Hola and a big smushy WELCOME to our LGBTQ event which is here for the month of May. We have reviews, Guest Posts, Top Ten List and lots and lots of prizes all with a LGBT theme. The posts will be indexed on the side and I do hope you hop through … I have been so lucky this year!
Today, we have KJ Charles with a wonderful post on Raffles, an early tale with some definite homo-erotic overtones. She is also introducing her new book and I have to say that a book pegged as one that is a MM tale influenced by Sherlock and Holmes is one I am DEFINITELY reading.
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Hands up who ever read a book and thought, “Well, that would have been a lot better with significantly more gay romance”? All of us? Good.
I have a thing for Victorian and Edwardian British pulp fiction. (Hey, I don’t criticise your kinks.) I love the shameless plotting and fast-paced adventure, and I’m also fascinated by the often unintentional light that pulp fiction casts on its time.
The period was defined by homosociality (hanging with your own gender). A boy could go to an all-male boarding school at seven, go on to an all-male university, take a job in an all-male office or join the all-male Army, do all his socialising in an all-male club and live in lodgings with a lot of other single men, barely speaking to a woman in sixty-odd years except to order breakfast. This explains a lot about British history.
So you get these extraordinary pulp set-ups of entirely male worlds, men in pairs like Holmes and Watson or Raffles and Bunny, or ‘band of brothers’ groups like the adventurers of King Solomon’s Mines, or Bulldog Drummond and his chums, where all the emotional energy and affections are turned to one another. Hence the number of pulp novels where the villain is a seductive female: she may be trying to destroy the British Empire, but her real crime is alienating the affections of one of the men. Hence also that even when Dr Watson gets married, his wife is mentioned twice more in passing then quietly killed off.
It’s pretty hard for a modern Western reader to look at these intense exclusive male relationships without reading more in. Holmes/Watson slash has been a thing since before slash was a thing; I’m fairly sure the first time I heard the word ‘homosexual’ on TV it was in a Dave Allen skit about Holmes and Watson. Here’s an illustration from 1925, ‘The Illustrious Client’, with Holmes and Watson in a Turkish bath:
Or take the Raffles stories (mostly set in the late 1890s, when of course male homosexual acts were illegal) about a cricketer/gentleman thief and his sidekick. At the ending of their first adventure, ‘The Ides of March’, the narrator Bunny has just committed a shameful crime with Raffles, and Raffles has suggested he might like to do it again:
“Like it?” I cried out. “Not I! It’s no life for me. Once is enough!”
“You wouldn’t give me a hand another time?”
“Don’t ask me, Raffles. Don’t ask me, for God’s sake!”
“Yet you said you would do anything for me! You asked me to name my crime! But I knew at the time you didn’t mean it; you didn’t go back on me to-night, and that ought to satisfy me, goodness knows! I suppose I’m ungrateful, and unreasonable, and all that. I ought to let it end at this. But you’re the very man for me, Bunny, the–very–man! Just think how we got through to-night. Not a scratch–not a hitch! There’s nothing very terrible in it, you see; there never would be, while we worked together.”
He was standing in front of me with a hand on either shoulder; he was smiling as he knew so well how to smile. I turned on my heel, planted my elbows on the chimney-piece, and my burning head between my hands. Next instant a still heartier hand had fallen on my back.
“All right, my boy! You are quite right and I’m worse than wrong. I’ll never ask it again. Go, if you want to, and come again about mid-day for the cash. There was no bargain; but, of course, I’ll get you out of your scrape–especially after the way you’ve stood by me to-night.”
I was round again with my blood on fire.
“I’ll do it again,” I said, through my teeth.
He shook his head. “Not you,” he said, smiling quite good-humoredly on my insane enthusiasm.
“I will,” I cried with an oath. “I’ll lend you a hand as often as you like! What does it matter now? I’ve been in it once. I’ll be in it again. I’ve gone to the devil anyhow. I can’t go back, and wouldn’t if I could. Nothing matters another rap! When you want me, I’m your man!”
(The crime was actually safe-cracking, in case you’re wondering.)
Incidentally, many people think Raffles was based on George Ives, a distinguished cricketer and early gay rights campaigner, though it’s not clear if EW Hornung knew Ives was homosexual, or if he intended Raffles and Bunny’s relationship to be wildly homoerotic, or what. I merely observe that they’re holding hands in this 1909 illustration.
Anyway. All this begs for queering, and who am I to resist. I wrote an Edwardian pulp novel, Think of England, a proper Edwardian tale of a country house, a dastardly plot, and a suspiciously effete foreign-looking decadent poet. Archie Curtis, our officer hero, is as classic an Edwardian pulp hero as I could make him: decent, well-born, loyal, serving King and country, and completely oblivious to what may seem screamingly obvious to both the reader and the effete poet. Oblivious for a while, at least.
And my new book is a take on the Holmes and Watson dynamic. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal features an occult detective and his sidekick/room-mate/narrator, a journalist who writes up the hero’s adventures and mysteries for publication. In this case, of course, he’s writing up the secret story: the one that they’ve been hiding from the unsuspecting Victorian/Edwardian public for twenty years…
I had a lot of fun romancing the pulp fiction I love; I hope it’s as much fun to read.
A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.
A note to the Editor
I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.
You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.
So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.
I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.