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Stevenson, Edward Irenaeus Prime- (1868-1942)  

The man who might well be styled the first modern American gay author, Stevenson was born in New Jersey to a literary family. Although admitted to the bar, he never practiced, becoming instead a professional writer, publishing short fiction, poetry, and musical criticism as an editor for popular magazines such as Harper's and The New York Independent.

He also wrote boys' books, two of which were later admitted by the author as couching an underlying dynamic: White Cockades: An Incident of the 'Forty-Five' (1887) and Left to Themselves: Being the Ordeal of Gerald and Philip (1891). These Horatio Alger-like novels extolled adolescent romantic friendship, giving form simultaneously to the American dream and at least one type of homosexual teen fantasy.

More important, at the same time his public literary career was in full swing, Stevenson was also covertly publishing (through an English press in Italy) a series of gay-themed works under the pseudonym Xavier Mayne.

In The Intersexes (1908), Stevenson presented a passionately constructed history and defense of European and American homosexuality that was less "scientific" than his models Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis but more anecdotal, personal, and polemic. This massive volume, severely limited in circulation, stood for many years as the single major rebuttal by an American gay author to the pathologizing of the homosexual by the growing psychological establishment.

Stevenson's chef-d'oeuvre, however, is the cerebral but fascinating novel that owes a great deal to the style of Henry James, Imre: A Memorandum (1906). Styled "a little psychological romance" by its author, Imre recounts the developing love between a thirty-something British aristocrat and a twenty-five-year-old Magyar military officer, exploring the wary psychological dynamics of the coming-out of the two main characters.

Both men are insistently masculine types tempered by a love of art. The story's ending is unprecedented--the first in American gay writing where homosexuals are united and happy as the tale closes.

In 1913, Stevenson published, again at his own expense, a collection titled Her Enemy, Some Friends--And Other Personages, which contains several homoerotic stories delineating "passional friendships between adults--in accents chiefly tragic."

"Aquæ Multæ Non--," "A Great Patience," "Weed and Flower: An Art Theory" are moving tales of gay love among the upper class, and "Once--But Not Twice" shows Stevenson at his melancholy best, displaying a deep understanding of homosexual middle age, the irrecoverability of the past, and regret for the Life-Not-Lived (a gay theme common in this period).

"Out of the Sun" recounts a gay man's last hours, reminding us that in those days youthful suicides were often the sad markers of homosexuality to those "in the know." This story additionally provides a fascinating and detailed glimpse into a homosexual's library at the turn of the century, and tells what music, operas, and great bachelor-composers (Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky) had been coded lavender by an earlier generation.

Stevenson moved to Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century, gradually publishing less and less until his death in Lausanne, Switzerland, on July 23, 1942.

James J. Gifford


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literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Although largely invisible to the general public, a large body of twentieth-century gay male literature by American authors was published prior to Stonewall, some of it positive but most of it tinged with misery or bleakness as the price of being published and disseminated.

literature >> Overview:  Romantic Friendship: Male

Critics use the term male romantic friendship to describe strong attachments between men in works ranging from ancient epics and medieval romances to Renaissance plays, Gothic novels, westerns, and war movies.

social sciences >> Ellis, Havelock

Henry Havelock Ellis--British psychologist and writer--was one of the first modern thinkers to challenge Victorian taboos against the frank and objective discussion of sex.

literature >> James, Henry

Though closeted, Henry James had a number of intimate relations with young men, and his sexual orientation imbued his fiction.

social sciences >> Krafft-Ebing, Richard von

The carefully detailed case studies of nineteenth-century psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing shed light on the sexual habits of a wide spectrum of men and women.

arts >> Schubert, Franz

The question of the homosexuality of Franz Schubert, among the greatest composers of classical music, is a subject of continuing debate.

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One of the greatest composers in the history of music, Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky inspired a cult of gay admirers who detected in his work themes of forbidden love.


Austen, Roger. Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1977.

Fone, Byrne R. S. "This Other Eden: Arcadia and the Homosexual Imagination." Essays on Gay Literature. Stuart Kellogg, ed. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1985. 13-34.

Garde, Noel I. "The First Native American 'Gay' Novel: A Study." One Institute Quarterly: Homophile Studies (Spring 1960): 185-190.

_____. "The Mysterious Father of American Homophile Literature: A Historical Study." One Institute Quarterly: Homophile Studies (Fall 1958): 94-98.

Katz, Jonathan Ned. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. New York: Avon, 1976.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gifford, James J.  
    Entry Title: Stevenson, Edward Irenaeus Prime-  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 28, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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