To Slash Or Not To Slash
I got an email the other day from an old friend of mine who I had rather fallen out of touch with, asking me to beta a fic for her. No big deal, we've read over each other's stuff tons of times before, but at the end of the email she stuck in a link to some random, fairly good barricade slash and made some comment about not really being entirely sure how she felt about it. I read the fic -- passable, not totally inaccurate characterization, but nothing really to write home about or warrant any recommendation one way or the other -- and wrote back to her. Foolishly I thought she meant she wasn't sure how she felt about that particular fic, and not the entire genre. And thus, an epic historical novel slash treatise was begun.
I never used to read slash at all. It just didn't do anything for me. I didn't have a problem with it per se, it just didn't appeal to me and I tended to avoid it because, I later realized, what I was reading suffered from horrible attention to canonic detail and shoddy characterization. It was mostly of the "oh lets take two pretty boys and have them sleep together, won't that be fun" variety. Umm yeah, sorry kiddies, that does nothing for me on any level. Hence the slash avoidance.
And then, gasp, either someone finally started writing better (and excellent in some cases) French boy slash (I direct you here in search of an example), or it had been there all along and I just hadn't read it, or whatever, but either way, I was a convert. And now there are various levels of slashy dead French boys in my head, so go fig. And I still blame this all on Courfeyrac, but he's my resident scape goat, so that's really neither here nor there. Poor René.
Either way, here are my responses to the few general points Elaine (aforementioned slash questioning fic friend) made and, in fact, most of the criticisms of barricade boy slash/Hornblower slash/various other historical novels of the 18th and 19th C. slash.
Authorial Intent, or [Insert Venerable Dead White Guy Author's Name Here] Didn't Mean It Like That!
Well, yes and no. He most likely didn't mean it explicitly like that, because who in 19th C. society would have bought an explicitly homoerotic novel and taken it seriously as a work of literature and not a cheap pamphlet written purely for the prurient titilation of stifled housewives? And far beyond that, that wasn't the point of the story and it would have proven highly distracting from the original narrative thrust of the piece as a whole, that is more than long and complicated enough as it is without combining romantic intertwinings with the barricade boys. Not that I really believe Hugo or Forester or any of the other Dead White Authors *meant* for there to be any slashy implications, but we really can't prove it one way or another now can we?
That and, most importantly, fic convention states that anything not contradicted by canon background and characterization is okay. Hugo doesn't say they aren't gay/bisexual, and he doensn't even say most of them are heterosexual to any extent, so that's a green light so long as you don't have them totally not act like themselves. Which brings us to...
Accuracy of Characterization, or But [Insert Attractive Barricade Boy/Midshipman/Etc] Isn't GAY!!!
Again, yes and no. Most of these characters have little to no romantic attachments in the actual course of canon. So no, it doesn't say "and then Courfeyrac and Feuilly went home and shagged" anywhere in Les Mis, but it also doesn't say "and then Feuilly went home to his small, run down flat and had nothing but purely heterosexual thoughts" or "and in the course of Courfeyrac adding to his collection, he never considered for even a moment, let alone acted on, the desire to add one of his compatriots to the collection". We're operating in a gray area here, where nothing is either confirmed or denied by canon.
Most good fanfic is built upon these gray areas. Loose ends that are only partially tied up, elements of characters backgrounds/interactions/psychologies that aren't explicitly spelled out, things that could have happened outside the realm of the narrative but within the experiences of the characters -- anything that isn't pinned down without a doubt by the original author. These gray areas are what makes fic that isn't just a rehashing of the plot we already know possible.
All of that being said, characterization is everything. I hate bounder slash. And I will tell you exactly why. ALL OF THOSE CHARACTERS ARE MARRIED! You have got a TALL order to try and put any believable slashy undertones into Percy and Tony's relationship, for example, when both end up happily married to the woman of their dreams. I'm not saying it's impossible, but that takes a LOT of explaining, and it's going to be very difficult to do without contradicting things already set in stone by canon. Same goes with a character like Marius. He's involved in one of the primary heterosexual romantic relationships in Les Mis, so if you're going to slash him, you have to explain that somehow. Not impossible, far from impossible in fact, but you can't just ignore the fact that everyone reading the story knows he ends up marrying Cosette.
Perfect example of what I'm talking about -- Enjolras. He doesn't have anything even resembling a romantic entanglement in canon, but that's because he's explicitly stated as being totally cold, not having any time for romantic idiocy, and just plain not interested. He's in love with his ideals, with his work, not with any silly flawed human being of either gender. But I've read some damn good writing involving Enjolras in some sort of romantic relationship (both slash and het). That type of storyline only works when you incorporate that element of his personality. Don't turn him into some Marius-like hyper romantic sop. And it can't be really about sex, because that's not like him, sex is too base, too animalistic, to appeal to someone as high minded as Enjolras without some other factors at work. Pair him with someone who can appreciate his ideals, who can be his intellectual equal and can manage to get through the many layers of ice around that statue we all know and love, and you can make it work and make it rather interesting.
In short -- slash, het, gen, whatever, you have to remember who these characters really are and work with that. Some of the absolutely worst writing I've seen is with het fic, because there's this perception among some people that simply because it's a more "acceptable" relationship, any pairing is fine. Thanks, but I think, for example, Enjolras/Combeferre makes a hell of a lot more sense than say... Eponine/Enjolras or Azelma/Marius after Cosette gets bumped off or any of the equally insane het pairings and Marie Suzettes I've come across.
Historical Accuracy, or But People Weren't GAY Then!
Simply put, yes they were. Homosexuality goes back about as far as we can track history, it's not the exclusive domain of the past 50-100 years like some people would have you believe. But of course there were unaccepting attitudes towards homosexuality, and anything other than missionary position heterosexuality really, so you can't just have the barricade boys acting like they're wandering around Market and Castro the day of Pride. Just like language and clothing and other details are important historically, attitudes about behavior and what is considered appropriate and inappropriate are important. Thus, if you have two of les amis walking home from a meeting at the cafe, they aren't going to stop for a moment to snog under a gas lamp in full view of any passersby. More importantly, there will probably be at least a little bit of angst/hesitation/worry about how slashy behavior meshes with societal expectations and what characters like the barricade boys were raised to think. Someone like Enjolras or Courfeyrac, with a decent amount of money and a respectable bourgeois family, would be going against every expectation his family and the society he was raised in has for him if he goes off shagging other good respectable bourgeois boys, so that's not going to necessarily be an easy decision. Alright maybe for Courfeyrac it won't be so hard, but for Enjolras or Combeferre or the more moneyed and respectable of the boys, there will most likely be some angst there. In fact really, there should be for *any* of them, not just the ones with the familes with the highest expectations. Don't avoid that or shy away from that, because it will make it sound far less accurate. It's not easy for contemporary young people to admit to being gay, it certainly wasn't easy 170 years ago.
And of course now that I've said this all so succinctly, watch me contradict at least one thing I said in everything I've ever written.
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