Unspoken, or the ugly reality in historical m/m fiction.
By R.A. Padmos
Before anything: thank you so much, Sue, for your more than generous hospitality.
Romantic and erotic stories taking place in the past are hugely popular, and for good reasons too. It’s a great excuse to put characters in nice costumes, surround them with beautiful objects and allow them to live in houses we consider treasured heritage. Or what about some sexy frolicking in an unspoiled landscape?
And if, in the case of romantic and sexual affection between men, we have to tweak reality a bit extra to make sure that same reality doesn’t slap the unsuspecting reader painfully in the face… well, what’s wrong with a bit of fantasy?
Sometimes, however, stories insist on being what they are, namely expressions of an unpopular and even downright nasty historical reality. Unspoken is such a story.
Don’t get me wrong, Unspoken is still very much a romantic tale about the love and friendship between two men who are devoted to each other. They express that love both in a sexual manner and in many other ways. There’s nonetheless no denying that Stefan and Adri live in a Dutch town in the nineteen-thirties. Houses are crowded, money is scarce and privacy is an interesting concept at best.
Stefan Doffer, the main character, is married, because most gay men were actually married in those days. His wife doesn’t conveniently die during childbirth. She’s also not an evil witch we can easily hate, but a good woman with a heart as big as the world. She’s as much a victim of the circumstances as her husband.
Stefan is a family man with a keen, be it patriarchal, sense of responsibility. He’s fiercely homophobic and has an outspoken tendency to look down on men who don’t meet his strict criteria for real masculinity. That’s not because he’s a bad human being, but because he’s so much a child of his time and social background.
Stefan and Adri somehow manage to find the space, courage and imagination to be together.
A small excerpt:
It was such a luxury to know the landlady was out of town, at the wedding of her eldest niece, and wasn’t expected back until after dinner; a whole afternoon without a discreet knock on the door and the question whether the gentlemen cared for a cup of tea! And, in contrast to the few times they’d spent an hour or so in Adri’s room and had fallen into each other’s arms like famished dogs on the nearest bite of food, they sat in the moss-green overstuffed chairs and drank coffee. They took their time to make small-talk about the weather, smoke a cigarette, and to enjoy each other’s company as if they had just got home from a good day’s work.
“Come.” Adri stretched out his hand in invitation and Stefan dropped to his knees next to his lover’s chair. He rested his head against the thighs of the other man, and sighed when he felt the warmth of the muscles through the fabric of the trousers and the hand playing with his hair. No matter that he had lost almost every certainty about who he was, and what he was, he couldn’t imagine sharing his body with a man who wasn’t at least his equal in strength. Why give his body to a man who wasn’t a real man?
His lover caressed his back and whispered, “Redhead.”
He lifted his head. “I’m not going to tell a lie and say that my marriage is all pretence, because right up to the moment I met you I had no idea what was going to happen to me. It’s just that now I do know you, I realise I never had any idea what it means to walk next to someone and feel nothing but desperation – because how do I keep my hands to myself?”
“We almost never get the chance to share even a single kiss when we see each other. On those days, I doubt everything and wonder why I had to fall in love with a married man. So often I don’t want to meet you, if meeting you comes down to spending the night alone in my own bed fired up by the knowledge that half an hour’s walk away there’s you. I hate having to make do with my own hand, and always feeling miserable afterwards.” Adri grinned, so obviously hiding the pain that Stefan felt the hurt in his own stomach. “But today belongs to us. No one will bother us or chase us away. Please, come to bed?”
Unspoken by R.A.Padmos is available at Manifold Press. http://www.manifoldpress.co.uk/2012/04/unspoken/
My blog: http://rapadmos.wordpress.com/