Robert’s feelings towards George were not strictly heterosexual. “It’s comfortable, but it seems so d***** lonely to-night. If poor George were sitting opposite to me, or—or even George’s sister—she’s very like him—existence might be a little more endurable” (Braddon 160). Throughout the novel, we see how obsessed Robert is with George’s disappearance. Grief and anger overtake Robert’s usually laid-back demeanor. Robert compares everything to how things were with George, and is frequently disappointed. The only woman he seems to feel strongly about is Clara, who—shocker—reminds him of George. I think Mary Elizabeth Braddon purposely crafted her story so that it was not overtly homosexual but used subtext to suggest that Robert and George’s relationship was not heterosexual. Robert and George reflected the male relationships Braddon observed in her own life, exemplifying how hypocritical Victorian high society was.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say many relationships between aristocratic Victorian men went far beyond platonic. Of course, homosexuality was considered a scandalous, promiscuous sin at the time, so coming out was almost unheard of. I believe there was a ton of internalized homophobia going on. People lived by strict social rules that decided what behaviors were acceptable or not. If you weren’t caught and followed Victorian social norms, you were assumed heterosexual. It’s like they thought homosexuality was just a bunch of flamboyant deviants running around with uncontrollable lust and low morals. This stereotyping and engrained heteronormativity allowed men to get intimately close with one another while maintaining good social standing. They weren’t gay, they were just realllllly close. At least, that was how they justified their behavior and minimized cognitive dissonance. This way, men could fulfill their social needs and not feel bad about it.