, a big thing while reading historical fiction is the dialogue. When a character uses slang that wasn’t invented yet, I stop and shake my head. It takes me right out of the story. I feel the same rules should apply during paranormal historical fiction even if an author takes some liberties with the plot.

  5. hapax
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 08:37:21

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    You explained exactly why I can’t read most historical fiction set in classical and medieval times.

    Mysteries are as bad as romances. It drives me nuts when the authors take obvious pains to get picayune details of shoe-fastenings and herbal infusions correct, then have “detectives” who use techniques of deduction and refer to motivations and manners of thought that simply weren’t in the mental toolkits of people of that time.

  6. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 08:37:21

    Our modern understanding of homosexuality as an identity, as something people ARE, rather than as a series of acts that people do, is less than a century old.

    This is very much my experience in other parts of the world. For example, my best friend is gay and half-Turkish. I've spent enough time in Turkish gay bars that the doormen no longer try to keep me out. The thing is, most of the men in the “gay” bar have wives (or intend to have one) and they see no conflict with that aspect of their life and the fact that they sleep with men socially. It's not an identity the way it is here in the States, it's an activity they enjoy, no different from sailing or painting.

    The historical accuracy of the way people thought about themselves, about love, about sex, about IF they could fall in love and WHO they could fall in love with, the etymology of the terminology they used to imagine their relationships, is vital to the progress of their relationship because the very WORDS we use define how we think and how we see and interact with our world. So why write m/m HISTORICAL romance if you're not going to play around with that?

    I agree that this is vitally important to historical romance in general, but for me, if you get too many of the tiny details wrong, I have trouble believing that you're capable of getting this for more complex aspect right.

    Have you read The Rise of the Egalitarian Family? It's one of my favorite books for really digging into how the idea of marrying for love came about.

  7. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 08:49:34

    I read a really great f/f historical romance a few weeks ago, Innocent Hearts by Radclyffe. Set in 1800s Montana territory. There is no mention of lesbian, gay, etc., but the characters know they will be ostracized for loving each other. It’s very angsty and well done.

    I haven’t read Dee’s book, but this discussion reminds me of a movie, A Knight’s Tale? with Heath Ledger. I hated the modern rock soundtrack and stopped watching. But I’m pretty sure that it was supposed to be “fun,” not accurate.

  8. Mary Lamb
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 08:53:18

    Really, really interesting post. So good makes me wish I had written in myself. No point in getting all the details right, if you miss the big picture entirely, which is why I HATE historicals that are insanely detailed but meanwhile have the heroine striding around waving a sword, etc., I also don’t care if the champagne flutes are ahistorical but having people, esp, gays behave and think in ways that are foreign and would logically have led to actions that would have gotten them killed is inane and and disrepectful to their very real internal and external conflicts. I have a good suggestion for those who want to read good history/gay romance. “The Republic of Vengeance” by Paul Waters. It’s more of a historical novel, than romance. But the romance is very good and believable. Takes place in Pre-Rome Grecian Times. Talk about your differen way of viewing relationships! But very saisfying book. Again, thanks for the great post -one of my favorites since I have been reading DA.

  9. Kate R
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 08:57:59

    I have to agree; who wouldn’t?

    The thing is that people are messy and always have been. There is a tendency to try to make people in the past a little easier to pinpoint–that’s the root of nostalgia, after all, a longing for a simpler time, when no such time exists.
    So sure, culture helps to shape the man (as in a family, community, national culture)but there’s the messy and changeable nature of all those components that makes a person interesting.

    A guy living back in the 1800s couldn’t think “I’m homosexual! I’m gay!” and say it out loud, unless he was tipsy and meant he was having a gay old time.

    But it’s easy to imagine him coming up with the thought, “this is what I want, and that means it is part of who I am, part of my identity. Hmmm there must be other people like me. I wonder . . ..” There might not have been the words to express the identity, even if there was one.

    There are a lot of things people kept private–that might be one the biggest difference between our time and many other eras. Hey, our great-grandmothers might not have talked about the existence of the clitoris (in face, one woman was successfully cast as a slut during a trial because she knew the word “clitoris” http://katerothwell.blogspot.com/2007/07/interesting.html )but I’m pretty sure a lot of them knew what it did for them.

  10. Jane
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:05:52

    The big reason that historical accuracy is important to me as a reader is that I trust the author. When I read a book, I trust that the author is writing authentic work. When I first started reading historical romance, I thought it was amazing all the stuff I learned. Of course, now I know that only a few historical romances are actually accurate and view historical romances as totally fantasyland but I wish that when I read a historical romance, I could feel safe in the knowledge that what I was reading was as accurate as possible.

    Historical romance isn’t trustworthy. I don’t know if it ever was but the sad fact is that this is one good reason why romance doesn’t deserve respect.

  11. Mfred
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:07:50

    I have a hard time being on the side of the “it’s just fiction, I just want to enjoy it and not think!” complaints against historical accuracy.

    First, this is exactly the kind of criticism leveled at romance novels in general: porn for women, escapist fantasy, housewifes eating bon bons, etc etc.

    All of which imply that by reading romance, we are NOT thinking. And extrapolating from that criticism– our opinions aren’t intelligent, our buying power doesn’t really matter, because our books are worthless drivel.

    So why would we use that same complaint against ourselves?

  12. RowanS
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:08:58

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I have a masters in Renaissance history and it’s so true–people did not THINK the way we do now, even a hundred years ago. I’m in the middle of my second novel, which is a Regency-set m/m (after a contemp), and am OBSESSED with trying to keep the characters period-accurate. I’ve been second-guessing myself as to whether or not it’s worth it, if anyone will even notice, and this post just confirms that it is, very much so. So thank you. (goes back to work…!)

  13. Mara
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:20:25

    I very much enjoyed this article. I think it may be that when you first start out writing historical romance, you may also be learning how to research for your story, as well. Like writing, learning to research takes some practice, and you get better at it as you go along. At least, this has been my experience.

    Diaries are a hugely helpful resource in learning to understand the mindsets of people in past centuries. I’ve picked up dozens of diaries from all different time periods and they are the most fascinating reading in the world–even the most mundane, day-to-day details are just wonderful.

    And even as you discover all the predictable ways in which our current mindsets differ from those in the past, you are frequently surprised by ways in which they are the same. There’s the loveliest bit in the diary of George Templeton Strong where he grouses about going to a ball and having an awful polka refrain stuck in his head for hours afterward. :) That still makes me laugh.
    Diaries are just fabulous.

  14. Joan/SarahF
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:24:27

    @hapax: The only medieval romance I’ve read are Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart and Shadowheart. I think she got it as close to “real” as possible in 20th/21st century. With medieval dialogue too! But I only read them because I already trusted her as an author. And I think her books serve to highlight precisely how foreign that time is to us.

    @Kalen Hughes: From what I gather (?) most of Central and South America is like this, too. Homosexual ACTS but very little in the way of IDENTITY as we in the US and UK/Europe understand it.

    And my go-to book for the change in marriage is Stephanie Coontz’s amazing MARRIAGE: A HISTORY. I’ll have to check out your suggestion.

    @Jill Sorenson: I’m more forgiving of movies like A KNIGHT’S TALE and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE because they’re so obvious about being historical fantasy (not novelistic fantasy with fairies and unicorns, but a fantasy, a modern way of looking at history). I quite enjoy them in that respect. And A KNIGHT’S TALE *totally* worth it for Paul Bettany playing Chaucer!

  15. Joan/SarahF
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:28:07

    @Kate R:

    But it's easy to imagine him coming up with the thought, “this is what I want, and that means it is part of who I am, part of my identity. Hmmm there must be other people like me. I wonder . . ..” There might not have been the words to express the identity, even if there was one.

    Oh, absolutely. I think Beecroft does that brilliantly for both characters in FALSE COLORS.

    @Mara: Historical earworms FTW!!! Thank you for that image. :)

  16. kate r
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:28:26

    Just to add another opinion to go against the tide–and avoiding work, because I’m supposed to be doing research, for god’s sake. Historical research.

    There’s room for all sorts of historicals just like there are for all sorts of mysteries.

    You got the police procedurals written by former cops (and don’t forget those take a huge liberty with the truth of police life. I’m thinking of you, Michael Connelly) and you have little old ladies who knit and fall over bodies every week.

    Neither of those are about the State of Crime and Punishment in America, by the way. They’re often just escapist fiction which is a perfectly good form of entertainment. I imagine the cop writers get annoyed at the inaccuracies of the baking/knitting sleuths and the cozy mystery writers probably are defensive as hell. But I don’t think the people who read either form of the genre care.

    I wonder if there could be some kind of guide to historicals just like there are to mysteries. You have the Carla Kelly researchers who not only get the time but the whole flavor all the way to the Avon writer I was just reading who had her Regency heroine purring about how “sexy” her guy is.

    Maybe there could be Approved by Picky Historical Readers label authors could slap on their books. (Or some of their books. The trouble is not every writer is always consistent, not even Carla Kelly who is still apologizing about that chocolate seller)

  17. Joan/SarahF
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:42:02

    @kate r: I really like Eloisa James’ Mea Culpa sections for each of her books for that.

    And the author interviews that go live tomorrow talk about this a bit. There’s obviously an audience for the historical fantasy of A KNIGHT’S TALE and (IMO) Julia Quinn books. But…that doesn’t mean I’m going to read/enjoy them.

    And, getting back to the issue, for m/m historical romance, as I said, I think it serves the story to try to be accurate. Otherwise one might as well write contemporary (IMO).

  18. Courtney Milan
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:53:22

    Sarah, I agree with you, up to a point. That is, I think how people thought back then was very, very important, and as you say, the discussion of How Things Were back then serves to make the present feel even more safe.

    The point at which I start balking–and to be honest, get annoyed–is when people confuse “historically accurate” with “historically average.”

    As a case in point: in my upcoming historical, my hero has a discussion on the role and stature of women with a friend of his. His friend’s attitude towards women is very, very typical for men of the time period: he thinks they are weaker, need to be sheltered, and not capable of logical thought.

    But it’s not “inaccurate” for my hero to think “that’s a load of bunk.” There were men back then who didn’t buy into the dominant paradigm, and my hero was raised by a woman, and his best friend for years was a woman. This isn’t inaccurate; it’s a difference from the norm that’s easily explained by experience.

    And so I agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying, but I do hasten to add that when this gets taken to a logical extreme–when people insist that “historical accuracy” means that your characters must subscribe to a particular group think–I get annoyed.

  19. kate r
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 09:54:07

    @Joan/SarahF:
    Exactly. You shouldn’t have to read books you don’t enjoy. I’m only semi-kidding about the labels.

    They can’t be insulting because there’s no point in putting off readers by offending them with derogatory labels.

    I guess it would be up to the editors to slap on the “historical romantic fiction” vs. “romantic fiction set in history” and maybe a degree or two in between (Get it? This is like listing ingredients to food, the closer “history” is to front of label, the greater part it plays in a story.)

    Hey, they do it for erotic content, why not history?

    Unfortunately it wouldn’t be possible the writer to decide her level–no historical writer sets out to make mistakes.

  20. kate r
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 10:00:06

    And so I agree wholeheartedly with what you're saying, but I do hasten to add that when this gets taken to a logical extreme-when people insist that “historical accuracy” means that your characters must subscribe to a particular group think-I get annoyed.

    And as usual, what Courtney said. Yeah.

  21. Joan/SarahF
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 10:25:10

    @Courtney Milan: I very much like that point! I certainly think there are ways to convey modern concepts, or the start of modern concepts, in historical ways. And I know I keep coming back to this, but Alex Beecroft does it brilliantly. As did you in your amazing short in that anthology. But still, my point is that it is possible to do it in historical ways. Because our modern ideas had to come from SOMEWHERE, right? :)

  22. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 10:31:16

    One thing nobody’s brought up yet – homosexuality, or more precisely, the act of sodomy, was illegal until the 1960’s in Britain.
    During the 18th century there were several trials for sodomy and men were hanged for it. That’s why women weren’t prosecuted for f/f affairs and it explains Queen Victoria’s famous remark, that she didn’t think it was possible. She wasn’t thinking about making love with another woman, she was thinking about the criminal act of sodomy.
    In my Richard and Rose series, one of the most important secondary characters prefers men (name withheld to avoid spoilers). He thinks of it like that, too. goes into politics and has to be very circumspect, especially when he finds someone to love. How did they cope then? Many of them found servants, or companions, or lived as “lifelong bachelors.”
    By the end of its time int eh 1960’s, the law was laughed at, but still enforceable, and used as one of the traps for spies. They could be legitimately prosecuted for sodomy, giving the authorities an excuse to search the rest of their belongings. The “Julian and Sandy” sketches from “Round the Horne” were prime examples of the way the law was circumvented. They went out at Sunday lunchtimes! I had a very interesting conversation with one of the writers of that, and he warned me about using their version of palone as a source (the language/slang that homosexuals used)as they made some of it up.

    Anyone interested in this should really read the famous account of Mother Clapp, and here’s the original Old Bailey account of the case:
    http://tinyurl.com/3agxoj4

    One thing’s for sure – with the amount of cases brought forward, there must have been a lot of it about!

  23. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 10:45:08

    @Jane:

    Historical romance isn't trustworthy. I don't know if it ever was but the sad fact is that this is one good reason why romance doesn't deserve respect.

    And THIS is why it’s so important to me. *sigh* I work my @ss off to get as much right as I can (as do most of the writers I know and consider friends). I certainly think that as a collective group we research just as hard-‘and as well-‘as the lit fic and mainstream historical fiction writers I know (in fact, they often ask me questions, esp about clothing). But because the genre as a whole is not perceived as being a place where trustworthy scholarship is at play, we don't' get the same level of respect as the other historical authors. And yes, this clearly irks me.

  24. Jane
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 10:50:36

    @CourtneyMilan – I think, though, in romance we are “how much historical accuracy should there be” instead of “how far from historical accuracy, should I deviate for the sake of my story”

    The former implies that the author is only going to do so much (wallpaper) to convey the story whereas the latter implies that the author has done so much research and is judiciously cutting out or deviating from historical accuracy for authorial reasons. I can totally get behind the latter, but not the former.

    As one very astute reader said to me, the history aspect of the historical romance is the world building and we would never state that the world building of a fantasy or sci fi isn’t important.

  25. Joy
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 10:53:48

    Courtney Milan wrote The point at which I start balking-and to be honest, get annoyed-is when people confuse “historically accurate” with “historically average.”

    This makes perfect sense to me, as long as the character has a reason to be that way and it’s clear that they’re swimming against the social tide of mainstream opinion.

    Attitudes towards homosexual behavior, in history, vary tremendously in time and place and subculture; we make assumptions about these attitudes in the Muslim world, for example, that don’t necessarily hold true in Afghanistan), and don’t always break down historically according to the categories modern people assign them.

    See for example, the Wikipedia article on Homosexuality in Ancient Rome–perfectly acceptable for a man to be the penetrator no matter the gender or age of his partner, but being penetrated was considered feminizing.

  26. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 11:03:08

    And my go-to book for the change in marriage is Stephanie Coontz's amazing MARRIAGE: A HISTORY. I'll have to check out your suggestion.

    Yeah, that's a great one too.

    The point at which I start balking-and to be honest, get annoyed-is when people confuse “historically accurate” with “historically average.”

    THIS! I think I'm saying the same thing when I say that I'm all about the historically implausible, but not the historically impossible. Implausible, but properly motivated, is a wonderful thing. In fact, all the people who behaved badly, did great things, fought for a cause, were doing something “implausible”. And there's great room for conflict and self-discovery in these types of characters (just look at the current scholarship of Jefferson: brilliant man, brilliant thinker, still a man of this times when it came to slavery and race).

    Where a lot of stories fall short for me is the motivation aspect. Heroines who don't want to marry, but instead want to be doctors in a time period in which no medical school accepted women. Heroes who want to renounce their titles, or who don't *get* that a title comes with actual responsibilities, and ignoring them is terribly unheroic behavior (though it might be perfectly accurate).

    Plenty of men didn't think women were useless, and plenty of women did (or some, like Hannah Moore, seemed to have thought that most women were useless, but they, themselves, were somehow superior to the rest of their sex).

    I think, though, in romance we are “how much historical accuracy should there be” instead of “how far from historical accuracy, should I deviate for the sake of my story”

    The former implies that the author is only going to do so much (wallpaper) to convey the story whereas the latter implies that the author has done so much research and is judiciously cutting out or deviating from historical accuracy for authorial reasons. I can totally get behind the latter, but not the former.

    Again, THIS! This is exactly what I'm always trying to get across.

  27. John
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 11:16:03

    @Lynne Connolly: From what I’ve come to understand, it was tolerated to a degree. As in, if people were subtle about it, and no one had an agenda against them, they were able to essentially be who they were – they just had to keep it under wraps.

    I agree completely with Courtney Milan. The one thing that really keeps me from reading this m/m historicals is the feel that they have to be accurate to the point of following the laws and common ideals – which we should all know is just what was common, and protagonists in books are rarely common, in my experience.

    Further more, I hate knowing that a lot of these authors resort to non-consensual sex because there wasn’t a ‘proper’ way for two men to have sex in the time period. As a reader and lover of historical fiction, I understand the need for historical accuracy, but good lord, if you do that much research, shouldn’t you know that enough people went under the radar? Historical accuracy is great, but until they can write about it without resorting to non-consensual sex, I’m sticking to my fantasyland agenda. My moral compass is a lot bitchier than my factual compass.

    I know a historical YA writer who writes in the LGBTQ field, and what she does is puts in supernatural elements to make it more fantasy. It allows the book to explore the same themes that literary LGBTQ fiction does, but in a much less direct and intense manner. It also allows the protagonist to feel more ‘modern’ in the sense that they aren’t so burdened by their homosexuality because there is a force behind it that helps them understand they cannot change it. It’s not historically accurate in all parts, but it’s pretty good with the facts when needed – and it doesn’t try to be anything more than escapist fiction. I see romance as an escapist genre, and while it has a lot of literary merits, I’d rather see it as a genre where I can feel safe and normal as a gay reader.

    Just something that’s been bugging me. ^^ Take it with a grain of salt – I’m not big on accuracy for a lot of reasons.

  28. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 11:34:33

    Has anyone here read Lucy Moore’s Amphibious Thing: The Life of Lord Hervey ? During the early-mid 18th century he carried out a nearly open relationship with his lover Stephen (always called Ste in their love letters). If m/m and accuracy interests you, I highly recommend this biography.

  29. Sunita
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 11:38:50

    Fabulous post, Sarah, and great discussion. A couple of points that occur to me:

    (1) Identity, in the social psychological sense, is given meaning in a social setting. You can’t have an individual identity without having the social context in which to express it. This is totally different from having preferences, emotions, etc. about issues that affect you the individual, i.e., you personally. If individual primacy doesn’t have any meaning in a particular social setting, then having individual identity as central to a character doesn’t make sense.

    (2) We tend to conflate historical context, historical behavior, and what for want a better term I’ll call historical cognition, i.e., the way people *thought* in a particular time. Authors are more likely to be able to place the first two within contemporary readers’ comfort zones than the third. So it’s not really surprising that we don’t see much of it. Sarah’s offered a way that m/m can be closer to history while still being accessible to readers today. But there are an awful lot of times where it just won’t work. Many of the rules that constrained people (and therefore also constrained, all too often, what they *thought* they could do) led to a reduced chance for a fulfilling life, which is at the essence of romance, whether you want an HEA/HFN or not.

    (3) I agree that the historical average should not dictate how characters behave. But when the probabilities of being able to behave in a particular way and get away with it are very low, the author really has to convince me that it can happen even in this particular instance. Of course people thought in ways that were outside the conventions at every point in history. But how likely were they to be able to act according to their out-of-the-box desires and not be punished?

  30. Mai
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 11:43:24

    @Lynne Connolly:

    One thing nobody's brought up yet – homosexuality, or more precisely, the act of sodomy, was illegal until the 1960′s in Britain.
    During the 18th century there were several trials for sodomy and men were hanged for it. That's why women weren't prosecuted for f/f affairs and it explains Queen Victoria's famous remark, that she didn't think it was possible. She wasn't thinking about making love with another woman, she was thinking about the criminal act of sodomy.

    Women – mostly prostitutes and in rare cases, respectable wives – were hanged or sentenced to hard labour for taking part in an act of sodomy as well.

    It’s important to note that the majority of men who were hanged for buggery were usually caught during raids at male or/and female brothels, or doing it in public places including alleys, parks and according to three cases, churches!

    There is a history of quietly-but-openly gay men and lesbians who never got arrested, sentenced or hanged through ages. It’s usually a case of when and where, and to whom. And for some during the anti-gay climate during late Victorian era, how powerful their families were. It really does depend on social climates throughout the ages. Some ages tolerated and some ages didn’t.

    As I understand, Queen Victoria didn’t make that famous remark. It’s apparently a popular myth.
    Whether to outlaw lesbianism was ignored by those who were involved with the legislation for two reasons: a fear that it’d intrigue women into trying lesbianism, and the focus on re-defining a legalisation to outlaw homosexuality itself was considered much more important.

  31. erastes
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 11:48:06

    @John: Hi John,

    I’m interested in what you say – Because I run Speak Its Name reviews (gay historicals only) I can’t agree with your assertion that “A lot” of the authors resort to non-consensual sex. Where does this come from? I know of very few gay historicals that deal with male rape–I’m not a great fan of the “slave boy abducted which then turns to love” but then that is a (or it WAS) a popular trope in ordinary romance- you don’t see much of it today.

    As for obeying laws – well, protagonists in gay historicals don’t do a lot of that, for obvious reasons! :D

  32. Joan/SarahF
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 11:51:45

    @John: Missed your comment somehow. I’m going to have to agree with @erastes: I see very few non-con m/m stories, whether contemporary or historical. (Despite disturbing recent trend for prison stories!)

  33. Deb
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 11:52:12

    I take historical data in fiction with a grain of salt. Fiction by it’s very nature indicates to me that some of the story is made up.

    I take accuracy of data in Wikipedia with a grain of salt as well. I can’t imagine citing Wikipedia as a source would have any value. It’s a jumping off point for me.

    Mai indicates “As I understand, Queen Victoria didn't make that famous remark. It's apparently a popular myth” Perfect example.

  34. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 12:16:41

    Queen Victoria might have said it – she said a lot of things that people didn’t write down. It’s a case in point. If an author chose to quote her saying it, she could cite the sources, and then discuss the probabilities, if she wanted to, in an Author’s Note.

    Stating Wikipedia as a source is completely laughable, although Wikipedia can be a good place to start, because the better pages have references that might be more accurate. But I tend not to use the Internet for that kind of research. I use it for pictures, maps, and overviews, or reminders, but I’ll go to the books for the real thing.

    As a writer, I try very hard to get it right and I won’t put anything in that might not have happened. I make informed choices, and wherever I can I try to find real-life examples. That’s only done after years of research, not from reading a couple of books and saying that it’s so.

    Personally I’m tired of the “it’s fiction” argument. Fiction is often misunderstood, or the dictionary definition taken as the be-all and end-all. It doesn’t mean that everything is made up.

    I did a panel with Linnea Sinclair at RT, whose SF worlds are fully realized, but never overwhelm the romance. Worlds have to be consistent, have depth and be believable, whatever genre they’re set in.

    The Lucy Moore book is a treat, as is her book on the underworld, “Con Men and Cutpurses.” Highly recommended and very readable.

  35. Julia Rachel Barrett
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 12:19:08

    Amazing post. Thank you. Yes, I can skim over some tiny little irrelevant details in an historical, but I cannot skim over the way people think, or thought, during the historical setting of the story. Yes, I crave accuracy.

  36. John
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 12:37:28

    @erastes: @Joan/SarahF: It’s mostly from the few that I’ve read. I just don’t like the idea, and having that *little* experience is enough to personally turn me off. I’ll still read the genre, obviously, but it’s something I worry about. And as m/m as a whole gains momentum, I think it’s something we’ll see more of. Obviously this discussion has proven there are writers that go well beyond accuracy and write as much in the common ideal as possible – or authors that totally miss the mark and do what they ‘feel’ would be historically accurate. And you have to admit that, for a lot of people, non-con would seem like a more plausible explanation because of the lack of reported homosexuality in the time period. Sorry for generalizing, but it is something that I think we’ll have to watch as readers as historical male romance gains in popularity for readers and writers.

    I mean, imagine a Diana Palmer for m/m historical fiction! *shudders* It’s a scary thought, no?

  37. Janine
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 12:41:04

    What I ideally want to see in a historical romance is a situation that is plausible and believable to me. To that end, it’s best if the writer can get both the little details and the big picture (how people thought back then) right.

    However, I also agree with Courtney Milan that I wouldn’t want the main characters’ attitudes to reflect historically accurate majority attitudes. In a m/f romance, reflecting the attitude of the majority might mean sexist, racist, homophobic characters. And as Courtney points out, there were always exceptions. And it is those exceptions that I want to see portrayed in a historical.

    I also agree with Joy that if a character is going to be exceptional for the times, it is best to give them a backstory that helps explain the reasons they are different from most people in their society. Also, I would add, to show that not everyone is like them.

    These things help me, as a reader, to suspend disbelief and buy into the story, and ultimately, that is what I want.

    I’ve read so many books where, even though I don’t know all that much about the period, the inaccuracies jumped out at me and all but shook my hand. That is disruptive to the reading experience and as a reviewer, I’m going to complain when it happens.

    With regard to attitudes toward homosexuality, my WIP is set in 1892 and has a secondary character who is gay, and even in 1892, I don’t have him thinking of himself as “homosexual.” I can’t imagine a medieval or regency that had a gay character thinking in those terms working for me.

    With that said, I find that sometimes books with historical inaccuracies do work for me. Take the Julie Anne Long book I just gave an A- to. There were times when I was skeptical about some of the things in it, and shaking my head, but her characters were so engaging, the emotion between them so palpable, and the language so good at evoking it, that I stopped caring.

    All of this is not to say that historical accuracy isn’t important, but that other aspects of the craft are also important. Sometimes I read well researched books that lack a spark to make me care, and I wonder if the writer put all her energy toward historical accuracy but little toward the flow of the prose, or toward crafting an engaging plot.

    So it’s all about a balance in my opinion. The best writers are the ones that convince me, that reel me in. Every tool in the writer’s toolbox, including historical research, should be in service of that, IMO.

  38. Lindsay
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 13:11:56

    Ramble-y comment ahoy!

    First of all, I find that the line on whether I can tolerate historical inaccuracy depends on the context. In historical fluff, like A Knight’s Tale, it’s pretty clear that this is for fun, and no one’s making any pretense of it being accurate, therefore I can enjoy it for the sheer silliness it is. On the other hand, historical fiction or movies that take themselves and their message seriously, while being chock full of anachronistic concepts and mind-sets leave me gnashing my teeth.

    Secondly, I don’t read a lot of m/m or f/f original fiction, so I can only make guesses about what’s being published there. I do think it’s important for historical characters not to have modern concepts of homosexuality as an identity before the idea even existed, but I think the historical state of affairs gives us more scope than simply “he knew he liked sodomy”. An individual could know themselves to have a preference for the same sex, or could develop feelings for another person of the same sex without it otherwise being part of their identity. Conceivably, there could also be small “communities” of individuals who felt the same way.

    Then there’s the whole “Oh woe, the world is so dangerous to us, we will always be persecuted” thing, that simply doesn’t ring true to me. I’m not disputing that sodomy was a crime, and that if you got caught it would go very badly for you. Presumably, if a person was a prominent figure, they would be in more danger of being outed. But just as historical people who preferred the same sex would have no concept of themselves as homosexuals, most of society would have no concept of homosexuals. They wouldn’t be looking for it, which means it would be much easier to be discreet. Romantic friendships between men and between women were much more common in the 18th & 19th centuries (and maybe they were sleeping together and maybe they weren’t), but it simply wouldn’t occur to most people to interpret these actions as “homosexual”.

    I remember reading a book a few years ago, in which the main character’s uncle and his partner had lived together as a sort of “open secret” in their community for many years. The uncle actually greatly resented the gay liberation movement when it came about, because it made people aware of him as a gay man, when before he had just been a man who happened to be with another man, and there was a certain freedom in that. It made my angry little queer self question my uncompromising pro-queer-visibility stance a bit.

  39. Lusty Reader
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 13:41:26

    wow, i wish i had your education and writing skills, i really seriously feel like i learned so much from this article! DA: educating the world, one blog post at a time!

    i never would have thought of so many of the points you made, for as much as i love history and so much of what i read is set in historical times, i never considered so many of the factors that changed how people thought and acted. Especially when you said:

    Before the eighteenth century, people literally did not think like we do about their own identity, their relationships with others, or their society.

    It’s weird bc when I’ve read a slew of historical novels where the heroine’s always thinking in modern ways I get annoyed, but I don’t think I consciously realize when an author’s done a great job of historically accurate THINKING, I more notice when it seems wrong, than why it seems right.

    and i can see myself reading and rereading this post every now and then in the future.

  40. TKF
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:02:04

    With that said, I find that sometimes books with historical inaccuracies do work for me. Take the Julie Anne Long book I just gave an A- to. There were times when I was skeptical about some of the things in it, and shaking my head, but her characters were so engaging, the emotion between them so palpable, and the language so good at evoking it, that I stopped caring.

    I'll admit to having a good snicker about that review appearing in conjunction with this post. I can't read her. Read her first and was blown away by all the problems, anachronisms, and mistakes (like the main treat to the heroine being a marriage that was voidable at any time, by either party or anyone else; not to mention the pervy child-molester vibe of the hero). Tried to read her second (due to the continued hosannas from the peanut gallery), but gave up due to the same types of issues. Wallpaper historical fluff at its very “finest”.

  41. Joy
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:06:37

    @Lindsay: But just as historical people who preferred the same sex would have no concept of themselves as homosexuals, most of society would have no concept of homosexuals. They wouldn't be looking for it, which means it would be much easier to be discreet.

    Maybe sheltered women who weren’t aware of the concept, but in many eras accusing your political opponent or enemy of sodomy was pretty standard–so a person with enemies would have been particularly vulnerable.

    I await the inevitable correction, but in terms of an historical “voice” that never rings false to me–you can’t do better than Fraser’s Flashman (and the racist stuff doesn’t throw me, because, well, Flashman).

  42. Tumperkin
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:21:51

    Damn damn damn. I wrote a long comment and lost it. Damn.

    Ok – let me summarise. Great post. Agree with most of it – in fact there’s nothing in this comment that disagrees with anything you’ve said.

    However, I’m sceptical that there is much in a history in respect of which we can say, with certainty, that X thought Y about this. And that becomes more true the more personal and domestic the issue.

    Take servants – lots of sources of masters talking about servants. Not so much the other way. All sorts of inferences might be drawn from the available sources about what the average servant might have thought about his life but can we really with certainty anything much about what servants really thought?

    Similarly gay men. They may not have thought about their preferences in terms of an identity or any kind of right to live a certain sort of life. But some of them undoubtedly fell in love and felt jealousy and yearned for lifelong committed relationships with the men they fell in love with to the exclusion of anyone else. How they viewed those desires and the extent to which they would have felt able to act on them is a different matter and is the point at which the execution in a M/M romance becomes crucial and at this point anachronistic language and internal character narrative becomes problematic for me too. But what did a particular gay man think then? How did he view himself and others like him? I think there’s room for a degree of latitude in there.

  43. Janine
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:27:14

    @TKF:

    I'll admit to having a good snicker about that review appearing in conjunction with this post.

    Well, as I’ve often said here and elsewhere, just because there are ten of us that blog together here at DA, doesn’t mean we see eye to eye on everything.

    Still, if you read my review of I Kissed an Earl, you’ll see that I mentioned that I caught some historical inaccuracies.

    I haven’t read Julie Anne Long’s first or second books yet so I can’t speak to them — I started with her third. I find that her characters and her descriptions often sparkle, and that can get me to overlook a lot.

    But there are certainly authors I can’t read because of inaccuracies. I used to enjoy Johanna Lindsey in my teens, but can’t read her anymore.

    It is interesting, there are books where historical inaccuracies jump out at me more than in other books with historical inaccuracies (for example, I DNF’d Hoyt’s The Raven Prince), and I think it must have to do with the whole package.

    What I really want is to be able to believe in the story. I’m far from an expert on the Regency, but Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady seems well-researched to me. Yet I still could not completely buy into the story, not because of anything pertaining to research but rather because the heroine’s lack of competence as a spy as well as her virginity made the book feel implausible to me.

    So again, I think it’s about the total package, but how those packages strike us is going to be different for different readers.

  44. GrowlyCub
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:34:50

    @TKF:

    Yeah. I’ve read only one of Long and it was so bad I can’t for the life of me figure out how folks can overlook the sloppiness and willful disregard of historical fact and attitudes.

  45. CourtneyLee
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:35:27

    I’m loving this post and all the comments. Everyone has such wonderful ideas. I read a lot of MM romance, but not much of it is historical because I prefer the “homosexuality as an identity” approach. In fact, I don’t read historicals in general because I find it so difficult to emotionally connect with the historically accurate ways of thinking; they can be so counter to the way society thinks now. I love the idea of avoiding the “average” in favor of the “accurate,” though, and would love a recommendation for a MM historical where at least one of the characters has come to accept that his preferences are a part of him from the beginning of the story, or at least has come to believe that his preferences aren’t as wrong as society says they are. I intend to get False Colors by Alex Beecroft simply because I’ve heard so many wonderful things about it.

    John said:

    And you have to admit that, for a lot of people, non-con would seem like a more plausible explanation because of the lack of reported homosexuality in the time period

    The first thing that came to mind when you said this was that of course not much homosexuality was “reported” because it was practically illegal! That doesn’t mean that there were significantly fewer homosexual people back then. That’s something that I love about being able to look back through the ideas of today: you hear a lot today about studies that show that being homosexual isn’t a choice, that it’s simply how some people are made, so it is likely that plenty of people were made that way back then and society just didn’t get it yet. And just like today, LGBT people in history probably had a feeling early on that they were different, only their upbringing would have them frame it as something wrong and to be avoided and denied. I can see how, in that historically accurate light, a sexual encounter could plausibly be non-consensual because the violated party would be in denial (assuming he is one of the heroes) and that part of the story is about him accepting his feelings and urges. But I’d much prefer to read the exception to the rule, the accurate but not average: the couples who meet, flirt, court, and commit under society’s radar.

    And personally, as a romance reader who is under thirty and never read the rape romences of the 70s and 80s, I don’t ever want non-consensual sex to be considered in any way positive in the context of a potential romantic relationship (I get squicky over so-called “forced seduction” too, so maybe I’m being strict). There was one MM story I read and loved that involved the rape of one hero by the other, but that was a huge epic that spanned 25 years and it wasn’t even historical. (Special Forces by Marquesate and Vashtan, it’s free online and it was mind-bogglingly good) Also, the rape was never portrayed in a positive way, ever, not even in the name of character development.

  46. Lindsay
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:36:15

    @Joy:

    in many eras accusing your political opponent or enemy of sodomy was pretty standard

    Yes, absolutely. I did make a brief mention of prominent people being at more risk, but I guess I didn’t emphasize it as much as I should have. I suppose the distinction is that enemies are looking for a weak spot, not necessarily for homosexuality. If you wanted to live a quiet life while preferring the same sex, you would be much better off to be otherwise unremarkable. My point was in terms of ordinary individuals. Because today we divide people into gay & straight categories, we then consciously or unconsciously look for clues in order to mentally sort people into one of those categories. Organizing people and things into mental categories is how we understand our world. Without those categories, the clues would be meaningless, and would not be looked for. In terms of someone’s enemy, they aren’t looking for the clues to organize their world, they are looking for them to discredit someone. Does that make sense?

  47. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:40:12

    Flashman absolutely, utterly rocks.

  48. Joy
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:47:15

    Because today we divide people into gay & straight categories, we then consciously or unconsciously look for clues in order to mentally sort people into one of those categories.

    Yes, and historically I think “sodomite” would have been a potential category to sort men into–but it still would have been difficult to tell for sure unless the subculture was fairly tolerant. I’m less certain about women. Such categories would have been well-defined among sex workers for example, but again we’re out the realm of “ordinary people”– and would have spoken more to *tastes* than *identity*.

  49. Kate Pearce
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:57:49

    I get some flack from readers and reviewers occasionally who insist my Regency male characters aren’t behaving in an approved ‘gay’ manner. But I deliberately don’t them write that way because those sexual ‘identities’, as has been mentioned many times above, weren’t established in the same way as they are now.
    For example, in most public schools during the 18th & 19th centuries (which means private in the UK) there was a system known as ‘fagging’ where the younger boys had to perform menial tasks for the senior boys. From what I’ve read, there was a certain amount of sexual interaction involved in these relationships, so when I write about the English upper class I take into account, that some of the men have already experienced a male sexual relationship whether they wanted to or not.
    And another thing peculiar to the British is that their public face and their private kinks are very separate and very private and can exist simultaneously. A lot of the prudish sexual politics of the Victorian era were in direct reaction to the more salacious Regency.
    So, I’m agreeing with Sarah-you’ve got to know your history. :)

  50. Aleksandr Voinov
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 15:14:31

    @CourtneyLee: Thanks for the vote for “Special Forces” – I co-wrote that as “vashtan”. That is, IMHO the only – for me – acceptable way to do rape. Make it real, deal with the trauma and character disintegration, and the guilt of the rapist. Since I wrote Vadim (the rapist), writing that was tough as hell as I did have to get into the mind of a rapist – a habitual rapist to boot. (Special Forces is mildly on topic because one of the guys is a Soviet and that society didn’t have Stonewall and is still looking pretty bleak on gay rights).

    I’ve done historicals – such as “Deliverance” in “Forbidden Love” by Noble Romance – where the research took a long time, and I’m a historian by training. Twelfth century Outremer is very different.

    I also review for “Speak Its Name” and pure wallpaper historicals usually get graded down. I rate especially harshly when I feel an author was cutting corners, doesn’t respect her/his material and the story is “sold” as historical but has wholly modern people in it.

    Now, my own standards have a degree of flexibility. I loved Knights Tale – because you can BET that if Queen’s “We Will Rock You” had been around then, it WOULD Have been played at tournaments, easily. I hated “Braveheart”, however, because just about everything was wrong and people take it at face value – which I find way more damaging than having “fun” with the middle ages. Nothing’s as bad as a job half done.

    /Soap box.

  51. Seeley deBorn
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 15:34:05

    @CourtneyLee’s point: “I find it so difficult to emotionally connect with the historically accurate ways of thinking; they can be so counter to the way society thinks now.” is exactly why genre romance should not be purely historically accurate. Modern readers have trouble connecting with characters they don’t identify with.

    Sure, get the clothing right, get the historical personages in the right place at the right time. But you cannot expect modern romance readers to identify with a 14 year old heroine who accepts being beaten by her father before she heads off to marry her 45 year old second cousin. That shit don’t fly in the 21st century. But it was perfectly acceptable in the 15th.

  52. Miranda Neville
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 16:00:54

    @Kalen Hughes:
    Can’t remember who said it, but it was in the 18th c. “the human race is divided into men, women and Herveys.” You could get away with a lot as a family when you had a earldom, plenty of money, and a lot of nerve.

  53. TKF
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 16:03:18

    @Janine: I’d say Hoyt and Bourne are leagues beyond Long when it comes to accuracy and Bourne leaves Long in the dust when it comes to skillful use of language and beautiful turn of phrase. *shrug* To each their own, but I've just never been able to understand what anyone sees in Long's books. But I guess she's classically Avon in a Julia Quinn kind of way, and those kind of fantasy historicals clearly work for a lot of people.

  54. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 16:09:45

    @Miranda Neville: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu said it (I think). And she was one of his friends!

    The Herveys fascinate me. Lady Elizabeth Foster (aka the Duke of Devonshire’s mistress and eventual second wife) was a Hervey by birth, which further goes to support such a statement about them. They were an interesting family and led others into quite interesting lives when their paths crossed . . .

  55. Ros
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 16:40:49

    @Seeley deBorn: Actually I can expect modern readers to identify with a girl in that situation. Because although I agree with everything that’s been said about changes in society, identity, worldview and legality, I do still fundamentally believe that people are people. There is a common humanity to all of us and it seems to me that it is a writer’s job to show that. And yes, it’s harder to do that in some situations than others. But it is up to the writer to build that world for me, to draw me into it so that I do start to think and feel in the way that was normal in the society they are depicting, so that I can understand and empathise with the way the characters react, even if it’s not how I would respond to a situation. If you’ve shown me in the story how important family loyalty is, or obedience to the church, or a particular construct of honour or shame or whatever it is that is the driving force behind the heroine’s motivation, I’ll be happy to believe it.

    Most definitely not a romance novel, nor one for those of a squeamish disposition, but Melvyn Bragg’s Credo is one of the best examples I know of this. It’s set during the Dark Ages and it features a heroine who is driven by her vocation to be a hermit, and a hero who is off fighting for the Picts (I think – it’s a while since I read it). They both make difficult choices that would be incomprehensible in a modern setting, but within the framework of the story, they make sense and they win the reader’s sympathy.

    Writing good historical novels that get the details right is hard, writing excellent ones that convey the worldview with all its morals and mores is even harder, but I don’t think that’s any reason why readers should settle for second best.

  56. Janine
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 17:00:31

    @TKF: Totally agree on Joanna Bourne being more historically accurate and even having better prose than Julie Anne Long too (no mean feat, that, since IMO Long’s prose is impressive). My point was just that an author can be all these things but if the characterization is implausible/inconsistent (as I felt it was in TSL) the book can still not work for me.

    As for Hoyt’s writing, whether or not it is more historically accurate than Long’s, The Raven Prince felt more contemporary to me than the Julie Anne Long books I’ve read. I really struggled with language that sounded anachronistic (whether or not it was so in fact) and character behaviors like the heroine becoming the hero’s secretary at a time when men had only male secretaries. But I haven’t read her other books so I can’t say if it’s a persistent problem.

  57. Seeley deBorn
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 17:03:03

    @Ros

    It has nothing to do with settling for second best and everything to do with motivation of the reader. Those scenarios you offer are definitely not genre romance. The are not comparable. People are people, common humanity, and societal issues are things that play a negligible role in a genre where almost every character is some kind of an exception to some rule. And if there are only exceptions, there aren’t many rules left.

    If a writer is building a world in which you can identify with a 14 year old beaten into marrying her middle aged cousin, I strongly suspect they are not writing genre fiction.

    That’s where reader motivation comes in. I don’t read historical romance to see louse ridden soldiers raping their way through towns and the women who have to live in those conditions. I read it to see the exceptional heroine and the anachronistic hero play at wits and fuck a bit. And I don’t think I’m an exception.

  58. Mai
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 17:52:22

    @Seeley deBorn:

    That's where reader motivation comes in. I don't read historical romance to see louse ridden soldiers raping their way through towns and the women who have to live in those conditions. I read it to see the exceptional heroine and the anachronistic hero play at wits and fuck a bit. And I don't think I'm an exception.

    But doesn’t that apply to contemporary romances as well?
    We don’t have contemporary romances that feature soldiers raping through towns and the women who have to live in below-the-bread-line conditions. In today’s world, we still have rapists, murderers, child abusers, spouse beaters and such, and we also have people in so-called First World countries living in rat-infested homes, slums, homeless, half-way houses, cheap hostels and such.
    We generally don’t see them in contemporary romances, do we? So why assume otherwise for historical romances? I strongly feel that there were decent people back then, just as much as there are decent people today. And why not?

  59. CourtneyLee
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 18:04:58

    @Aleksandr Voinov: I will sing SF’s praises to anyone who will listen, which is a far cry from how I felt about it when I heard it started off with one hero raping the other. I had to be convinced, repeatedly, extensively, and with excerpts from later in the story, before I gave it a chance and I am so glad I did. Dan and Vadim’s journey was excruciating, heartwarming, and utterly brilliant. Vadim’s growth in particular is staggering. I can’t compliment you and Marq enough on the amazing epic you created. Chapter 3 alone is a masterpiece.

  60. Seeley deBorn
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 18:05:55

    @Mai
    Of course there were “decent people” back then. But you have to remember that “decent people” was defined differently in the 15th or even the 19th century than it is now. By applying modern definitions of “decent people” to historical characters, you may be creating extremely inaccurately drawn characters, with regard to the time in which they live. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    I mean really, how many Italian billionaires willing to marry pregnant secretaries are there on the planet?

    There is nothing wrong with inaccuracy in order to satisfy readers’ desires to read about “decent people”.

  61. Lee Rowan
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 19:53:13

    @Tumperkin:

    We can, actually, know for certain what some men thought and said to their male lovers because (though most of those who survived were discreet to the point of invisibility) there’s a whole book full of love letters from men to their lovers: My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries, edited by Rictor Norton. This is first-hand material. We know Tchaikovsky wrote “I embrace you to suffocation!” to his lover because it’s right there in his letter.

    There’s also Pages Passed from Hand to Hand by Mitchell and Leavitt, glbt-oriented fiction that in some cases was preserved exactly as described.

    And, as others have mentioned, we have Norton’s invaluable Mother Clap’s Molly House.

    I won’t say that these three books are all anyone needs, but I think that anyone who wants to write historical m/m would benefit enormously from reading all or even one of them. If you are not glbt yourself and have any respect at all for the same-sex couples you propose to write about or the glbt folk who will read your book, please consider doing this research. It does matter.

  62. Lee Rowan
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 20:35:43

    @Seeley deBorn: ” But you cannot expect modern romance readers to identify with a 14 year old heroine who accepts being beaten by her father before she heads off to marry her 45 year old second cousin. That shit don't fly in the 21st century. But it was perfectly acceptable in the 15th. ”

    Well, yes, you can. You set the story in Afghanistan, or in a fundy splinter sect off in the Utah desert. Or in a high-end luxury home run by a control-freak millionaire who has beaten and intimidated his whole family into abject submission. There are all kinds of ways you could write that scenario and make it work right here in the 21st century, and it’s a damned shame that I was able to come up with three different scenarios in under a minute, because such a thing is so unhappily possible.

    If you’re a good enough writer and willing to put some effort into it, you can connect a reader to a time and place and even a mindset radically different from the one she lives in.

    Isn’t that what writing is about? Or is it just spooning new flavors–but not too new!–into the same old formula?

    Don’t readers deserve better than that?

  63. hapax
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 20:42:32

    But you cannot expect modern romance readers to identify with a 14 year old heroine who accepts being beaten by her father before she heads off to marry her 45 year old second cousin.

    Huh. And I always thought that Cushman’s CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY was one of the best teen novels ever written.

  64. Seeley deBorn
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 20:57:47

    @Lee Rowan:
    Hm. You kinda misinterpreted my meaning. My intent was to say that what was considered acceptable behaviour in the past is not considered such by modern readers. Because of this, accuracy must be tempered. Girls were married off at 14. But 14 year old heroines are not acceptable in genre romance. I suspect heroines who think their fathers or husbands are justified in beating them for disobedience are not exactly genre friendly either.

    These things, among others (like leg hair, for example), must be tempered to appeal to an audience.

    Your writing can be whatever you want it to be about. Doesn’t mean I’ll want to spend money on it though. I read romance for fun and for escape, not for deep social commentary. Call it spoon fed, formulaic tropes, housewife porn, I don’t care. I like what I like. Most readers do. And asking if they deserve “better” than what they’ve enjoyed to date is a little insulting because it implies that what they’ve been reading so far is beneath you.

  65. Joan/SarahF
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 21:01:11

    @Seeley deBorn:

    I read romance for fun and for escape, not for deep social commentary.

    Why do people insist that these are contradictory?! Pride and Prejudice was as much deep social commentary as it was “light, bright & sparkling” fun, and a fabulous romance. As is Alex Beecroft’s FALSE COLORS or Harper Fox’s amazing LIFE AFTER JOE (Carina release yesterday). The two have never been and should not ever be mutually exclusive and why people think they are, I just don’t understand.

  66. Seeley deBorn
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 21:02:08

    @hapax: Never read it but according to wikipedia, it’s not genre romance, it’s a children’s novel and she doesn’t actually marry the old man, but his younger son. So I’m not exactly sure how it applies to my comments.

  67. Seeley deBorn
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 21:09:04

    @Joan/SarahF: Even if it’s in there, I’ll ignore it.

    I’m sure some action flicks have deep social commentary in them too. But I’m only watching those for the car chases and explosions.

    If I feel like I’m being bombarded with social mores and agenda, I’m going to stop reading. If you can hide it in amongst the witty reparte and hot sex, yay you. So, no, they are not mutually exclusive, but if I see it, I’m not happy about it.

    Writers can put all they want into their work. But readers will see only what they choose to see. Reader motivation is a powerful thing.

  68. Ridley
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 21:18:03

    @Seeley deBorn:

    So you think thinking is dumb.

    Grats.

  69. Lee Rowan
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 21:22:39

    @John: “I hate knowing that a lot of these authors resort to non-consensual sex because there wasn't a ‘proper' way for two men to have sex in the time period.”

    Huh? It’s true that “Mother Clapp,” listed sodomy cases brought by men who were assaulted by random strangers sharing a bed at an inn, but I certainly wouldn’t call that a romance, and it’s a hell of a lousy introduction.

    I don’t write rape-as-romance and I don’t read it–I’m old enough to remember that dismal fad in the 70’s, and that was pretty much why I lost interest in the genre. Many m/m romances do include characters who were victimized in their youth, but that’s usually an obstacle to overcome, not part of the relationship in the story. (The four books of my Royal Navy series take one of my heroes through basic survival to victory over his demons.)

    Offhand, I can’t even think of a story that features one “hero” forcing the other to have sex. Have you read Alex Beecroft’s “Captain’s Surrender,” Erastes’ Hard and Fast, Charlie Cochrane’s “Lessons In” series, or Don Hardy’s Lovers’ Knot, or any of the stories in the I Do anthologies? I feel like that character in the fairy tale who was sent out to look for flowers talking to the one sent to look for weeds. I have not seen what you describe–but I don’t go for the sub-genres where I suspect such things might be found.

    Just a suggestion–go on over to the m/m romance group at GoodReads, or the Amazon gay and lesbian board, or our glbt historical romance yahoo group, Speak Its Name http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SpeakItsName/

    and post a request for recommendations– m/m romances that do NOT feature rape (or its twin in fancy dress, “non-consensual”)as a device for getting the heroes together.

    Thursday is excerpt day on SiN … maybe we should make that a theme for excerpts. I’ll ask the other moderators.

  70. Seeley deBorn
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 21:24:21

    @Ridley:
    I don’t think I said that. I believe the words I used with regards to my reading habits were ‘fun’ and ‘escape’. Not sure how those equate to dumb.

  71. John
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 21:25:42

    @Ridley: Made my night. Thanks. :)

    Sarah brings up something that I cannot stop thinking about now. Really, romance is a genre deeply stinted in social commentary. Face it, it’s been an element longer than an official genre, and the romantic element has probably been one of the most consistent comments about the human society.

    Romance has constantly fluxed in what it pictures, from the 80’s love of practically-rape scenes to the 2000’s, where stronger and stronger heroines are being pictured and thought of as the best type of protagonists in the romance novel. What you enjoy about them is the social commentary. The commentary about falling in love, and how it’s so drastically hard in society. If one thinks about it, romance can be seen both as an escapist genre AND as a parody, and cry for help, of the current status of love.

    Of course, I’m tired as shit right now, so that probably doesn’t make much sense. Thanks for making me think at least. :)

  72. John
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 21:31:33

    @Lee Rowan: Thanks. I mean, it’s just something I’m more worried about than anything. I mean, I’m a teenager, I HAVE to worry about seeing non-con sex in romance novels. I really don’t want to experience that. It’s also shown to some degree in YA literary fiction as well.

    For instance, while I LOVED The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, the main character is in an emotionally abusive relationship at first with a guy named Pablo. This emotional abuse leads the later sex to seem almost non-consensual, though it isn’t outright rape.

    David Inside Out, another great book, also shows the pitfalls of sex with a guy who cannot accept his sexuality, and the emotional abuse that goes along with it.

    I kind of generalized the genre, but I am *limited* in what I’ve been able to read. I’m actually going to be reading and reviewing some of Beecroft’s books for my own blog here soon, and I really am excited to see the genre in a good way. But what I’m saying makes sense if you’re unexperienced in reading or writing m/m historical fiction. You have to admit that if one doesn’t do research, having non-consensual sex seems a lot easier to write in.

    It’s good to know there are writers who take care not to use it, though. :) I am looking forward to reading your books and getting some good, escapist historical in me. :D

  73. Lee Rowan
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 21:41:27

    @Seeley deBorn:

    No, not at all “beneath me.” To say that writers ‘must’ write to corporate standards, with the implication that one dare not aim too high, is suggesting that the bar is already set beneath a lot of us.

    I think that a good writer can bring insight to most readers, and good writing IS writing that tells something significant while deeply engaging a reader’s emotions; I think it is better to give the readers the chance to get both.

    But truth is, I don’t speak for “most readers” and neither do you… each of us can only speak for herself.

  74. Lee
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 22:12:45

    @John:

    Oh, hi, John! Did I see your posts over at Pinched Nerve? I hope you hit 18 soon or have a parental unit who allows you to read some of the non-explicit books that get erroneously corralled under “Warning: Teh Ghey, Not for Under 18.”

    There isn’t any explicit sex in the first several “Lessons” books, and they’re very good, and “Lovers’ Knot” is fade-to-black as well. But a lot of us do write to the adult market. Patience!

    As to abusive relationships… gah, you’re right, there is a lot of it out there, and the sad thing is that’s so common in real life–and in het relationships just as much as glbt. I do my best to write decent people who try to be honorable in their relationships… which I guess some readers will dislike because the guys aren’t “flawed” or “real” enough. But my own experience is that even when both parties are trying to be decent, making a relationship work still takes a lot of patience and effort. Sorting out the frogs from the princes or princesses is never easy, either. I do think there are a lot of basically good people looking for partners–I think the soap-opera drama queens (male and female!) get a lot of attention because they make a lot more noise than us quiet folks.

    It’s funny, and a little sad, that romance is treated like the half-wit stepchild of literature. When you come right down to it, who we spend our lives with is one of the most important choices a person ever makes.

  75. John
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 22:27:46

    @Lee: Yeah, I wrote the one about being gay and reading romance novels.

    My parental unit doesn’t. I have my sources, though. Also, I have more than enough YA I’m trying out to be good for a while – though with as much as I read, I always worry I’ll run out. I think that’s a big fear for every reader. We’re hoarders in a sense.

    Anyway, good to know both. I was thinking of reviewing Lovers Knot on my blog, and a fade-to-black seems appropriate for a YA audience…I try to promote YA LGBTQ lit, but even with all these small presses, it’s only been hitting its stride in the past year or two. Right now I just have to live off of Hayden Thorne – who is amazing, and publishes like three books a year! Their quality is always great, too, which makes it better.

    I’d rather have a non-abusive relationship. I also don’t like the excessive use of drugs to solve problems. Realistic fiction has it’s place, but I prefer genre fiction for many reasons. Plus, I know I wouldn’t turn to drugs, so the subject depresses me more than has me relating to it. :/ I’d rather read about love anyway.

    Exactly. I think romance should be more common reading for teens. So many of them sneak them, we should just be allowed to be open with it. Some of the best lessons I’ve learned about love and sex have been from adult romance. It always means something, true love is important, and the like. YA has some good lessons as well, but adult romance has a lot of them that most people overlook.

  76. Robin
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 23:04:20

    @Seeley deBorn: Every source I’ve ever read indicates that the average age of marriage for females has remained a very steady 22-24/25 over the last 8 or 9 centuries. Not that some very young girls weren’t married (as they can be in some US states currently), but that on average, the early 20s have been the consistent matrimonial sweet spot.

  77. Robin
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 00:01:06

    I really enjoyed this post but have no coherently constructed response to make. Instead I have a bunch of possibly connected thoughts (some of which also apply to the discussion going on at Courtney Milan’s blog), which I’ll summarize in rough form here:

    1. That readers may love historically inaccurate books does not mean they don’t/won’t love historically accurate books just as much or more. The whole “X sells” argument doesn’t prove Y won’t sell; it most often perpetuates the overweening presence (and therefore limited market) of X. As long as readers get mostly X, they’re going to buy mostly X, or migrate from the genre entirely. Romance readers are, I think, amazingly genre loyal, which is why IMO we’ve been so persistently underestimated by publishers.

    2. Whether or not readers enjoy historically accurate Romance is not the same discussion as whether historical accuracy is possible or desirable in a subgenre called “historical Romance.” Maybe we need to think about the value of a term like “historical Romance” and our shared investment in whatever connotations is has.

    3. Despite the arguments people make that history is oh so complicated and fraught with inconsistencies, I’ve yet to read a historical Romance novel that represents a time or place that isn’t knowable to a very high level of certainty through historical research. Now, if someone wants to write about ancient civilization on Easter Island, I’ll be happy to give a lot of latitude with regard to historical sourcing.

    4. I guess I’m of the opinion that historical Romances demonstrating little engagement history should be called something other than “historical Romance.” Considering the debates I’ve seen over whether particular novels are steampunk or gaslight fantasy, for example, I cannot understand the inclusion of Romances that don’t seem to give a flip about history in the category of “historical Romance.” And I really don’t get the whole differentiation between historical fiction and historical Romance as related to the accuracy of the historical depiction.

    ALL fiction is imaginative or it wouldn’t be fiction. To say that because Romance is “fantasy” it’s excused from a certain standard of authentic or accurate historical representation strikes me as disrespectful to the Romance genre — like the genre isn’t “good enough” to get it “right” as others have said.

    5. regarding the whole “I don’t read Romance for a history or political lesson” arguments, well, I don’t either. But why does that eclipse the idea that history matters? I don’t like social or moral or political lessons in contemporary Romance, either, but readers don’t insist that authors do LESS research on characters’ professions, residences, etc.

    6. That said, I don’t think it’s possible to deny that all Romance has political implications, especially when the social context is one implicating class, race, sexuality, and the like. Why do we like the rich hero + poor heroine combination so much? Class difference is not only relevant to that pairing, it’s constitutive and foundational. Ditto with Tarzan and race.

    And when fiction is being written about people who have been historically disenfranchised, I do think there are issues of power and appropriation that need to be at least considered, even if they are not centrally addressed in the text itself. Not that people don’t have every right to write about people of different classes, cultures, sexualities, etc. But if a free choice is made to include those differences in a book, why are those characters not owed the same consideration we would expect in a general discussion of these social and historical issues?

    7. Where has the idea that historical accuracy equals unromantic encyclopedic recitation come from? I’ve loved and hated books that were seriously historically inauthentic and books that were very well-researched. Ditto with SF Rom, Rom Suspense, Contemp Rom, etc. Contemporary heroines who seem like they’ve just flown in from Victorian England don’t really work for me, either.

    A skilled writer makes the world of the novel compelling, engaging, and believable. Personally, I adore a compelling Romance that makes me feel immersed in another time and place. Where the characters feel that they have emerged from the historical context and not like paper dolls plopped down from the 21st C into another place and time. Similarly, I get frustrated with assertions that rapist heroes, for example, are more acceptable in historicals, because rape was more acceptable in the past. Besides the fact that Romance is most often about the “exceptional” protagonist (how the hell many dukes, viscounts, and earls inhabit the genre, for example?), the past is not synonymous with rape apologias. I think we severely overestimate the acceptability of rape in the past and, perhaps more accurately, we view other cultures and historical moments through the lens of our post-Feminist movement paradigm.

    8. Which, of course, is a strong argument against the possibility of replicating a historical moment perfectly — because we are always looking back, projecting, and interpreting. But we can’t seriously be entertaining the idea that this means “anything goes” with history. If that were true, historical Romance would not exist as a subgenre, because there would be no discernible distinction for readers and authors among contemp, historical, and UF, etc. That people insist on the subgenre indicates its importance as a distinct type/category of Romance. Which brings me back to the idea that maybe we need to explore our collective investment in the category of historical Romance and the reasons some believe that the historical part of that term is or isn’t as important as the Romance part. Would it be perceived as “lesser” for books that were not historically conscientious to be called something else, and if so, why? Is it merely the popularity of that market, or is it something else?

  78. sao
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 00:56:07

    What I can’t stand in “historicals” is characters who have sex as if the norms (and birth control availability) apply. Before the 1960s, non-marital sex brought a serious risk of ruining a woman’s life. She’d be an outcast, unless her lover married her. Sex while there is still a significant conflict to marriage and HEA was risking her future. Yes, it happened, but I doubt with the same carefree ease with which modern women act on their desires.

    I wouldn’t be interested in a 14yo who felt her father was right to beat her, but I could read about one who had no recourse to prevent it. A romance implies HEA, which generally doesn’t happen with 45 yo second cousin chosen by Dad. So, the book would have to be about a strong woman (or a woman who grows strong) who reaches for what she wants in the fact of a constricting society, and yes, I’d be happy to read it.

    For me, historical romances that place modern people in the past are nothing more than costume parties. When I read biographies or fiction from the past, like Jane Austen, I often see women who have the same desire we all have for personal happiness and who have to fight to achieve it, within different constraints.

    There are always women who accept whatever they perceive as their lot in life. They rarely make it to romance novel heroine, even if they feel doomed to Walmart checkout clerk with a loser of a husband, instead of a 14yo with an abusive father and a fiance 3 times her age.

  79. Erastes
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 02:25:02

    @Kalen Hughes: Yes – that’s a wonderful biography. But as always, rank hath its priviledges, and Hervey was hugely rich and powerful. This made a lot of difference! There were a few hugely rich and famous men who were more obvious with their sexuality than others. Plus the 18th century was a lot more permissive in some respects than the 19th – men dressed outrageously, and the Macaronis were rife. After Hervey, and the gender bending of the Macaronis, public opinion was so anti-sodomy that the laws really tightened up, though for a good while.

  80. Aleksandr Voinov
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 02:55:42

    @CourtneyLee: Thanks. :) I’d be happy to take it to email so we don’t spam the comments thread here.

  81. Mina Kelly
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 05:06:12

    What I can't stand in “historicals” is characters who have sex as if the norms (and birth control availability) apply. Before the 1960s, non-marital sex brought a serious risk of ruining a woman's life. She'd be an outcast, unless her lover married her. Sex while there is still a significant conflict to marriage and HEA was risking her future. Yes, it happened, but I doubt with the same carefree ease with which modern women act on their desires.

    Which is funny, because what I can’t stand is historicals where everyone’s a virgin, as if birth control didn’t exist back then (condoms have been around for a very long time, not to mention homegrown abortion techniques like small doses of poison). You hear about the community of medieval monks with syphillis? People had sex before marriage, around marriage, and while actively avoiding marriage, maybe even more so than now, while we’re still shaking off the hangover of Victorian hypocrisy. Throughout most of British history, virginity was only really important if you had value as a bargaining chip; milkmaids could get away with a lot more than duchesses-to-be, Tess of the D’Urbevilles not withstanding. Of course, historical romance does tend to prefer its Ladies to its Maids, so viriginity probably raises its maidenhead in romance more often simply because it’s a skewed sample of society.

    Another diary to add to the list is Anne Lister‘s, which gives a really interesting look at lesbianism in the Georgian period. Britain was a bit of a gay hotspot then, Molly houses and all, but the Victorians later clamped down on it, mainly in an attempt to reduce child prostitution. In France, it remained legal, which is why Oscar Wilde moved there (and why the protagonists in Maurice consider it). The 1885 law is blamed for some pretty fundamental shifts in British society, which explains why we barely shake hands while the French air kiss every time they meet. Everyone felt under suspicion.

    I want to say something about fagging at schools, but mostly that it’s where faggot comes from as an insult. Stephen Fry gives a great account of boarding school life in Moab is my Washpot, his autobiography, but admits that in the last fifty years it’s basically been phased out. You’re no longer allowed to take younger boys as your personal servants, to toast your scones and warm your toilet seats, though I imagine the sex continues.

    I’m going to have a go at compiling the list of contemporary sources people have offered in this thread, the diaries and letters, because frankly they’re fascinating! Does anyone have any more examples of m/m or f/f novels written prior to the legalisation of homosexuality? There’s Maurice, and I know there’s some Victorian f/f ones that I can’t remember the names of.

  82. Jo Beverley
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 06:45:45

    This is fascinating in all kinds of ways, and I agree with the main points. I have a couple of provisos.

    To me, talk of love and marriage being modern doesn’t mesh with Shakespeare, to take the obvious example. Romeo and Juliet is all about unwise love and the desire to marry for love. The comedies are great “romances” based on people finding love and getting married and in those cases, with society’s approval.

    We have letters, gifts and poetry from before 1700 that clearly indicate awareness of romantic love, and often desire for it in marriage.It’s a natural, hard-wired function of our bio-chemistry, and only the incidentals change.

    I’m wary of being too sure about the past, especially the more subtle areas such as beliefs and attitudes. What people write down isn’t always what they think. We live in an age when more people communicate, and to excess, and are happy to let it all hang out. That’s new for sure, so we shouldn’t let it blind us to the reticence and outright lying that’s been more common before.

    On homosexuality, when I was younger it never occurred to me that two middle aged women living together might be lesbians. But that was also in the context of the post WWI Britain, where there simply weren’t enough men in that generation. It was natural for women to live together for companionship and to pool meagre financial resources. If they were intimate — no one asked the question because everyone accepted that to be alone was a sad state.

    Privacy, of course, is something that’s changed a great deal and I find little historical fiction goes along with the disregard of privacy that was common in the past. Because that doesn’t suit our mindset now.

    It’s hard to see our own mind-warp. I offer the evidence of films. Even those striving for accuracy get some things wrong, notably hair styles and makeup. I watched A Man For All Seasons again recently, and my memory said they’d nailed the accuracy for that, but oh, the men’s hairstyles! That Tudor cut had ’60s all over it.

    I think most of us are blind to this. Forty years on we’ll look at visual representations of the past from this period, ones we now think so very accurate, and wonder what we were thinking. We will probably think the same about the novels we now think are accurate representations of their period.

    So in the end it’s for each novelist to create her vision of the past as best she can, interpreting her sources, but knowing she’s viewing everything through the screen of her own modern mind.

    It’ll work for some readers but not for others, depending on the mind-warp-match.

    Jo

  83. josh lanyon
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 07:34:26

    @Joan/SarahF:

    I agree. In fact, the best way to make one’s social or political point is to tell a rollicking, great story. Or, as Mary Poppins would have it, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

    (And I’m delighted you enjoyed Harper’s novel!)

  84. Sunita
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 07:40:58

    @Jo Beverley:

    Privacy, of course, is something that's changed a great deal and I find little historical fiction goes along with the disregard of privacy that was common in the past. Because that doesn't suit our mindset now.

    Maili and I were talking about this a while ago, in terms of pet peeves in historicals. I think it’s really difficult for contemporary Western writers to comprehend how different privacy is today. Of course, people who are not middle-class tend to still have the in-my-head rather than in–my-space approach to privacy, because private space is comparatively rare.

    An Unwilling Bride is one of the few (or only?) romances I can think of that illuminates this issue. Having Beth come into a class situation that was so different from hers let you show us all kinds of aspects of upper class Georgian life that wouldn’t have occurred to us, but that the characters of course take for granted.

  85. Joy
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 08:21:16

    @Robin: @Robin:
    Every source I've ever read indicates that the average age of marriage for females has remained a very steady 22-24/25 over the last 8 or 9 centuries. Not that some very young girls weren't married (as they can be in some US states currently), but that on average, the early 20s have been the consistent matrimonial sweet spot.

    This is the northern European family formation pattern and is historically and currently true for northern Europe and ordinary people. Historically in aristocratic or great landowning families, women were often married much younger. The reason for the age is the same as now: you had to be old enough to establish your own household and support your family (not as much an issue where great fortunes already exist). In regions where the extended family under one roof was/is the norm, age at first marriage (even for ordinary people, and especially for women) can be much younger.

  86. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 09:04:50

    (condoms have been around for a very long time, not to mention homegrown abortion techniques like small doses of poison).

    Condoms were not used, historically, for birth control.* They were seen a method of preventing disease (and not a very good one, considering how permeable the membrane was). Aristotle's Masterpiece however gives recipes for purging a woman's womb of a “mole” (aka inducing a miscarriage) and vinegar/alcohol soaked sponges were in common use in brothels.

    *On a side note: it makes me crazy when the hero pulls one out of his pocket and uses it like a modern condom. They were made of gut and had to be soaked in water to rehydrate before they could be used. Nothing spontaneous about them.

    Every source I've ever read indicates that the average age of marriage for females has remained a very steady 22-24/25 over the last 8 or 9 centuries. Not that some very young girls weren't married (as they can be in some US states currently), but that on average, the early 20s have been the consistent matrimonial sweet spot.

    This is the northern European family formation pattern and is historically and currently true for northern Europe and ordinary people. Historically in aristocratic or great landowning families, women were often married much younger

    In rare cases (such as royal families) this was true, but everything I've read supports Robin's statement as well. In fact, aristocratic families tended to marry later than ordinary people, their options being wider and the stakes higher (at least this is true from about the 16th centuiry on; before this I’ll admit is a bit beyond my range of interst and study).

  87. erastes
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 09:15:51

    Long arse comment alert. I apologise, but I was adding to this while I was at my Dad’s today and offline, reading the comments. For some reason the line breaks aren’t showing in the preview so I apologise in advance for the formatting.

    As Jane says in comment 9. Much historical romance is untrustworthy. If you REALLY want to see intensity on this subject, join the Historical Novel Society for a while and join in the discussions about accuracy…. They really go to town.

    Tropes, ideas, concepts that are used by one author, and are proved popular are rehashed and reworked and enter “fanon” e.g. they become real and are believed by readers. As much as I like Heyer’s books, it’s now clear that she made up some of her ideas, but you still see them trotted out from time to time. It’s like the whole “Queen Victoria didn’t believe in lesbians and that’s why it wasn’t an offence” myth. I’d blithely gone along with that, not engaging the brain until Q.I. (one of the best programmes for bursting one’s historical beliefs) came along and pointed out that of course, the English Monarch has NO INPUT INTO LAW. We made sure of that in 1649 and chopped a king’s head off to ensure it was so! Similarly Viking’s helmets.

    However, we do all make mistakes (shoves hers behind her so no-one spots them) but I know that I, as a reader, can tell the difference between an author who is trying her damnedest to get it right, and makes one or two boo boos, as opposed to someone who simply thinks that 21st century man in pretty uniforms “will do” because after all, it’s “only romance.” Perhaps authors who don’t care, and readers who don’t care should insist on their books being labelled “history light/lite” Dreamspinner, after all has a disclaimer on their line of “Timeless Dreams” line which states: A Timeless Dreams title: While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.

    And I must say that, actually, most of that line is more accurate than many so-called accurate books I’ve reviewed for Speak Its Name.

    BUT. What Sarah says about cheapening the homosexual experience is a good one. I have had readers say to me “but gay historicals are so GLOOMY they are always having the hero in danger from being gay!”)

    Now, I’m not starting race fail again, but let me say – what would people say if I said: “Oh but all stories about people of colour in the deep south are so GLOOMY – they are all about slaves!”

    It is possible to have m/m stories where the hero doesn’t constantly go to jail. (In fact, it’s rather unfair on the genre, as I think that Standish is the only m/m historical which DOES have the hero go to Newgate, forgive me if I’m wrong…) and most authors manage it superbly. However, not to have them consider the danger on a daily basis (Lord John in Gabaldon’s books is prime example) and have it colour the way he acts, the way he talks, the way even he LOOKS and describes other men – would be to lessen the lives that many men led. It would be like me forgetting that I was a woman.

    The other day I found a m/f historical romance cover which i found amusing, and went on to read the blurb. It was about a highlander and it was set in “medieval” Scotland. I pointed out to the author that the names were entirely wrong, (and the reason I did this was that she was stressing JUST how much research she'd done with this, her most favourite of eras, and everyone was extolling her research skillz) Once I'd done this, she got rather annoyed with me and said words to the effect of “yes, well, fiction is fantasy and so it doesn't really matter and I used those names because I really really like them.” Gah. Fair enough, Ms Author, but then don’t bang on about how accurate you are!

    @ Mara (12) I agree with Mara hugely. Diaries are INVALUABLE. Obviously we’ve lost much of the written record regarding homosexuality, (not all thank God, as Lee Rowan points out in comment 60) but even diaries from straight men, straight women are hugely useful for getting inside someone’s head. Charlie Cochrane sent me one a few months ago about a very ordinary man, a shopkeeper (I think it was called originally “the diary of a shopkeeper” but I’m off line and can’t check) who keeps promising he won’t get drunk, and gets drunk, hates his wife, loves his wife, gets drunk – it’s very illuminating and there’s nothing like that kind of thing for seeing how people think.

    Newspapers too – which are usually available online – are a great resource for getting into the public consciousness. Someone has said here that many people wouldn’t know what homosexuals were – but sadly that would have rarely been the case. Newspapers found them a rich vein for material, (nothing changes there) and court cases were reported, and reports of people’s lives were widely disseminated. You only need to look at the (frankly shocking) cartoons of the 18th and 19th century in relation to most subjects from politics to royalty – there was often a homosexual theme.

    @ Seely – But you cannot expect modern romance readers to identify with a 14 year old heroine who accepts being beaten by her father before she heads off to marry her 45 year old second cousin. That shit don't fly in the 21st century. But it was perfectly acceptable in the 15th.

    Clearly you’ve not read about modern Hindu and Muslim marriages–in England (although i’m sure the problem exists in other Western cultures)–which are arranged and the girl must do as ordered. – and in same cases you get “honour killings” where the girl can be murdered by the male relatives of her family if she elopes with a man she loves. So I’m sad to say, “that shit” still very much lives on. That could be used in genre romance, if the actual killing failed, of course.

    I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 this morning about “girls in gangs” (and again, this is England under discussion, not NYC in da hood) where girls as young as 13 were being gang raped in initiation ritual by entire gangs of older boys – and they thought it “perfectly normal” to the extent that they are having to have instruction as to why this isn’t. Yes, that would be a challenge to put this into a romance novel, but it wouldn’t be impossible to use this as a background.

    I will never believe that wanting to maintain the standards of historical accuracy is insulting to any reader, although I know several authors have been insulted when I’ve pointed out that their description of their chosen era borrows more from Hollywood or Disneyland than from Macauley. I don’t doubt for a moment that in ten years or so, there will be lines of m/m historicals with those standard embracing covers, wind blowing in their hair, horses barely under control – and that’s great! Readers will read those books for escapism and fun, and other readers (and a proportion of the same ones) will return to Lee and Alex and Charlie (and by then loads of other new writers who have yet to step into the genre) because they know they can trust these writers to take them into a world and see it with realistic eyes.

  88. Erastes Author
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 09:19:31

    @Mina Kelly:

    Mina: Check out Speak Its Name – the only place which reviews ONLY gay historical fiction. I try and list every single book in the genre.

    http://www.speakitsname.com/the-list

    I also run “bosom friends” which I want to do the same for lesbian historicals, but that’s been difficult to get off the ground, due a lack of reviewers.

  89. Lane
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 09:40:02

    @Joan/SarahF:

    Just wanted to jump in to agree with you whole-heartedly. A lot of classics do just this, heck, Dickens is notorious for it.

    You can even get it in the historical fantasy genre, though it’s rarer.

    I have to admit I loved how Luisa Prieto dealt with how Collin thought about himself and his world in Written in Blood. I thought she was very respectful of the era, and had a wonderful voice for her character.

  90. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 10:26:33

    Erastes, was your diary of a shopkeeper the invaluable diary of Francis Place? He kept a meticulous diary from his humble origins to relatively wealthy businessman.

    Also, for anyone who wants atmosphere, there is nowhere better to visit than Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, London. I love, love this house. Dennis was all about effects rather than ‘period’ and what he could do with plastic fruit beats everything!
    And his motto “Either you see it – or you don’t.”
    http://www.dennissevershouse.co.uk/

  91. Erastes Author
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 10:36:04

    @Lynne Connolly:

    Hi Lynne,

    No – it was “The Diary of a Georgian Shopkeeper” by Thomas Turner and is housed at the Yale library now, and runs to 111 volumes! There are very much abriged versions of it available, but couldn’t find an online version, I believe it’s still in copyright.

    http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mwi/turner.txt

  92. Erastes » Blog Archive » argh!
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 11:01:08

  93. Anon76
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 11:15:26

    Very interesting topic, and not just for the M/M aspect of historical accuracy.

    I have to agree with some of the others here that, though not the “norm”, people were still people and not just cardboard cutouts. Whether their lifestyles were covert, or blatantly in-your-face against all dictates of their current society come whatever consequences, they still existed.

    Someone commenting on women not weilding swords had me quickly searching for a few examples.
    http://www.lothene.org/others/women.html

    http://listverse.com/2008/03/17/top-10-badass-female-warriors/

    From there it is an easy step to research the various women warriors in depth.

    Point to this post: Human passion in all its forms is not a limited to recent centuries.

  94. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 11:37:42

    Someone commenting on women not weilding swords had me quickly searching for a few examples.

    The bit that always makes me a bit nutty is when she’s running around in full plate armor, but then is a svelte girly-girl when she takes it off . . . *rolls eyes* I grew up in the SCA. I know a lot of women who actually play in full armor. You can tell they are serious athletes. No wispy girly-girls allowed (or able, really). A lady who fences is one thing, but an actual sword-wielding warrior is gonna LOOK like a sword wielding warrior.

  95. Anon76
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 11:59:34

    @Kalen Hughes:

    EXACTLY. The woman written about must have a background and build to support such endeavors. No girly-girls. Pretty, yes, reed thin or marshmellow, NO.

    Plus, height plays a big factor depending on the weapons of that era.

    Muscle + height + background = Win

  96. DS
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 12:18:02

    If a book is well written with good historical world building– when judging the believability of a book I do regard it much as I do fantasy or sf, I can forgive the author fudging history a bit– or even a lot if the author does a foreword to show she or he knows they are fudging.

    The world the characters move in has to be consistent and believable. If it’s not then I start nit picking and once I realize I’m nit picking I might as well drop the book then and there unless it is so bad that I can’t– a recent Leisure Books Gaslight Fantasy I read caused me to make 48 different notes on my Kindle for wrong word usage by the author- not spell check errors or scan artifacts but entire “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” errors. Pretty impressive for about 248 pages of text.

    One of my favorite sources about the English judicial system can be found at

    http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/

    The accounts of criminal proceedings are fascinating in that they give an idea about The Proceedings contain accounts of trials which took place at the Old Bailey. The first published collection of trials at the Old Bailey dates from 1674, and from 1678 accounts of the trials at each sessions (meeting of the Court) were regularly published. Inexpensive, and targeted initially at a popular audience, the Proceedings were produced shortly after the conclusion of each sessions and were initially a commercial success. But with the growth of newspapers and increasing publication costs the audience narrowed by the nineteenth century to a combination of lawyers and public officials. With few exceptions, this periodical was regularly published each time the sessions met (eight times a year until 1834, and then ten to twelve times a year) for 239 years, when publication came to a sudden halt in April 1913.

    My other favorite source for England is the Newgate Calendar which can be found under Law in Popular Culture in the Tarlton Law Library web site. The Old Baily Proceedings are probably more profitable with regard to actual research into behavior though.

    I did a quick search on sodomy and ended up fascinated with the different ways it came into play in the legal system.

  97. Lindsay
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 12:36:04

    My particular historical attitude nuttiness is about corsets, though I think it may apply more to movies than books. It seems that every 19th century set film being made these days has the heroine whining about her corset or (I’m looking at you, Alice in Wonderland), leaving it off completely, apparently as some sign that they are liberated forward-thinking women. Only corsets were worn for a lot of years, and only in certain periods were the super-tiny waists the style. Furthermore, clothes were designed to be worn with corsets – if you left it off, it simply wouldn’t look right. Having a historical heroine leave her corset off is like a modern woman saying “I’m going commando for feminism!” /rant

  98. josh lanyon
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 13:10:45

    As much as I like Heyer's books, it's now clear that she made up some of her ideas, but you still see them trotted out from time to time.

    Heyer is a fascinating case of seeming more real than the reality. She captures the spirit, the mindset so effortlessly — granted all her characters are about ten times as witty as real life people. And from what I’ve read, she did mostly get it right. So is a certain amount of artistic or creative license okay when it is deliberate on the part of someone who knows her stuff?

    Is it a case of what she’s writing is wrong or merely that we don’t know it’s right? (Because there is a difference, I think.)

    It seems to me that it might depend on what kinds of things she took liberties with. I guess I’m willing to make allowances for someone who can so brilliantly capture a moment in time, but then I’m partial to Heyer. Would I make those allowances for someone else? Maybe not.

    I’m probably a far harsher judge of flat characterizations, lame ass dialog, unrealistic behaviors, and a boring story.

  99. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 13:44:25

    Heyer made 6 errors, errors of fact, that is, in the 40 Regencies she wrote. I can’t remember them all, but I recall two –
    In “The Reluctant Widow,” when Carlyon fills in the names on the Special licence, and in “Frederica,” when Alverstoke takes Felix to the Soho foundry. The foundry wasn’t in London, but in Soho, Birmingham.

    Her slang sounds right. I don’t think she made it up, but rather, got it from Gronow and some obscure places. Since her collection of research books isn’t available for study, we’ll probably never know for sure, but she was so meticulous in her research and her methods (a writer with a tidy desk!) that I doubt she’d do it.

    Jane, I did the sodomy search on The Old Bailey and gave the reference in my post above. People can use that to go straight there, if they want to.
    The Newgate Calendar is compulsive reading, and I’ve stolen a plot or two from it in my time (try “Tantalizing Secrets” for instance!) You read stuff like that, you don’t need to make it up.
    Also, Harris’s List, the guidebook to whores and courtesans, drawn up (or rather, fronted) by a man claiming to be “The pimp general of all England.” Hallie Rubenhold’s research into Harris and his collaborators has been really eye-opening this last few years.

    This has been a really interesting thread. Thank you, I’ve spent a lot of time reading it, and I’ve learned a few things (and Erastes, thank you for that reference to a diary I hadn’t come across before!)

  100. sao
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 13:56:29

    @Mina

    Condoms and other forms of birth control were not easily available or used, or very effective, compared to current standards. Certainly women did give birth to children from extra-marital partnerships.

    Abortions were dangerous and not always effective, whether they were herbal or coat-hanger. Further, the rumor that a woman had had a child could destroy her reputation, only to be rehabilitated by marriage.

    While people have always had non-marital sex, for a woman to have a few partners before finding and settling down with Mr. Right was a much more risky proposition. Attitudes about women’s chastity were much more strict. Being known to have had a sexual relationship before marriage has, until recently, significantly damaged a woman’s ability to get married.

    My grandmother used to tell me stories from her family about the risks of premarital sex. They generally featured women made pregnant and abandoned with the bastard a source of shame, or shot-gun marriages to men who made the woman’s life a living hell. Divorce was not considered. One story included a 4 year old who was molested (I never found out if penetration occurred) by a neighboring boy. Some of the tot’s former friends were not allowed to play with her because she had “carnal knowlege.” This was in the 1950s!!!!! She was a “fallen woman” before her fifth birthday.

    In the late 1700s, early 1800s The Duchess of Devonshire’s sister’s husband, Lord Bessborough was suspected of giving his wife poison. The family got together to stop it and the wife’s life saved, but they didn’t divorce, despite what the incident says about the couple’s ability to stand each other. Divorce was available. But this is an example of how different the attitudes were.

    A sensible woman of the period would have to be aware that sex often results in pregnancy, pregnancy in marriage and marriage was basically a life sentence in which the woman had few rights. That changes your actions and attitudes.

    I don’t need a heroine to be a virgin, but I do need for her attitude towards sex and its consequences to fit the time period and not be more typical of a modern day woman.

  101. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 14:13:19

    @Anon76:

    Muscle + height + background = Win

    Exactly!

  102. Lindsay
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 15:03:03

    I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I think I may need to amend my position a bit. Okay, yes, people knew what sodomy was, and would have recognized it if it did a jig in front of them, and would picked up on deliberate insinuations. Fair enough.

    What I’ve been (unclearly and unsuccessfully) trying to argue is that it wouldn’t be on the historical person’s radar in the same way it is on ours. Two bachelors setting up house together would be less likely to lead people to wonder if they were lovers. Physical affection between women would be less likely to titillate with the possibility of “ooh, they might be lesbians!” Even if people did wonder, they may have simply chosen to ignore it unless confronted by reality.

    I guess what I’m resisting here is not the idea that it could be dangerous to be gay or lesbian in the past, but the idea that being gay or lesbian meant that one had to constantly watch over one’s shoulder. This just makes historical gay men and lesbians and other queer people into perpetual potential victims. In the same way that life could be more dangerous for women in the past, bust most women didn’t spend their lives watching their backs – they may have experienced moments of fear, but mostly they went about their lives as best they could. People are adaptable like that. I think it does a disservice to historical gays, lesbians, etc. to assume that the same couldn’t be true for them.

    Am I any clearer?

  103. CEAD
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:09:16

    @sao:

    It’s not clear to me to what extent the greater risk would have influenced people. Even today, when there are so many ways of minimising the risks, you get people engaging in extremely risky behaviour anyway, without taking the available precautions. Some people will always be risk-averse and play it safe, but a lot of people will happily engage in risky behaviour because they think it won’t happen to them, and/or that they won’t get caught. The fact that there are so many stories of historical back-alley abortions, shotgun weddings, and so on suggests that there were plenty of people for whom the risks weren’t enough of a deterrent, and that people from earlier eras weren’t necessarily that much different from people now in this respect.

    Does anyone know of good non-fiction sources about this, and (in particular) to what extent our knowledge of the Victorians, the ’50s, and middle-class morality have influenced our perception of the Regency (and earlier)? If anyone knows a good resource about this, I’d be very grateful.

  104. Jo Beverley
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 17:00:28

    I think the question isn’t whether women in the past engaged in risky sexual behaviour, but how it’s presented in a book. Carelessness equals idiocy, especially when not accompanied by passion — which we know brings insanity.

    The attitude defines the character and depending on how it’s motivated, non-marital sex can stamp a female character as stupid, and the male character as callously indifferent to her welfare. These may be plausible in the period, but such characters have serious flaws to overcome.

    What’s really interesting, and comes up in this discussion, is what modern readers have against virginal heroines. Once they were the norm, and were also in most cases historically accurate. Now, for many readers, they’re seen as a negative. Spoiling the fun, perhaps? That has to be a modern filter applied to the past, doesn’t it?

    Jo

  105. George Gardiner
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 17:13:00

    >>”But just as historical people who preferred the same sex would have no concept of themselves as homosexuals, most of society would have no concept of homosexuals. They wouldn't be looking for it, which means it would be much easier to be discreet.

    As the author of a recent historical novel based on actual history & considerable research (“THE HADRIAN ENIGMA: A Forbidden History”), I must challenge the quote above. Despite the well-known ‘constructivist’position of Foucault, Halperin, et al, that the concept of ‘homosexual identity’ is a very recent 19thCentury invention, it is also true that other cultures & eras possessed words or terms which reflect a similar lifestyle identity.

    For example, from the 5thCentBC the Greeks & Romans widely used the term kinaidos or cinaedus to describe a person who displayed these preferences. A wide range of words including mollitia, pathicus, pedico, pedicare, and many others are used to describe differing aspects of what today we would call homosexuality. The point here is that homosexual behavior is by no means novel to 20thCent society, and is displayed across virtually all cultures in all eras even when under lethal ideological repression.

    Useful current academic commentaries on the matter can be found in James Davidson’s “THE GREEKS & GREEK LOVE” (2007) or Robert Aldrich’s “GAY LIFE & CULTURE” (2006).

  106. Lee Rowan
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 19:44:43

    @Joan/SarahF: re entertainment & social commentary NOT being mutually exclusive…

    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Sir Terry Pratchett. Unfailingly witty, literal LOLs, delivered simultaneously (and painlessly) with the most penetrating social commentary I’ve ever seen (read “Making Money” for a skewering of the Wall Street cannibals and an analysis of how money works) delivered with an unfailing compassion for us ordinary folks just trying to land on our feet one day to the next. Damned few of us can write like that, but he’s living proof that it is possible.

  107. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 20:09:08

    @Jo Beverley:

    What's really interesting, and comes up in this discussion, is what modern readers have against virginal heroines.

    I don’t have anything against them, but they tend to feel disingenuous in the hands of most authors, IMO. The way so many ingénue virgins fall into bed with men feels really wrong to me, not properly motivated, not true to the era (your heroine don't feel this way!). It's one of the reasons I write widows and fallen women. I'm writing my first virgin and finding it quite the interesting challenge.

  108. Anon76
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 22:37:15

    @Lindsay:

    “What I've been (unclearly and unsuccessfully) trying to argue is that it wouldn't be on the historical person's radar in the same way it is on ours. Two bachelors setting up house together would be less likely to lead people to wonder if they were lovers. Physical affection between women would be less likely to titillate with the possibility of “ooh, they might be lesbians!” Even if people did wonder, they may have simply chosen to ignore it unless confronted by reality.”

    I do get what you are saying. Such as two spinsters co-habitating. The kindly aunts who had the “misfortune” of never marrying. For those who were actually lesbians, I’m sure that spinster wasn’t the only label, add in odd, eccentric and the like. Same for older gay men.

    Depending on the era and the society, yes, such would be brushed aside with a raise of the brow and a knowing smirk.

    But again, it all depends on when and where. To be in such circumstances during certain time periods in England would probably be a whole different ball of wax than during the Spanish Inquisition years.

  109. DS
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 07:41:24

    @Jo Beverley:

    What's really interesting, and comes up in this discussion, is what modern readers have against virginal heroines. Once they were the norm, and were also in most cases historically accurate. Now, for many readers, they're seen as a negative. Spoiling the fun, perhaps? That has to be a modern filter applied to the past, doesn't it?

    When I was very young I liked virginal heroines. Or maybe it was just that virginal heroines were all that showed up on a regular basis in the books I had available. This was pre- Wolf and the Dove, etc., when romances were either Harlequins (rarely read), gothics or romantic suspense. One might run into the occasional widow or divorcee but sex rarely got any play on the page.

    Now that I am closely approaching advanced age I find young, virginal heroines boring for the most part. In a woman’s lifetime the part before she engages in sexual activity is frequently very small and not IMO the most interesting.

    I feel the same way whether the book is historical romance or not. And don’t make me think of the contortions that some authors have gone through to preserve their heroine’s hymen.

  110. Jay Young
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 12:51:51

    This is fascinating. I wonder about the difference between historical LGBT romances set in Asia (e.g. The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby) vs. European ones.

  111. Joy
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 18:44:09

    @Jo Beverley:

    What's really interesting, and comes up in this discussion, is what modern readers have against virginal heroines. Once they were the norm, and were also in most cases historically accurate. Now, for many readers, they're seen as a negative. Spoiling the fun, perhaps? That has to be a modern filter applied to the past, doesn't it?

    I like virginal heroines because I like reading about someone awakening to passion for the first time.

    I also like reading about the past because I like reading about how people behaved when the sociosexual mores were different than today’s. The dynamics are all different and when the characters choose to ignore the social expectations completely (without compelling reason to do so) it’s a stumbling block for me.

  112. Angie
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 18:50:10

    @Jo Beverley: I don’t mind virginal women so much in historicals, especially since they tend to deal with the upper classes, and virginity was more important to them. Although I still doubt the percentage of upper-class women marrying as virgins in any actual given time and place was anywhere near as high as one might guess from reading historical romances. It’s like the Virgin Queen myth around Elizabeth — if anyone’s virginity “mattered” it was that of the heir to the throne and eventual Queen of England, but she had lovers. People are human, and they do that.

    Where I get seriously eyerolly, though, is with a contemporary where the author’s jumping through flaming hoops over alligator pits to justify a woman being a virgin at twenty-five or thirty, especially if she’s had relationships, or even been married. I’m not saying there aren’t any thirty-year-old virgins out there, but they’re unicorns, you know? When you see one once, it’s a moment of awe and wonder. When you see them under every tree, it’s just ridiculous.

    Angie

  113. Stumbling Over Chaos :: My eyeball, let me show it to you (now with more linkity than you’d expect from that title!)
    Jul 02, 2010 @ 01:03:04

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  114. Moriah Jovan
    Jul 02, 2010 @ 10:12:23

    @Angie:

    While I’ll agree that some of the reasons contemporary authors gives for virgins to be past their expiration dates are…tortuous…

    I'm not saying there aren't any thirty-year-old virgins out there, but they're unicorns, you know?

    No, they’re not. They just aren’t ‘fessing up that they’re virgins because it’s A) private and B) rife for the possibility of pity if not downright ridicule.

    I run in a lot of different circles that rarely overlap, and more than one of those circles has a lot of those “unicorns” in it.

  115. Angie
    Jul 02, 2010 @ 10:14:41

    @Moriah Jovan: Well I don’t know any, and didn’t even when I was thirty, or when I was twenty-five, so I guess we balance each other out. :)

    Angie

  116. Moriah Jovan
    Jul 02, 2010 @ 10:33:50

    @Angie:

    Perhaps. I know just as many women at the opposite end of the spectrum—and at many points in between.

    My point is that assuming one’s experience is universal is problematic.

    My problem is when an author has done a poor job of explaining away virginity—and even then it may be a poor job because she thinks too many readers will think her heroine is a unicorn.

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