Historical Fiction with a Gay Theme or Character

19 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Updated 8 September 2008. After reading As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann, I was curious about the availability of historical fiction that centers around a gay character or theme. Below is a select list. If you know of a historical novel that fits this description but is not on the list, please comment.

Use the resources available in Find Books to locate copies of the novels below. Or for books currently available at Amazon, follow the title links. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for referral purchases.

Green titles comprise those I really enjoyed (Excellent to Very Good rating). If there is no comment following the title, I haven’t read the book.

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann. Set during the English Civil War, the story involves a gay man’s slow descent into insanity. Read my review of As Meat Loves Salt.

The Bitterweed Path by Thomas Hal Phillips. Friendship and love between two Mississippi boys a generation after the Civil War.

The Carnivorous Lamb by Agustin Gomez-Arcos. A story of incestuous love during the politically repressive times of Franco’s rule in Spain.

The Charioteer by Mary Renault. Portrays the complicated relationships of gay men during World War II.

The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal. A contemporary novel about a gay man’s coming of age in post-World War II America.

The Confession of Piers Gaveston by Brandy Purdy. On the relationship between Pier Gaveston and Edward II as told from Gaveston’s point of view.

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann. Set in pre-World War I Italy, the novel focuses on the obsession of a middle-aged artist for a young man, who represents lost youth.

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory. Set against the English Civil War, a gardener becomes lover to George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. A historical mystery set in Victorian England circa 1862. Amazon calls it a “damning critique of Victorian moral and sexual hypocrisy.” Other titles in the series (Tipping the Velvet, Affinity) also deal with lesbians in Victorian times.

Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault. Biographical fiction on Alexander the Great.

The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough. The first book in the Masters of Rome series deals with Gaius Marius and to a lesser extent, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who had a homosexual relationship with the Greek actor Metrobius.

The Flowers of Adonis by Rosemary Sutcliff. Biographical fiction on Alkibiades, an Athenian general during the Peloponnesian War. He was Pericles’ ward and Socrates’ friend. Classified as juvenile fiction.

Fortune’s Favourites by Colleen McCullough. The third book in the Masters of Rome series introduces Pompeius Magnus, Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus.

Gaveston by Chris Hunt. On the relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston. Contains explicit sex; sometimes categorized as erotica. See my review.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. Contemporary fiction on gay male relationships during the 1950s. Takes place in Paris.

Goat Song by Frank Yerby. Coming of age story during the Peloponnesian War.

The God in Flight by Laura Argiri. Set during the 1880s at Yale, this is a love story between a male student and a male teacher.

The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault. On the relationship between two Athenians, Alexias and Lysis.

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon. The second book in the Lord John Grey historical mystery series is set during the Seven Years’ War and involves a Jacobite plot.

Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon. The third book in the Lord John Grey historical mystery series is an anthology of short stories involving Lord John. The best is Lord John and the Succubus.

Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon. The first book in the Lord John Grey historical mystery series.

The Master by Colm Tóibín. Biographical fiction on Henry James.

Maurice by E. M. Forster. Contemporary fiction in that it was written during 1913-1914 and deals with Edwardian attitudes toward homosexuality. The book was not actually published until 1971, and in that sense could be considered historical fiction.

Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg. The first book in the Mordred Trilogy treats Mordred, the illegitimate child of King Arthur and Morgan le Fay, sympathetically. It also imagines him as gay.

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault. On the relationship between Bagoas and Alexander the Great.

The Phoenix by Ruth Sims. Deals with late 19th Century attitudes toward homosexuality. Includes themes of poverty, child abuse and insanity.

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander by Ann Herendeen. The novel purports to deal with bisexuality as well as homosexualty, but the outcome is unbelievable, totally silly. I gave it 2.5 stars on LibraryThing for entertainment value.

The Waters of Babylon by David Stevens. On the life and homosexual relationships of T.E. Lawrence (a/k/a Lawrence of Arabia).

While England Sleeps by David Leavitt. A doomed love story set during the rise of fascism in Europe and the Spanish Civil War. Read the full review.

Additional Resources

Speak Its Name – a blog on historical fiction with gay characters.

The List – the above-referenced blog compiles a list of fiction with gay characters. Be advised that it consists of fiction in many genres, including historical romance and erotica.