Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen born 20 February 1880 (d. 1923)
Baron Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen was a French aristocrat, a novelist and poet. In 1903, after a scandal involving Parisian schoolboys had made him a persona non grata in the salons and dashed his marriage plans, he took up residence in Capri, where he lived with his longtime boyfriend and 'secretary', Nino Cesarini [pictured below, photographed by Guglielmo Plüschow], until his death in 1923.
D'Adelswärd-Fersen's grandfather had founded a steel empire, which was profitable enough that it made d'Adelswärd-Fersen exceedingly wealthy when he inherited at age 22. Consequently, he was much sought-after in the higher circles, as families hoped to marry him to one of their daughters.
Apart from joining the military, d'Adelswärd-Fersen had already travelled extensively and published some poems. At around this time, his homosexual leanings became apparent to him, which are also relatively clearly addressed in his poetry. Unfortunately for him, he was not sexually interested in adult men (which at the time in France would not have brought him into legal trouble) but in teenage boys between about 15 and 17 years old. This inclination eventually caused his undoing in French society.
In 1903, accusations surfaced that the Baron had held Black Masses in his house at 18 Avenue de Friedland. Supposedly these orgiastic feasts were attended by local Parisian schoolboys and involved sexual misconduct between the Baron and the boys. He was charged with indecent behavior with minors and served a six-month prison sentence, was fined 50 francs and lost his civil rights for five years.
The scandal bears some similarities with the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895, who also experienced great social degradation after a public trial finding him guilty of 'gross indecency with other male persons'. Perhaps d'Adelswärd-Fersen was lucky in that his feasts were also attended by other notable figures of Parisian high society, which more or less forced the court to drop some charges to minimise the impact of the scandal.
After his marriage plans were foiled, d'Adelswärd-Fersen remembered the island of Capri from his youth and decided to build a house there.
Lord Lyllian, published in 1905, is one of d'Adelswärd-Fersen's novels and perhaps his most important work, satirising the scandal around himself in Paris, with touches of the Oscar Wilde affair thrown in for good measure.
The hero, Lord Lyllian, departs on a wild odyssey of sexual debauchery, is seduced by a character that seems to resemble Oscar Wilde, falls in love with girls and boys, and is finally killed by a boy. The public outcry about the supposed Black Masses is also charicatured. The work is an audacious mix of fact and fiction, including four characters that are alter egos of d'Adelswärd-Fersen himself.
Akademos. Revue Mensuelle d'Art Libre et de Critique was d'Adelswärd-Fersen's short-lived attempt at publishing a monthly journal promoting pederastic love. When the premiere issue of Akademos came out in 1909, it was the first publication of its kind in the French language. Thematically, it trod somewhat similar ground as the German journal Der Eigene, published between 1896 and 1931 by Adolf Brand. This is not a coincidence, as d'Adelswärd-Fersen studied the German publications that tried to push for the social acceptance of homosexuality before launching Akademos. Also, he corresponded with both Brand and Magnus Hirschfeld.
D'Adelswärd-Fersen frequently organised parties in his splendid villa, to which all the intellectuals and 'eccentric' travellers staying on the island of Capri were invited. The Baron lived for twenty years on the island; his death there, possibly through suicide, is thought to have been caused by an overdose of cocaine. His ashes are kept in Capri’s non-catholic cemetery.
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