Le Baiser de Narcisse


We have the French gay culture site Bibliothèque Gay to thank for posting illustrations by Ernest Brisset from Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen’s rare volume of homoerotic fiction, Le baiser de Narcisse (The Kiss of Narcissus). The book was originally published in 1907 but it was a new edition in 1912 which came embellished with Brisset’s Classical drawings and decorations. If these lack a degree of eros it should be noted that the text would have been condemned as outright pornography in the Britain of 1912, a paean to youthful male beauty which lingers over details of a boy’s “polished hips” and his “round and firm sex like a fruit”. As is usual with homoerotics of this period, the Classical setting and allusion to Greek myth provides the vaguest excuse for the subtext even though prudes of the time weren’t remotely fooled by this, as Oscar Wilde discovered.


Among other works by Fersen there’s a decadent roman à clef, Lord Lyllian: Black Masses (1905), which I’ve been intent on reading since it was translated into English a couple of years ago. Here Fersen provides us with yet another fictional extrapolation of Oscar Wilde who the author gifts with some of his own scandalous history. Fersen had been driven from France following a public outrage involving the “Black Masses” of the novel’s title, and the alleged debauching of Parisian schoolboys.


Nino Cesarini by Paul Höcker (1904).

Fersen settled in Capri with his partner Nino Cesarini where they spent some years reinforcing the reputation of that island (not for nothing is Noël Coward’s camp and catty character in Boom! named “the Witch of Capri”), and proselytising for the Uranian cause with a literary journal, Akademos, modelled on Adolf Brand’s Der Eigene. Fersen’s later life is reminiscent of that of Elisar von Kupffer, a wealthy contemporary who created a secluded homoerotic paradise of his own, the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion. Unlike Kupffer, however, Fersen ended his days prematurely in a haze of opium and cocaine. As for Ernest Brisset, if anyone finds other work of his online, please leave a comment.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reflections of Narcissus