“And for what it’s worth, I don’t find anything about you repulsive. On the contrary, I can’t remember meeting a more wonderful person.” – Talbot Finch, The Housekeeper
THE NINETEENTH century, particularly the later half, has always captivated me; I’m a sucker for a good Victorian novel—or in this case, a novelette. While the Gothic literature of the times is my principal interest, I have a sweet spot for stories that contain complicated romances fraught with themes of classism and sexual/emotional repression. Give me a strong protagonist living with and rebelling against their time’s social constructs and constraints, sometimes subtly, sometimes not. Characters that are both outwardly and inwardly strong, open to love and romance but desiring equality with their paramour on multiple fronts. [Image On Left: Author Talbot Finch. Property Of Talbot Finch]
While Talbot Finch’s The Housekeeper: A Gay Victorian Novelette delivers much of what I love about a great Victorian love story, the author goes beyond the traditional trappings of period romance with a contemporary queer narrative. It’s a quick read, a tale focusing on the relationship of only two male characters over a short period, but the novelette’s length doesn’t diminish its impact. The depth of emotion and connectivity between the two men, as they each discover their mutual attraction, is powerful and touching. Yes, the story takes place during a time in England when homosexuality was illegal; that fact, however, isn’t used as a defining element of the love story, though the taboo nature of it is alluded to. Finch is smart not to work this into his narrative as a novelette doesn’t have the room to properly engage with all that comes with the social and political minefield of Victorian homophobia.
Andrew, an amputee since the age of twelve, lives alone in his cluttered London flat, still haunted by the loss of his arm but refusing help from anyone. His older, married sister Sarah lives afar but frets about her brother’s health and emotional well-being, knowing his negative attitude prevents him from living a proper life. A budding novelist, Andrew is interrupted one day from his work when he answers an unexpected knock on his door and discovers Christopher, a handsome young man hired by Sarah to help him around the house as a personal man-servant. How very period! Andrew is initially frustrated by his sister’s interference, preferring his hermit-like lifestyle to sharing his flat with a veritable stranger. But having Christopher around might just be what the irascible man needs to reinvigorate his lonely life and transform his cynical heart. And he cooks amazingly well, too! Bonus!
The Housekeeper: A Gay Victorian Novelette is a magnetic queer love story about a broken man who uses emotional and physical isolationism to deal with past trauma and its life-altering consequences, rediscovering joy through the intervention of a stranger: a compassionate, kind gentleman. And again, despite its limited word count, the body of the narrative goes much deeper than simply the old employer/employee “adversarial yet flirty” romance we’ve seen countless times. There’s a definite nod to Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast here. Andrew sees himself as othered. Fearful of being judged harshly for his physical disability, he hides away from the world. Perhaps even for his closeted homosexuality, though it’s never overtly stated. Christopher is our saviour figure: empathetic, genuine, and, above all, kind.
Andrew makes many erroneous assumptions regarding Christopher, his intentions and his behaviour, creating roadblocks for himself that slow the progress of friendship and possible romance. Finch’s use of internal dialogue to show Andrew’s destructive behaviour pattern—his struggle to trust and share—is brilliantly done. The author is just as deft in showcasing Christopher’s capacity for gentleness and compassion, like in the scene where he initiates physical contact with Andrew by placing his hand over his in a moment of empathy and connection. It’s all quite moving. [Victorian London Flats. Reminiscent of Andrew’s.]
The Housekeeper: A Gay Victorian Novelette is a wonderfully cozy gay-love story, one I’d very much like to see developed into a future novel to include more backstory on both men, sister Sarah, and an epilogue depicting a full-bodied Happy-Ever-After. Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled with this story’s ending. I only want to continue the adventure with these two characters further into their future! Talbot Finch is a remarkable storyteller, and an author I will definitely be keeping my eye on. Up next is his companion novel to The Housekeeper: Violet Reverie. Looking forward to reading it!
The Housekeeper: A Gay Victorian Novelette is available for purchase at amazon.ca and amazon.com. For more information about this author, follow Talbot Finch on Instagram & Facebook. Also, visit his Website.