Thanks for having me here today! I'm excited to have the chance to talk about my new book, Love Continuance and Increasing, which is a historical MMF ménage romance set in England during the Napoleonic Wars. As you might expect, both of the heroes are bisexual, and I'd like to go into a little bit about what it meant to be a bisexual man in that time.
The first thing to know is that in the early 1800s in England, sex between men was illegal, and punishable by death. Or, more strictly, sodomy carried the death penalty; the courts usually ruled that this required both penetration and emission, and anything else was 'attempted sodomy' or 'lewd behaviour', both misdemeanors instead of capital felonies. Pretty depressing, huh? But, from the number of court cases alone, it's clear that these laws didn't stop men having sex with other men—and that doesn't take into account the ones who got away with it.
I want to focus on those men today. Their stories are often told as part of gay history, but that's probably not how they would have looked at themselves. The word 'homosexual' wasn't even invented until the end of the 19th century, when the first men to call themselves 'sexologists' set out to categorize human sexuality. There were certainly men who were exclusively interested in other men in the early 19th century and before, and people had names to describe them: there was sodomite, of course, and the more polite paederast, which didn't then carry the connotation of preferring underage partners, but was meant to connect same-sex love with Ancient Greece, and to hold it up as a manly ideal. If you were going to be vulgar about it, there was bugger, which was a noun as well as a verb, and then there was molly, which specifically meant the effeminate and cross-dressing male prostitutes who worked out of 'molly-houses', which weren't strictly brothels, but more like places of assignation—the equivalent of a gay bar with a back room, to cast it in modern terms. There were outdoor cruising areas, too; Lincoln's Inn Fields was one of the most notorious, and there were sections of London's public parks that got very lively after dusk.
But that doesn't mean that all the men who were having sex with other men only had sex with other men! Many of the mollies' customers were married. A sailor might exchange favors with his shipmate when they were at sea, but seek out women when he was on shore. And young men at single-sex boarding schools, which were the only boarding schools that existed, would often look to each other to satisfy their desires, but go on to marry and have children, as they were expected to do.
I was thinking about those sorts of men when I created my heroes. Lieutenant Thorne is from a poor family and went to sea when he was twelve. He's only an officer because a captain observed how capable he was, and promoted him to a midshipman, which was an officer-in-training and a 'young gentleman'. He's attracted to women, sure, but he hasn't been around them much. He's always sent his pay home to support his widowed mother and his sisters, which doesn't leave him enough to support a wife—and as for other possibilities, he's always felt uncomfortable paying a whore because who could say whether she really wanted to be there? Thorne can't help thinking of his sisters, who might have found themselves needing to do the same, if they didn't have him to rely on, and the whole idea of it just makes him sad. He's more likely to seek out those back rooms and back alleys where like-minded men went to find each other, because at least there he can be sure his partner wants to, even if Thorne never learns his name.
Lord Rockingham, on the other hand, is coming from a very different place. He's always been interested in both men and women, and he's had much more opportunity to play around with both, even before he joined the army as an officer at sixteen (those schoolboys again). Rockingham's never been afraid that he couldn't support a wife, and, as for relationships with men, well, even if he did get caught, he wouldn't be tried in court, but in the House of Lords – very literally a jury of his peers – and he could probably afford to send his lover out of the country where he'd be safe from prosecution. He feels comfortable having an affair with a man, even falling in love with one, and equally comfortable with the idea that someday he'll marry a woman and have children with her.
It's those different backgrounds that shape the individual relationships that Thorne and Rockingham have with the heroine, Caroline. For Rockingham, it's something he's always expected, and for Thorne, it's something he never expected to find at all. Rockingham's attraction to Caroline feels perfectly natural to him; for Thorne, it's almost alien, but it's too powerful to ignore. And it's the contrast between those two very different emotional realities that ultimately makes the relationship they all build together as special as it is.
Lieutenant William Thorne, of His Majesty's Navy, is a man of humble origins. He knows that his affair with Major Anthony Rockingham of the 43rd Infantry can't last forever, not only because the war against Napoleon has sent him on blockade duty in the English Channel while the major's regiment trained ashore, but because Rockingham is a viscount, and viscounts must marry. When Rockingham's letter reaches him, saying that he'd chosen Miss Caroline Filmer as his bride, it is no more than Thorne had expected.
What he does not expect, when he returns home after the Battle of Trafalgar, is to find an invitation to the christening of Rockingham's son. He does not expect, when he meets the young viscountess, that he would fall instantly and passionately in love with her. And he certainly does not expect that Caroline would fall just as desperately in love with him. Thorne is sure that their feelings for each other can only lead to disaster, even more so as his love for Rockingham has never gone away. While the war with France continues, Thorne finds himself fighting a war within his own heart.
"She's well practiced at arranging such things," Anthony said. "But I fear it was very tiring for you, even so. Do you wish to sleep?"
"I do." Caroline drew in a breath, gathering her courage. "But, Anthony, I would speak with you."
"Of course, my darling. What did you wish to say?"
Caroline curled tighter against him, trying to reassure herself that she would not soon be pushed away. "Do you remember, before we wed, when you bid me that should I ever find myself in love, I should tell you of it, and you would not reproach me?"
Anthony kissed her hair, and rubbed his hand in circles on her back. "I remember well. Are you telling me of that now?"
Caroline found that she could answer him only in the smallest of voices. "I am."
He kissed her again. "I'm glad to hear you tell me," he said. "I hoped very much that you would believe me when I said I'd not be angry, and trust me enough to do so. I'm glad you find me worthy of that trust. But you are unhappy. Will you tell me more?"
Caroline blinked back the tears that were welling in her eyes. "I did not wish this," she said. "It came all unbidden. I hoped it might be a moment's fancy, but I cannot put him from my thoughts. I fear I am in love with Lieutenant Thorne." She sniffled. "And I was right. Being in love is most uncomfortable."
Anthony held her close, resting his lips at the crown of her head as she hid her face against his shoulder. He moved his hand in slow strokes down her spine. "Oh, my darling. I'm sorry it grieves you so. I don't blame you for an instant. William is the best of men, and it's no surprise you should love him. I love him, too."
"But hardly in the same way, I think, my lord?"
"In very much the same way, I should think. I'll speak it plain: you wish to lie with him?"
The tears would not be stopped. "I do."
"As do I," Anthony said softly. "We were lovers once, and I care for him still."
The surprise was enough to do what comfort could not. Lovers? Well, Anthony had said, upon their very wedding night, that he'd lain at times with men. She'd not taken much notice of it at the time, being intent on other concerns, and he'd never spoken of it since. But he'd told her privately of Captain Birtwhistle's love for Alexander Godwin, not with any distaste, but only so that she might not trouble them with questions about sweethearts; and with Mr. Godwin one of Stephen's godfathers, it was clear at least that Anthony counted it no sin, never mind who might think otherwise. And could she fault him for desiring William, when she did the same? But that they'd once been lovers... she'd never have suspected.
Love Continuance and Increasing by Julian Griffith – Now Available from Storm Moon Press for $6.99 (ebook) or $13.99 (paperback)