Monday, October 19, 2009

Historical Research ~ It isn't Always Black and White

History -- isn't always black and white

When we research material for gay historicals we're faced with hurdles even greater than writers of heterosexual romance. Same sex love was considered "the love that dare not speak its name". Though some countries seem to speak its name fairly frequently, if you're doing research into different aspects of same sex relationships in non-English speaking places, you can and will find different interpretations of the same bit of history.

Case in point: While working on "Bend in the Road", I found this citation referring to the Victorian painter, Simeon Solomon from "the - the world's largest encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer culture".

"The artist was arrested on February 11, 1873 for having sex in a public lavatory with a sixty-year-old stableman, George Roberts. Both men were charged with indecent exposure and the attempt to commit " buggery." They went to court thirteen days later, were judged guilty, fined one hundred pounds, and later sentenced to eighteen months in prison at hard labor.

At the intervention of a wealthy cousin, Meyer Solomon, the artist's sentence was reduced to police supervision. (Roberts was not so fortunate.)

Eager to escape the shame he felt, Solomon traveled to France for a time. However, he was arrested there on March 4, 1874 for the same reasons. The French court fined him sixteen francs and sentenced him to three months in prison. The nineteen-year-old man he was with received a lesser sentence."

Please also refer to this bibliography:,3.html#bibliography

Now what might make you think this citation suspect is that officially, France had decrimimalized homosexuality. However, upon further research I found this interesting study, "Changing Conceptions of Male and Female Homosexuality: A (French - Oriented) Theoretical Overview", and this deeper investigation regarding the assumption that France at the time of my story in the 1880s, viewed homosexuality in a favorable light.

"Under the Ancien Régime 21 society of the 18th century, homosexual activity remained a capital offence, even if such extreme punishment was rarely imposed.

After the Revolution of 1789 there was no reference in the new Penal Code, approved by the Constituent Assembly in September 1791, to Ancien Régime laws on sodomy, and this omission of any reference to 'crimes contre nature' has often been interpreted as tolerance of homosexuality. However, homosexual acts might be construed as acts of public indecency, and in the Penal Code under Napoleon, Article 330 established the offence against public indecency as punishable by imprisonment ranging from 3 months to a year and by fines. It was to be Article 330 that brought the larger number of homosexuals to the attention of the police. In France the omission of any explicit reference to homosexuality in private has led to the erroneous conclusion that post-revolutionary France tolerated homosexuality."

Reading further in this study one finds out that up until the 20th century and continuing past WWII, homosexuals in France were not viewed with much leniancy under the law.

What does this mean for writers of gay historical romance? Don't stop at one reference. Dig deeper. Don't totally disregard anecdotal information. And realize that it isn't always black and white.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, surprisingly I never knew this.I have been reading your blog a lot over the past few days and it has earned a place in my bookmarks.Thanks for sharing with us.