Historical fiction has often been defined by its straightness. Over the decades there have been exceptions to this rule, but it’s taken a long time for historical romance in particular to diversify its ranks.
Fortunately, queer romantic tales across the centuries are now far more commonplace on our shelves, and the genre is better for it! Here are 11 historical lesbian romance novels that you should add to your TBR pile.
Tipping the Velvet
When you think of historical lesbian fiction, the first name that comes to mind is the iconic Sarah Waters. Her multi-award-winning novels helped to reassert the stories and identities of queer women in a genre that often ignored their existence. Tipping the Velvet, published in 2000, became one of the most talked-about books of the century.
Nan King is an oyster girl who becomes infatuated with the male impersonator Kitty Butler, who she sees perform at the local music hall. This leads to her becoming Kitty's dresser and joining the show before falling into her arms. But Nan's path of discovery of her own sexuality and place in the stifling Victorian world is long, bumpy, and deeply passionate.
The Hellion's Waltz
Sophie Roseingrave's family lost their beloved piano shop to a callous con man in London. Now, they're trying to start fresh in a new town, but Sophie can't help but wonder if history will repeat itself. She has grave suspicions about silk-weaver Madeline Crewe, whose stunning beauty doesn’t hide the fact that she’s up to something.
Maddie is a former crook who needs to pull one last job to properly fund the weavers' union. Her target is Mr. Giles, a greedy draper, and the entire association of weavers and tailors and clothing merchants has agreed to help her. The very last thing she needs is a small but determined piano-teacher and composer trying to scupper her plans. What else is a woman to do but seduce her to the cause?
The Perks of Loving a Wallflower
Thomasina Wynchester comes from a proud family of mischief makers, outcasts, and unconventional siblings. Each of them possesses unique talents and desires. For Thomasina, she's a master of disguise who can blend into any crowd and take any form. It's proven helpful as she tries to uncover a top-secret military cipher covering up an enigma that goes back centuries.
Her client in this task is Bluestocking Miss Philippa York, who happens to be the woman Thomasina's been smitten with for years. But Philippa doesn't believe in love. All she desires is the answers to this priceless manuscript that has bamboozled her for too long. But when she finds out that the man she's hired to assist her is actually a woman, her cold heart suddenly starts to skip a beat.
Patricia Merton is a champion shot and she loves nothing more than showing off her skills at country shooting parties, so the latest shindig at the Earl of Witton's estate is an ideal opportunity. It's just a shame that the guests aren't so fun. But there is one shining exception in the form of Miss Fenella Carruth, who is the most stunning woman Pat has ever met.
Alas, she is engaged to Jimmy Yoxall, an old friend. While the women’s attraction grows, the tensions among the party grow and many secrets threaten to come to light. How could things get any worse? Add a dead body with a knife in its back!
Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure
Miss Violetta Beauchamps needs help. An awful man living in her boarding house won't give her the money she's owed and she's desperate. She turns to the man's aunt, the striking and independent Mrs. Bertrice Martin, a woman who doesn't give a damn about the man she refers to as The Terrible Nephew.
Typically, she wouldn't involve herself in his messes, but Miss Violetta has sparked something inside of her. Now, she'll do anything to make this proper and shy woman smile. It's just an added benefit that doing so involves making The Terrible Nephew utterly miserable.
Leather and Lace
Gold Sky, Montana, is a very special place. Amid the chaos of the wild west and creation of a new America, there is a town that accepts anyone and everyone for who they truly are. Mary Sophia James has come to Gold Sky at the insistence of her mother to find a husband before her pregnancy becomes obvious.
She's running out of options, and then she sees Alex Pierce, the most beautiful woman in town, and Alex makes an unusual proposal: there are many ways to be married in Gold Sky and it's welcome for a woman to take a wife. It’s not what Mary expected but it might be exactly what she needs.
A Little Light Mischief
Lady’s maid Molly Wilkins is a lifelong thief and troublemaker but she's decided that those days are behind her. She's determined to reform, to be a proper employee who would never do anything so scurrilous as steal from the family she works for. But does it count if she steals someone's heart?
Her employer's companion Alice Stapleton is the embodiment of a prim and proper lady, and she's also bored stiff. Still, that doesn't mean she should spend all her time thinking about the sharp-tongued and beautiful maid who now occupies her thoughts. Perhaps together they can make some mischief?
Lily of the Tower
What if Jane Eyre had lost her heart not to Mr. Rochester, but the "mad woman" in the attic?
That's the question Elizabeth Hart poses with her book Lily of the Tower. The eponymous Lily Netherfield has been imprisoned in a tower like a fairy-tale heroine for many years now, a cruel fate she accepts as being for her own good. Her sickness has caused much embarrassment to her family and so she agrees to be "dead" to the world.
Washed up by a storm at the gates of the local estate, young Agnes Headey discovers the truth of Master Netherfield's supposedly long lost sister and starts to pay secret visits to Lily. She faces pressure to marry well and secure her own future but Agnes can't stay away from Lily, and now she'll do anything to save the damsel in the tower.
A story that mixes history, mysticism, and romance, The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave tells the story of Finnmark, Norway, an Arctic village in 1617. When a catastrophic storm wipes out the men of the village, 20-year-old Maren Magnusdatter and the other women must pick up the pieces: fishing, hunting, and establishing a new status quo.
The women's new normalcy is disrupted by the arrival of Absalom Cornet, a witch-hunting Scotsman—and his pretty, young wife named Ursa. Absalom suspects paranormal activity killed Finnmark's men, and while he seeks to root out the culprits, Maren and Ursa find themselves drawn to one another.
The newcomers will change Maren's life forever ... for better or worse.
The Pull of the Stars
Julia Power is a nurse in the maternity ward of an understaffed hospital in the heart of Dublin. The year is 1918, and the city is ravaged by the Great Flu. Julia cares for the expectant mothers who are forced to quarantine together. Her world is closed-off, regimented ... until Doctor Kathleen and volunteer Bridie Sweeney enter the picture.
One of the women is a suspected Rebel on the run from the police, the other young and innocent. Over the course of three days, the women experience death and birth and change in unexpected ways. The Pull of the Stars is historical fiction and yet timely—a reminder that history often repeats itself and that love can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
Jean Swinney writes features for her local paper in the southeast suburbs of London. The year is 1957, and Jean struggles with career limitations despite her talent. She lives a quiet life, taking care of her shut-in of a mother.
Opportunity comes knocking, almost literally, when Gretchen Tilbury tells the paper that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth. Jean leaps at the chance to investigate, finding the story stranger and more enthralling than she could have expected.
Small Pleasures is both a mystery and a love story that celebrates the beauty and joy of the simplest things.