Discussion: Happy Ever After/For Now…

Posted by Erastes

One thing that I have a great deal of trouble with, as a writer in this genre, is the Happy Ever After.

It’s wonderful now of course, that any writer of contemporary gay fiction can literally include the “Will you marry me?” into their plot and even go on to describe the wedding. This is something that would once have only been believable in a fantasy universe.

I read blogs from gay authors and gay friends and it’s so wonderful to see them getting married, doing the whole “I do” thing (or “I will” over here, for the historical accurists!!)

There has always been a lot of gay marriage in fanfiction and there will, I’m guessing, now be more, now the laws are loosening round the world. In fanfiction the writer can assume enlightenment in future worlds or Alternative Universes. In Harry Potter, a thousand Remus Lupins have already married a thousand Sirius Blacks because J K Rowling hasn’t said “there is no gay marriage in the Wizard World,” and as the WW’s laws are different in many respects, it’s not a great leap of faith to write speculatively on the subject.

For the fantasy/spec-fic writers, all they need to do is have a world far far away, create their own rules and they can have men only planets, male marriages even male pregnancies.

And so now for the first time writers of contemporary fiction can encompass the Romance Genre more than ever they did before. Their gay heroes can not only fall into each others’ arms at the end of their novels but they can get married too. Good for them!

Not so though the men loving men of yesteryear…

My first novel was based in the Regency – 1820 onwards, and while the two heroes have myriad obstacles to their relationship throughout the book, (as befits a romance), the biggest obstacle of all is the time they live in.

Homosexuality was not only illegal in England and Wales (right up until 1967 in fact) but in the 19th Century it was still punishable by hanging. It was harder to convict than it had been; the law required a higher burden of proof than it had done in previous centuries, – penetration and ejaculation had to be proved and two witnessess were required, so you can see how difficult that should have been to prove, but even so, in England, the first quarter of the 19th century had more hangings for sodomy than at any similar time span before.

Even if the death sentence wasn’t pronounced due to that higher burden of proof, the court could reduce the sentence to one of “Assault with Sodomitical intent” (with the horrible twist that the person being “assaulted” could also be found just as guilty for acquiesing to such assault)

As you will see from the wonderful resources at The Old Bailey, this was a “misdemeanor” and NO TESTIMONY was required. Sentences of 6 months to 2 years were common, often with “hard labour.”

In this day and age this would not be a particularly scary sentence, but even a few months in Newgate Prison might kill you then: from disease which was rife; or if you weren’t strong, or didn’t have any money to pay for “extras” (such as food and bedding and your (strictly unofficial) release fee)

This may not have stopped the casual encounters around St Paul’s Churchyard or prevented men from visiting the Molly Houses that had been springing up for some time previously, but it must have made co-habiting difficult and dangerous. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, hell – we know it did! – but it would have had to have been done with some discretion. Even noblemen had been dragged from their homes under this suspicion, and you’d be a brave man to trust your servants when the rewards of betrayal might be more money than they had ever seen in their lives. Then add the constant threat of blackmail to the mix… The kind of fic I like to read emcompasses this reality.

As for earlier times? Hanging was too good for ’em. Burning, castration, banishment (as outlaws!), castration FOLLOWED by stoning to death, and other such wonders.

So how to end it?

In “The Highwayman” (review to come) Emily Veinglory manages her Happy With Each Other Perhaps Forever very deftly, without making it unrealistic. Lee Rowan’s officers, both aboard the same ship in “Ransom” and “Winds of Change” may not find it easy, but close proximity and dark enclosed places aboard help a little – in spite of the risk of the dreaded Number 29 Article of War. You don’t doubt that they will do anything they can to stay together, but you do know that it won’t be easy and it may not last long. I LIKE that uncertainty.

Personally I like to leave a lot to my readers’ imaginations. I want the reader to think at the end -“What will happen? Will they find somewhere they can live out their lives? Or will the weight of society destroy them in the end? What must it be like, not even to feel safe when you lock the door at night?”

I like them to weigh up not only the danger of the period and make a decision of their own.

What about you? Are you a fan of Happy Ever After – the slow fade at the end and undying love? Or do you like a bit of bite to your historical? Will you only read a story that you know how it ends (e.g. a category romance) or do you revel in the fear that “SHIT – they might not make it!”

Do tell!

15 Responses

  1. Bite. Fifteen times over. Bite, bite, bite. Everything else is escapism. (And I loathe 99% of “romance” and rather have a historical novel with a romantic sub-plot, but I may be completely & utterly alone).

  2. I’m very happy to hear that! I belonged to a lot of Romance Groups in the past (still do in a way) and I’m constantly whining about the HEA.

    I want, particularly to get Gay Historical accepted into the mainsteam and the Romance Writers of America will only accept a Hea and it’s SO BLOODY WRONG.

    No. You are not alone. Even with me in the room there are more than 2

  3. My idea of HEA is other people’s idea of an HFN. Or as one person put it regarding my own work, I have a “dark, twisted, and pessimistic take on HEA.” I do like the couple to kiss at the end with declarations of undying love, but in the midst of rather dismal circumstances, like the city burning in the distance as they sail off in the boat because they have nowhere else to go, or because they’ve settled for one another after choice B (or C…) bit the dust. I do like the story tied up in a bow by the end…only with a sloppy black ribbon.

  4. If real history was made of Happy Endings, we’d never think about the past would we? It’s unfortunate events that tend to define all tomorrows parties, and so no–I’ve never been a fan of ‘happy endings’. I’ve had editors from various houses comment on my habit- [Iris: No Crat endings. DQ: Crat, No one dies, ok?]

    On the subject of marriage though–I bring much baggage, I don’t see the point why anyone [man woman gay straight trans] would embrace marriage as a romantic ideal, so I tend to avoid it in my writing at all costs. To me, it’s a legal concept that’s required for certain things in this life; it’s certainly not something I consider to be an essential element of a heart-that-works.

  5. I don’t need HEA; I do want a hopeful ending. If I care enough about characters to read their story, I don’t want “Reader, I buried him” at the end of it.
    If something’s described as ‘dark’ I may read it. “Edgy,” probably not. “Dark and edgy?” Forget it. Pessimistic stories just don’t do much for me–if I want nigh-unto-hopeless, I’ll read the newspaper. I do read for pleasure, and there’s got to be something that convinces me the protags wouldn’t be better off dead.

    On the other hand, the ‘yay, they’re gay’ reaction that so many stories seem to take is just not believable, and I do expect the hero/hero to have obstacles to overcome, otherwise there’s not much of a story.

    On the third hand (okay, one of ’em is rubber), I really don’t want a whole novel of homophobic persecution. Even in archaic times, the entire world didn’t consist of homophobic morons. Convincing detail and the chance for a future together — I think that’s a reasonable expectation.

    RWA? Nope. Until the makeup of romance readers forces a change, RWA isn’t likely to admit that there are same-sex relationships as strong or stronger than the conventional het coupling. I think the world is ready for a new, more inclusive organization, because don’t think I’d want to join RWA, whatever the benefits.

    (Yes, I know a lot of local RWA chapters are wonderful and inclusive, like Catholics priests who advise using birth control–that would make a great discussion, but I have to go finish packing. My same-sex spouse and I are moving to Canada, where we are legally married, in … oh, about 2 days…) 🙂

    Nice blog, Erastes!

  6. HEA, more like HFN, but who knows, they might change their minds five minutes down the road.

    As for the historical dangers of being homosexual, well, I like a bit of realism, but I don’t need to read about constant persecution. I do want some escapism, and a chance for them to go at it once in a while.

  7. I like a happy ever after, where it is understood that that’s both parties committing to each other in the understanding that if this *does* get them hanged, it will be worth it. HEA *as far as it is in our power to arrange*. Because of course it may not be, and it may be wiser to both get married to women, or flee to some country a bit more understanding or underpopulated, if one can be found…

    For me it’s a HEA if the two decide that they want to be together forever. The fact that that comes with immense difficulties is the kind of bonus that calls for sequels 😉

  8. The problem of The Ending is one of the reasons I’m drawn to write about colonial settings. Europeans whose sexualities didn’t fit neatly within Old World had greater license to explore their natures and ally with others of their sex, some with other Europeans, some with indigenes. (Of course, the specter of Orientalism haunts the history and historical fiction set in colonies, and I’m not sure what to do about that.)

    The other cool thing about setting gay historical fiction in colonial settings is that writers can make cases for the positive social, political, cultural, and economic impact of queer folk without stretching the limits of reality (or at least, not to the breaking point).

    What it comes down to is that some version of “Happily” is historically plausible and creatively satisfying when we strike out for Parts Unknown.

  9. Katrina: I like your HFN – it’s realistic, and if the H/H have been through hell and back to get where they are, then it’s likely hells often still going on. I really like the idea of the burning city!

    Hi gynocrat – thanks for poppping over!

    “No crat endings”: I love it! I do agree with you about the marriage thing though. *sees your baggage, raises* *G*

    Lee R: I admit that I am soppy enough to love a happy ending, or at least a hopeful ending, and that’s one of the reasons I like your books – there’s a sense of “well, we know the risks but I love him, he’s worth it.” *blubbers*

    The Yay they’re gay is going to come up a lot in reviews I predict, it drives me bonkers. But yes, I agree with you, people did live lives without persecution, so it’s not feasible to fill a book with it.

    As for RWA – I won’t be joining even if they accept m/m. I don’t like their restrictions, I don’t like the way they don’t allow perfectly good publishers to be “recognised” and I don’t like the idea of some nebulous group of women somewhere in the world deciding unilaterally “What Romance IS” Good luck with the move!!! eeee!
    Hi Madelynne! Thanks for coming to visit!
    I agree with you. I used to go to films with my mother and she’d drive me BONKERS because she’d say – as the couple walked into the sunset or whatever – “and of course she’s got cancer,” “or then they got mowed down by a train” or “she’s only marrying him for the money” so yes, even a HEA isn’t.

    Hi Galadhir
    I agree with you – “whatever we do, we do it together” sort of thing which must have been pretty scary too.

    I would imagine that there were a lot of married men, indulging their real natures in private.

    And tell me about sequels! Leaving Rafe and Ambrose the way I did has had people clamouring for one. *digs in heels* No no no.

    Hi leebenoit
    That’s a good point about colonial times – Michael Jensen’s two colonial pieces “Frontiers” and “Firelands” (about Johnny Appleseed) demonstrates this ably, although it was suspected what the male protags were up to, they lived a long way from civilisation.

    Thanks everyone! Discussion makes for a happy comm!

  10. Sequels! Ick! Don’t do it, Erastes. Leave Rafe and Ambrose in maybe land. Unplanned sequels are an absolute swine to write. (Mine’s due in a week.)

  11. *chortles*

    No way! I already know exactly what happens to the boys.

    Stop surfing. Write!!

  12. There is an interesting story in Yahoo today about a discovery that there were what amounted to civil unions in medieval times, apparently in France–which they termed (translated into English) “brotherment” (isn’t that the most endearing thing?). I don’t know if this is very common knowledge, but it was the first I’d heard of the term.

    I personally like a happily-ever-after in the books I read because after I’ve invested my heart and soul in the lives of these fictional people, I want to believe they go on living and find at least a measure of happiness and contentment in their lives. If there is *hope* at the end of the story, a happily-for-now is very satisfying. It seems the older I get, the more satisfying it is.

    The stories where one character dies or the couple breaks up for good at the end, I still avoid those. I want at least a little rosy wash over my fiction. I don’t need to be reminded that life can be grim. I want to be reminded that life can take your breath away with it sweetness sometimes. That is mainly what I turn to fiction for. Sure, you can have your dark stretches during the story and break my heart in moments, but I need a little light in the end, a promise that everything the character went through was not in vain.

    And I don’t care if the characters wed or live in happy, cuddly sin. Just as long as I can close the book with the contented feeling that two people who belong together now have each other to lean on and, with any luck, will be one of those couples who stick together, then I’m good. I am one of those romantic suckers who believes that happily-for-now is how happily-ever-afters get started.

    Erastes, I know what happens to them too–and it better! (g) (No epilogue, a la Rowling? :ducks:)

  13. I don’t like romantic stories that end depressingly, period, but the writer does have to try to make it make sense given the constraints of the era. That’s pretty much it.

    There is too much gay fiction in the world already that ends with death and disgrace.

  14. I agree, there is – but I can’t ignore it. I’m sure there will (soon, hopefully) happy people jumping on the bandwagon writing lots of happy ever afters – and I’ll probably continue to do so too – but not this next one. It’s based on a true story and needed to be told, I think.

  15. When it comes to HEA, I can take it or leave it. I love dark fiction, so HFN or even not-so-wonderful endings are fine by me.

    Most of my stuff is, admittedly, HEA (or HFN), though Shayne and I did write one thing that had a not-so-wonderful ending.

    I base my endings on the time period/place. If it fits, I might do HEA/HFN. But when I write the Crusade novel (yeah, I’ve started it), there won’t be a HEA ending. Hell, there may not be a HFN ending. The time period (late 12th century) just didn’t hold much for hope for gay men riding off into the sunset together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: