Photographers Unknown, The Pale Blue and Fawn of a Lieutenant
“The kiosque-garden was somewhat crowded. At a table, a few steps away, sat only one person: a young Hungarian officer in the pale blue and fawn of a lieutenant of the well known A-Infantry Regiment. He was not reading, though at his hand lay one or two journals. Nor did he appear to be bestowing any great amount of attention on the chattering around him, in that distinctively Szent-Istvánbely manner which ignores any kind of outdoor musical entertainment as a thing to be listened-to. An open letter was lying beside him, on a chair; but he was not heeding that. I turned his way; we exchanged the usual sacrament saluts, in which attention I met the glance, by so means welcoming, of a pair of peculiarly brilliant but not shadowless hazel eyes; and I sat down for my coffee. I remember that I had a swift, general impression that my neighbor was of no ordinary beauty of physique and elegance of bearing even in a land where such matters are normal details of personality. And somehow it was also borne in upon me promptly that his mood was rather like mine. But this was a vague concern. What was Hecuba to me? -or Priam, or Helen, or Helenus, or anybody else, when for the moment I was so out of tune with life!”
—Edward Prime-Stevenson (Xavier Mayne), Imre: A Memorandum, 1906, The English Book Press, Naples, Italy
Born in Madison, New Jersey in January of 1858, Edward Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson was an American author and journalist. Under his birth name or some variant, he wrote with some success many different types of literature including magazine fiction, literary and music criticism, travel essays, poetry, and works on esoteric subjects such as cartomancy, a form of fortune telling interpreted through randomly chosen cards. Prime-Stevenson is also known for his young adult books, written in his early career, and his later overtly homosexual works that place him among America’s earliest gay authors.
Edward Prime-Stevenson was the youngest of five children born to Presbyterian minister Paul E. Stevenson and Cornelia Prime who was born in a distinguished family of academic and literary figures. After studies in both the classics and law, he received his Juris Doctor degree and became a member of the American Bar Association. However, Prime-Stevenson never practiced law but chose instead to pursue a literary career. During the 1880s, he began a career as a critic in York City for Harper’s Weekly, a political magazine, and as book reviewer and music critic for the weekly Independent.
Near the end of the 1880s, Prime-Stevenson met a pivotal figure in both his personal and professional life: Harry Harkness Flagler who was heir to part of the Standard Oil fortune and eventual president of the New York Philharmonic Society. Both men shared a love of music and literature; however in 1893, they became estranged just before Flagler’s marriage to Anne Lamont. Prime-Stevenson dedicated his last two books to Flagler, a man he continued to admire.
At the age of twenty-nine, Prime-Stevenson began to publish young-adult books whose stories were centered on close homoerotic friendships among adolescents. The first of these was the 1887 “White Cockades: An Incident of the Forty-Five”, a romance-adventure set during the 1745 Jacobite uprising in England. This was followed by the 1891 “Left to Themselves: Being the Ordeal of Philip and Gerald”, a fast-paced boys’ adventure tale in the tradition of Horatio Alger, which followed the lives of young Gerald Saxton and the older youth Philip Touchstone. During their developing relationship, the two boys are shipwrecked on an island and later discover they are being stalked by a mysterious, predatory figure.
Well educated and speaking several languages, Edward Prime-Stevenson had interests in both European and Asian literature as well as esoteric subject matter. In 1897, Edward Prime Stevenson published “The Square of Sevens, and the Parallelogram: An Authoritative Method of Cartomancy with a Prefatory Note”. Published through New York’s Harper & Brothers, this elaborately produced volume of seventy two pages purported to show the mysteries of card-divination.
Prime-Stevenson left the United States at the turn of the century to travel throughout Europe; as he traveled, he continued to freelance for newspapers in both London and New York. A large inheritance from a maternal uncle enabled Prime-Stevenson to settle permanently in Europe where he divided his time between Florence, Italy, and the Swiss city of Lausanne on the shore of Lake Geneva. This inheritance also allowed him to travel freely and to self-publish and distribute books on a variety of subjects.
Prime-Stevenson used his birth name for his important studies on homosexuality. For his two book-length works on homosexuality, he took great care to insulate himself, through the use of the pseudonym Xavier Mayne, from the reprisal common to the period in which he worked. Prime-Stevenson’s 1901 novel “Imre: A Memorandum” was privately printed, under the name Xavier Mayne, by the Naples publisher Rispoli. This novel, an openly homosexual romance story, marked a turning point in LBGTQ literature due to its positive ending. Previous publications on the topic emphasized misfortune and often death as a result of such relationships. The novel’s lead character Oswold, who is spending the summer at a Budapest language school, meets the Hungarian calvary soldier Imre at a cafe nestled in the city. Despite all the circumstances that surround them, their relationship continues to endure.
Edward Prime-Stevenson’s second major work was the 1908 “The Intersexes: A History of Similisexualism as a Problem in Social Life”. This non-fiction work is a defense of homosexuality grounded in scientific and historical research. Throughout his career, Prime-Stevenson sought to dispel falsehoods surrounding the history and social acceptance of homosexuality. Seeking to defend homosexuality as a natural result of human evolution, he offered his theory of intersexes; Prime-Stevenson identified two of the intersexes while leaving room for more to be defined in the future. He rejected the binary of masculine and feminine, both of which fail to describe the vast majority of humanity, in favor of a broader spectrum of sexual identity.
Using the terms Uranian and Uraniad, which align with gay and lesbian respectively, Prime-Stevenson attempted to define these types, call attention to historical examples, and critique the societal condemnation and persecution of such individuals as degenerate or criminal. To provide the historical, legal, and scientific context for his work, he read almost everything then available about homosexuality. Prime-Stevenson interviewed physicians, psychiatrists, and workaday people from many different backgrounds. His conclusions, then not generally accepted socially or scientifically, stated homosexuality was neither an abnormality nor a disease. It was in fact inborn, a normal and natural temperament. This study, perhaps the first to approach homosexuality from a scientific, historical, personal and legal point of view, is recognized today as a landmark in queer literature by academics around the world.
While in Capri during his European stay, Edward Prime-Stevenson met the French novelist and poet Jacques d’Adelsward-Fersen, who was in self-imposed exile with his long-time lover Anthony “Nino” Cesarini, a model for many known artists. Prime-Stevenson dedicated his work “La Biblioteca di Dayneford” to d’Adelsward; this work is the only one translated into Italian by Prime-Stevenson. Using a printer in Florence, he published, under his real name, a collection of short stories in 1913 entitled “Her Enemy, Some Friends, and other Personage”, which contained numerous references and information on homosexuality. In 1928, Prime-Stevenson published a volume of music criticism entitled “Long-Haired Iopas: Old Chapters from Twenty-Five Years of Music-Criticism” through The Italian Mail, a Florence press.
Prime-Stevenson continued his writing throughout the 1920s and 1930s, primarily articles about music. With the outbreak of World War ii, he retreated to the neutral city of Lausanne, Switzerland. Edward Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson died in Lausanne of a heart attack on the twenty-third of July in 1942 at the age of seventy-four. Today, he is remembered as having marked a turning point in English literature and for being an outstanding observer of the early 20th century LGBT scene.
Note: For those interested, the Oxford University Press has an article by Kristin M. Franseen in their Music & Letters section, Volume 101, Issue 2 entitled “Onward to the End of the Nineteenth Century: Edward Prime-Stevenson’s Queer Musicological Nostalgia”. The article considers the intertextual relationships between his musical and sexological writings. The article is located online at: https://academic.oup.com/ml/article/101/2/300/5760330