gay victorian

anonymous asked:

Hello love! So, I have two gay characters in the mid 1800s living in the English countryside. How realistic would it be for them to live a life together? I'm imagining a farm in the middle of nowhere, only a few friends, keeping to themselves...

Hi there, Nonny! While it’s sweet of you to begin your ask with “love”, maybe at least buy me coffee first! Joking aside, as nice as it is with terms of endearment I do aim to keep a certain level of professionalism. You wouldn’t begin an email to your professor with “love”, I hope? Anyway, let’s not dwell on this, onto you excellent question!

In short, it could be very realistic for your characters to do this. It’s complicated, however, and I shall try to explain.

The time period you’ve chosen for your story is an interesting period in time when it comes to same gender relationships. In the early 1700s, it became more common for men to live alone or share apartments while finding work in the growing cities. These expanding cities offered anonymity and the possibility for men to live as bachelors either alone or together with another man rather than acquiring a farm or business and marrying a woman. In the mid 1700s, a subculture of men who had sexual relations with other men began to form in northern Europe. Unfortunately, the more visible these men became, the more they were prosecuted. [1]

Does this mean your characters would live together in the city, more realistically? Possibly, yes, but fear not! We’re not done yet!

The early 1800s still saw a lot of prosecutions towards the so called “sodomites”, but this was a much less public affair and the law enforcement tried to handle it as quietly and discreetly as possible. It was also difficult to actually prove sodomy. [2] Someone would have to be caught in the act, so to speak.

Unlike earlier in European history, however, it had become an identity rather than an act. In England men who had sex with other men were referred to as “womanhaters” (and someone accused of sodomy would defend themselves saying they loved their wife or fiance very much). [3] This means that your characters would likely be careful of what kind of relationship they have. It would make sense for them to actually have a relationship, though, since homosexuality had become more of a identity. The Victorian Era also saw a rise in marrying for love and it also was not at all uncommon, especially for middle or upper class, to have very emotionally intense relationships with close same gender friends. A lot of passionate letters were written during this time.

So, your character could be very close and it wouldn’t really be questioned.

Homosexual men also built communities at this time. Though the lines between gender expression and expressing sexual preference are difficult to draw, it seems it was not uncommon for men who had sex with men to wear dresses or otherwise display what was seen as “effeminate behaviour”.

By the mid nineteenth century, Manchester men had formed a network that regularly put on fancy dress balls. [4]

This means that there was a subculture for homosexual men and it wouldn’t be unlikely for your characters to be part of such a community and meet.

Onto the mid nineteenth century and late nineteenth century! By this time there were two sides to the discourse on sex. One on side there were the social purity advocates who argued for restraint, even within marriage. On the other side were those who believed in Darwinism and that humans were a kind of animal and thus sexual urges were natural though they should still be controlled. [5] You question, though, Nonny, was about homosexual men and this part of the discourse on sex was much more bleak. As the 1800s continued, punishments became more and more severe for homosexual men. At the same time, however, these men spoke out more and more boldly about their desires as natural and healthy. [6] Therefore, your characters live in a time where on one hand they risked prosecution for sodomy but on the other hand they wouldn’t necessarily hide their homosexuality behind a marriage to a woman. Unless the story takes place later than 1885 when homosexuality rather than the act of sodomy became punishable.

Finally, let’s remember philosopher, poet and homosexual rights activist Edward Carpenter who “celebrated ‘homogenic’ love as part of his wider socialist vision; he retreated to the countryside with his working-class male lover, wore sandals, and ate vegetarian food.”[7] Your characters, then, may very well live together in the countryside! Keep in mind, though, that while they may have friends, they might be ostracised by the nearest village or town especially by working-class men who showed a lot of hatred towards homosexual men.[8] So give your characters a nice place to live and a few like-minded friends and then decide if they get a happy ever after or if they wind up prosecuted.

And there we are; at the end of this little journey! 

To summarise:

  • “Sodomy” was punishable by law throughout the 1800s.
  • In the early 1800s, unmarried men living together became more and more common but this was mostly true for larger cities and not small towns or the countryside.
  • By the mid and late 1800s more and more people began to speak up about the right to live a homosexual life. Sodomy was still illegal, though. 
  • In the later 1800s, it wasn’t impossible for two men to live together, be it in a city, town or out on the countryside. They still risked prosecution and were likely to be ostracised by society. 
  • 1837–1901 was he Victorian era and the view on sex and sexuality was most ambivalent. Purity was advocated but not by all as the other side of the argument was for a more liberated view on sex. Close and very romantic like friendships were nothing unusual for middle and especially upper class but sexual encounters were strictly regulated both by norm and law.

Some important details on sodomy, homosexuality and British Law:

Sorry I took so long to get back to you. I hope this was helpful! Good luck with your writing!

Signed, Captain.


[1] Anna Clark, Desire: A History of European Sexuality. (New York: Routledge, 2008) ,134 & 136. 

[2] ibid.136.

[3] ibid.

[4] 137.

[5] 149-150.

[6] 152.

[7] 153.

[8] 138-139.

3

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.

“Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days. “

“Besides, I want to see you. It is really absurd. I can’t live without you. You are so dear, so wonderful. I think of you all day long, and miss your grace, your boyish beauty, the bright sword-play of your wit, the delicate fancy of your genius, so surprising always in its sudden swallow-flights towards north and south, towards sun and moon — and, above all, yourself. “

“He has also ruined my life, so I can’t help loving him — it is the only thing to do.”

  • TAB: we changed the iconic skull painting as a fun reference to the fact that we are in Sherlock's gay Victorian fever dream, look at how mindful we are of small set details
  • S4: we changed the iconic skull painting for absolutely no purpose whatsoever and absolutely not because it's how john would picture it in his mind bungalow, okay sweaty :))))))

Pssst …. Arthur Conan Doyle was a bisexual man surrounded by queer friends writing about a gay romance in a time when men were being jailed for their sexuality. He was as explicit as he could have been.

Back then, it was a love that dare not speak its name. Given recent events, it looks like not much as changed.

But we’re ready.