Gay Characters in Mainstream Romance



Ten years ago, I introduced a character into my mainstream historical romance, “Yorkshire,” the first book featuring Richard Kerre, Viscount Strang, and the love of his life, Rose. Richard is a twin, and later on in the story, it’s revealed that his brother, who caused a scandal, didn’t run away with the wife of a neighbour—he ran away with her husband.
Sorry about the slight spoiler, but there’s no avoiding it.

Richard dresses in full mid-eighteenth century style, with the wigs, the fancy clothes, the jewellery. Gervase doesn’t. He dresses in darker clothes, prefers simpler ways of dressing, partly because he spent ten years as a merchant in India, but also because it was his style.

I felt that my readers wouldn’t welcome explicit scenes and in any case, the story is told from Rose’s first person, and it’s unlikely to the point of incredulity that she would have witnessed anything, even a kiss.

Later in the series, Gervase finds his love. I didn’t mean to do that, but I had so many letters asking me to do it, that I couldn’t avoid it, even if I’d wanted to. But along with the readers, I’d become fond of Gervase.

He’s practical and down-to-earth, and fiercely loyal to his brother.
Originally I wanted Gervase as a foil to my main character, Richard, who is as flamboyant as all-get-out. I could either make him try to outdo his brother, and I was really tempted to do that, but Gervase wasn’t that kind of man. He was thirty, and had come to terms with who and what he was. Although his exile from England had been forced on him, it was also the making of him. It meant he had to spend all those years not being a twin, but being a person in his own right. Richard was left behind to face a condemning society, and Gervase is always aware that Richard has the harder row to hoe. He is not only the one who has to face society, he’s the heir to a great estate, and almost from birth, his mother had made it clear that Gervase was the spare. She is chagrined when Gervase returns home wealthier than his brother, or his father, for that matter.

Writing about a gay character in history always puts you up against the problem of the law. Homosexuality wasn’t against the law—look for any case brought to law and you won’t find it. But sodomy was. Technically this could be committed by a man and a woman, not just two men, but I don’t know of any case that involved a woman. So being a man and having male friends wasn’t illegal. Even close male friends, friends who you kissed and lived with. But being convicted of sodomy was punishable by death.

However, before the Victorian era, the law was completely different. Much of the practice was in the interpretation of seemingly strict laws. For instance, in theft cases, goods over the value of a certain amount were punishable by death or transportation, but if the court valued the goods at lower than that amount, then the punishment was much less. If they had a mother, say, who’d stolen bread to feed her starving children, they were highly likely to value the goods right down. They could also release someone on the “benefit of clergy,” that is, if they could read a passage from the Bible, they’d be released, but that was only on a first offence. The fact that it was always the same passage meant that recidivists could learn that passage and hope they didn’t come in front of someone who recognised them.

So Gervase, exalted though he was, could be brought in front of the courts and condemned to death for sodomy. He lived with that threat all his life, and he had to live his life in the shadows, or that part of it. Being Gervase, he chose not to hide. Once he finds his love, he wants to settle down. There were ways of doing it. Marriages were one way, and some of these marriages produced children. They must have been difficult. And there were more bisexual people around. Sexuality was less rigidly defined, as is illustrated in a way by the crime being sodomy and not homosexuality. Lesbianism was never illegalised, nor were any of the practices. A man could have a loving friend, and then there were characters like Lord Augustus Hervey, who had a reputedly happy marriage but also had a ten year love affair with a man.

I won’t get into why, but much of the reason lay with the church. Church law and secular law were bound together, and separate, with areas assigned to each, but in the Georgian era they were growing together, to be largely merged, although even today there are church courts. But it’s less to do with morals and more to do with procreation. Sodomy couldn’t result in a child. However, it’s always a mistake to make too many generalisations, and the reasons were far more complex than that.

But it left people like Gervase and people who didn’t have his advantage of money and good birth in a difficult position and the options of keeping quiet and joining the burgeoning underground of gay and trans people in the specialised clubs and molly houses that were abundant, if you knew where to look. Lesbians tended not to hang about the scene, but there were exceptions. Probably because they weren’t forced underground.

It is easy to simplify the past so that it becomes a caricature of itself, and I hope that with Gervase, I’ve created a character in his own right, not just a homosexual. Gervase is a person, a man, with hopes and dreams and desires. Only some of them concern his sexuality.

Lynne Connolly writes for a number of publishers. She writes paranormal romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense and historical romance, with the aim of showing the different ways people find romance and the different kinds of people who find it. She is the winner of two Eppies (now retitled the EPIC ebook awards) and a goodly number of Recommended Reads etc from review sites. She’s a proud member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novelists’ Association.

While these are very gratifying, that isn’t why she writes. She wants to bring the stories in her head to life and share them with others, in the hope that they might give her some peace.

She lives in the UK with her family, cat and doll’s houses. Creating worlds on paper or in miniature seems to be her specialty!

Her website is

She tweets under the name lynneconnolly

She writes columns and reviews for The Good, The Bad and The Unread, and ERWA (the Erotic Readers’ and Writers’ Association).

Lynne’s giveaways will be downloads of the first two books in the Richard and Rose series: Yorkshire and Devonshire. Simply leave a comment to be entered into the draw. Winners will announced on the bumper post on Christmas Day

The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this yet – write them down and I’ll ask you to email them in on Christmas Eve.)

4. “A Visit from St Nicholas” is a well known poem, but what is it more commonly known as?

16 Responses

  1. Lynne. Fancy seeing you here. You know I love Gervase for all the reasons you mention (and the explosions). I also think it would be fabulous to one day see you tackle a gay historical romance at the centre of one of your novels.

    You’ve also reminded me that I need to start compiling a list of mainstream historical series with significant gay characters and/or couples in them. Yours for a start, and then Hilary Green’s Follies series, and…

  2. What is the title of Gervase’ book? He sounds like a memorable character and I would love to read about him. Terrific post. thank you.

  3. Excellent article, Lynne! Now I have more books to add to my TBR list! Both of your heroes sound fascinating, I look forward to reading them. 🙂

  4. Great post, Lynne!

    I absolutely agree – it’s so important that characters are, first and foremost, *people*, with all their hopes and dreams, virtues and flaws, advantages and challenges.When writing historical MM, homosexuality it inevitably going to be one of those challenges, but it shouldn’t be their defining feature. It sounds like you’ve struck just the right balance with Gervase.

    By the way, I’m a doll’s house lady, too! I also make faberge eggs, and my husband sculpts those teeny tiny figures for roleplay games. He even made one of me ❤

    Please could you exclude me from the draw? I'm participating in the calendar later in the month, and I don't think it would be fair if I snaffled any of the fabulous goodies!

    Paige x

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lynne. I agree with what Paige siad about characters being ‘people’ first – well drawn out characters are what keeps me reading and I’m intrigued by yours and this story.

  6. This sounds like something I want to read. All the characters sound interesting.

    The laws were adorable, weren’t they? You could be gay, you just couldn’t love anyone. Nice. Of course, in a lot of churches, nothing has changed in 200 years. Sigh.

  7. Great post, Lynne. You always speak a lot of sense. (And I think I;m in love with Gervase already!)

  8. Fascinating post, My great uncle was born in 1893 and lived with his male partner for many years. Their sexuality was one of those open secrets in the village where they lived.
    I’d love to be able to read these books. The characters sound very real.

  9. Gervase sounds very interesting. I love capable no-nonsense characters. Also Stevie mentions explosions? I like explosions too.

  10. Wow – great post! Definitely a book for my to-read list 😀

  11. Melanie, Gervase doesn’t have a book of his own. It’s told from Rose’s point of view, and as a Georgian lady, what she sees is necessarily limited. But I do hope to write one with a closer view.

    Hi, Stevie!

    Rowan, yes, the laws were something else, especially since they went on until the 1960’s. Anyone remember Julian and Sandy? Obvious gays who were on the radio show “Round the Horne” on at Sunday lunchtimes. Enormously popular show, they made gay slang (polari) popular. I had a wonderful correspondence with one of the writers on the show, and I asked him how much was real. He said most of it, but admitted to making some of it up!

    I think Gervase was so real because I can see him. He could walk into a room and I’d say, “Hello, Gervase!” Not that he’d know what I meant, because “Hello” was a word invented for the telephone.

  12. Lovely and thoughtful post. I think we do good when we expose our readers, many of whom may be provincial in their experience and views, to people they may not have thought about. I remember when Alex Haley’s ROOTS was on television. A good many people I knew who had never had anything nice to say about African descent people suddenly saw them as “just folkls like us’. I applaid you for including a gay character, especially one with great individuality.

    i wonder if Diana Gabaldon brought out books starring Lord John because she had him in her Outlander books and readers loved him?

    Thanks again!


  13. How very kind, Nan, thank you!
    I was shocked by how people responded to Gervase. I never thought he’d be so popular, but I was delighted when it proved to be the case.

  14. Sounds like an interesting series 🙂 Thanks for the giveaway!

    smaccall AT

  15. I like the characters already. It must have been good fun (and tempestuous) to have them living in your head for a while (:

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