Partner Nino Cesarini
18 Avenue de Friedland, 75008 Paris, France
Villa Lysis, 80076 Capri NA, Italia
24 Rue Eugène Manuel, 75116 Paris, France
Cimitero acattolico di Capri, Via Marina Grande, 80073 Capri NA, Italia
Baron Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen (20 February 1880 – 5 November 1923) was
a French novelist and poet. His life forms the basis of a fictionalised
biography by Roger Peyrefitte.
Compton MacKenzie wrote in Vestal
Fire: ‘Carlyle once said that Herbert Spencer was the most unending ass in
Christendom. He had not met the Count.’
In 1903 a scandal involving school pupils made him ''persona non grata'' in the salons of Paris, and dashed his marriage plans; after which he took up residence in Capri in self-imposed exile with his long-time lover, Nino Cesarini. He became a "character" on the island in the inter-war years, featuring in novels by Compton MacKenzie and others. His house, Villa Lysis, remains one of Capri's tourist attractions.
He was born in Paris, France, as Jacques d'Adelswärd, on 20 February 1880. As he was related on his paternal side to Axel von Fersen, Jr., a Swedish count who had had a supposed relationship with Marie Antoinette, D'Adelswärd took on the name Fersen later in his life to advertise his link with his distant relative. D'Adelswärd's grandfather had founded the steel industry in Longwy-Briey. Adelsward went to school in Paris and studied briefly there at the Ecole des Sciences Politiques, and afterwards at the University of Geneva.
In 1897 he visited Capri and other parts of Italy with his mother and sisters, Germaine and Solange. In Naples he made friends with Robert de Turnel, 18 years older than him, and according to Roger Peyrefitte, they were at the Hotel Quisisana when Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas were asked to leave due to the complaints of other guests.
The family steel furnaces had become profitable enough to make Jacques d'Adelswärd a rich and 'eligible' bachelor when he inherited at the age of 22.
Apart from joining the military, he traveled extensively and settled down as a writer. He published ''Chansons Légères'' (1900) and ''Hymnaire d'Adonis'' (1902) and other poems and novels.
In 1902 he holidayed in Venice, where he associated with the novelist Jean Lorrain. On his return to Paris he published his novel, ''Notre Dame des mers mortes''.
In 1903 d'Adelsward and his friend, Albert François (Hamelin) de Warren (1881-1928), brother of Rene de Warren were rumored to be holding "entertainments" – ''tableaux vivants'' of pupils from the best Parisian schools – in his house at 18 Avenue de Friedland. One of the first alleged "victims" was Eduardo (Bruno) de Warren (1886-1957), brother of Hamelin. Jacques and Hamelin were arrested on charges of inciting minors to commit debauchery. d'Adelswärd-Fersen was arrested on 9 July by Octave Hamard, chief of the Paris police and his deputy Blot by order of Charles de Valles, pretrial judge. The order stated the suspicion of indecent behavior with minors and offending the public decency. He was brought to La Santé Prison after arrest. The newspapers and magazines published alleged details of Jacques' and Hamelin orgies, which they called 'Messes Noires' - Black Masses in their homes twice a week with youngsters from high classes, mostly recruited from Lycée Carnot, Chaptal, Condorcet, Janson-deSailly and Saint-Joseph-des-Tuileries school.
According to Roger Peyrefitte, the scandal started with a failed blackmail attempt by Jacques' former servant demanding 100000 francs in return for his silence. Jacques' mother refused to pay, he went to the police. At the beginning, police dismissed the allegations. But the story was later confirmed by another arrested blackmailer who was an intimate acquaintance of Albert François de Warren. Will H.C. Ogrinc reports that after investigating French National Archive in 2003, he didn't find any documents about failed blackmail attempt by Jacques’ former valet and it was probably invented by Roger Peyrefitte. By the court documents, the valet, whose name was Velpry told to investigators about the seldom visits of brothers Croisé de Pourcelet to Fersen apartment and that after one of their visits, he had found obscene photos and handkerchiefs stained with sperm on the table. He also claimed that he let know Jacques’ mother about it and quit his job. Some documents mention that Jacques was blackmailed by several rent boys he had relations with. The dossier mentions names of six rent boys: Beret, Boscher, twenty-one-year-old Kothé, Lefebvre, nineteen-year-old Leroy, and fifteen-year-old Verguet, though there is no mention who of them may be the blackmailer.
Police started to watch some of schoolboys, which at first sight confirmed the allegations. Hamelin had fled to the United States on 27 June 1903, but d'Adelsward was arrested. His aunt Jeanne d’Adelswärd and former guardian viscount Audoin de Dampierre employed Edgar Demange, a lawyer who previously defended Alfred Dreyfus.
The trial started on 28 November 1903 in the Seine Tribunal. It was presided by Judge Bondoux. It was a closed trial with public barred from the hearings. Some schoolboys testified for the prosecution. The defence tried to prove d'Adelswärd-Fersen heterosexuality by making him testify about his encounters with women. Fersen and de Warren were found guilty, but being in prison for five months already Jacques was set free immediately after trial. He was also fined 50 francs and lost civil rights for five years. Hamelin stayed in prison and appealed his sentence to a higher court. The "entertainments" had been attended by the cream of Parisian society, including some Catholic priests and the writer Achille Essebac. This could be a factor which may have induced the court to drop some charges. According to Will H.C. Ogrinc, court limited the case to “inciting minors to debauchery” because of illegal conduct between boys and two young men in their twenties, preventing implications against older participants. Many boys did not appear to the interrogations and trial, since there were sent to countryside by their parent to avoid uncomfortable situations.
There is no detailed description of boys testaments, but Roger Peyrefitte mentioned Jean Lorrain's report in his memoirs ''Propos Secrets'', that after ''tableaux vivants'' d'Adelswärd-Fersen followed the boys, who were stimulated by the entertainment to the bathroom and masturbated them.
The scandal foiled d'Adelswärd-Fersen plans to marry Blanche Suzanne Caroline de Maupeou (1884-1951), a daughter of respected Protestant aristocratic and wealthy Protestant industrialist Viscount de Maupeou. The court documents mention that one of the blackmail letters was sent to viscount prior to scandal and that Blanche's family was happy to receive the information prior to arrest and cancel marriage plans. After d'Adelswärd-Fersen's release on 3 December 1903, he tried to visit his fiancée, with intent to explain the affair, but was sent away by a servant. There were rumours in press, that he tried to end his life, but the accounts in ''Gazzetta Piemontese'' and ''Le Figaro'' differ.
After his marriage plans were foiled, d'Adelswärd-Fersen remembered the island of Capri from his youth, and decided to build a house there. The island had already attracted other homosexual or bisexual visitors, such as Christian Wilhelm Allers, W. Somerset Maugham. E.F. Benson, Norman Douglas, Robbie Ross, Oscar Wilde, Friedrich Alfred Krupp, and Compton Mackenzie and his wife Faith Stone; and attracted many others during Adelsward's stay. He stayed originally at Hotel Quisisana and then bought land at the top of a hill in the northeast of the island, close to where the Roman emperor Tiberius had built his ''Villa Jovis'' two millennia earlier. He commissioned his friend Édouard Chimot to design a villa, initially called ''Gloriette'', but was eventually christened ''Villa Lysis'' (later sometimes referred to as ''Villa Fersen'') in reference to Plato's Socratic dialogue ''Lysis'' discussing friendship (or, according to modern notions, homosexual love). When the construction started, d'Adelswärd-Fersen left Capri to visit Far East. He mostly spent time on Ceylon, where he mostly wrote ''Lord Lyllian''. He returned to Capri in the autumn of 1904, visiting United States on the way back.
At some point after his return, he had to flee Capri temporarily, since some islanders blamed d’Adelswärd for a local worker accident death during the construction of Villa Lysis. He went to Rome, where he met a fourteen-year-old construction worker selling newspapers, Nino Cesarini. Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen had fallen in love with the boy immediately. Jacques obtained Nino's family permission to take him as secretary. In the spring of 1905 Jacques and Nino visited Sicily, where they met with Wilhelm von Gloeden in Taormina.
of the villa was completed in July 1905. ''Villa Lysis'' is a notable building.
Its style is described by some as "Liberty" but is not Liberty or Art Nouveau in
the French manner but may perhaps be described as "Neoclassical decadent". The
large garden is connected to the villa by steps leading to an Ionic portico. In
the atrium a marble stairway with wrought-iron balustrade leads to the first
floor, where there are bedrooms with panoramic terraces, and a dining room. The
ground-floor sitting-room, decorated with blue majolica and white ceramic,
overlooks the Gulf of Naples. In the basement there is a 'Chinese Room', in
which opium was smoked.
d'Adelswärd-Fersen and Nino travelled to Paris, where Jacques delivered a manuscript to publishers and went directly to Oxford. After returning to Capri, Jacques, Nino and their four boy servants travelled to Chine. They all returned to Villa Lysis at the beginning of 1907.
Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen’s published his novel about Capri ''Et le feus'éteignit sur la mer…'' (And the fire was smothered by the sea) in 1909. It was dedicated to Kate Wolcott Perry and Saidee Wolcott Perry. The novel told the story of young sculptor Gérard Maleine on Capri. The book was highly criticized, since Jacques wrote quite frivolous about Capri habits and morals. Some islanders, recognising themselves in the book, tried to prevent its distribution. Roberto Ciuni reports that Communal Council of Capri decided to pursue Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen expulsion from the island on its formal meeting on 16 September 1909. Villa Lysis and its inhabitants had nasty reputation among locals. Giorgio Amendola, the future leader of the Italian Communist Party, who lived on Capri when he was eleven-year-old boy, led a small gang of boys and girls in 1918 and wrote in his autobiography: “There were forbidden zones we were not supposed to set foot on. For instance, we were told never to draw near a white villa near [Monte] Tiberio, because (…) nasty things were happening there. Later I grasped that Fersen was meant, and his strange friendships. I was eleven years old, and the Caprian boys were of about my age. They knew very well the meaning of all these allusions.”
Local authorities used the parties d'Adelswärd-Fersen threw to celebrate Nino's army enlistment and twentieth birthday as an additional reason for expelling him from the island. The parties were held in Matermània grottos and included theatrical shows with Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen playing handsome young Hypatos and Nino Cesarini playing role of soldier of Mithra. Fearing the scandal, authorities asked d'Adelswärd-Fersen's brother-in-law, marquis Alfredo di Bugnano, who was married to Jacques sister Germaine, to intervene. Marquis summoned d'Adelswärd to Naples and presented him two options - either to leave Italy voluntarily or being expelled official. Jacques chose to leave. He returned to France in November 1909 and stayed briefly in Paris at Rue Eugène Manuel, 24. Nino Cesarini left Capri with d'Adelswärd-Fersen.
They didn't stay in Paris for long. Jacques and Nino left for Porquerolles on the Îles d'Hyères near Toulon and later moved to Villa Mezzomonte in Nice. d'Adelswärd-Fersen also traveled to the Far East again, returning in the early 1911. Nino was discharged from military service in September 1911 and Jacques took him to a trip through the Mediterranean to the Far East. They returned to Nice at the end of Spring 1912.
Jacques acquired permission to return to Capri in April 1913. He dedicated the poem, ''Ode à la Terre Promise'' (Ode to the promised land) to the Italian Prime Minister Luigi Luzzatti as a celebration of his return.
When the war is started in 1914, d'Adelswärd-Fersen was asked to show up for military service by French authorities. He was found unfit for service by specialists in the French consulate in Naples and sent to a hospital for opium addiction. It was reported that he secretly used cocaine, while in hospital to compensate for opium. At that time he met Italian sculpture Vincenzo Gemito. After Jacques came back to Capri, doctors declared him incurably ill. He mostly spent his days without leaving the villa, either working in his study or using opium in the smoking room, which was called Opiarium by Naples' newspaper Il Mattino.
In 1920, d'Adelswärd-Fersen met fifteen-year-old Corrado "Manfred" Annicelli, son of a notary from Sorrento, who came for vacation to Capri with his parents. The boy was flattered by Fersen’s attentions, the parents raised no objection to their son being left in his company, and throughout 1922 and much of 1923 they met in Capri and on the mainland. In mid-October 1923 Fersen took Manfred to Sicily and there, in Taormina, renewed his acquaintance with Baron von Gloeden, who, after spending the war in Germany, was back in his studio. At the beginning of November they returned to Naples, where Nino met them, crossed over to Capri, walked up from Marina Grande to the villa to what everyone thought was joyful homecoming. After dinner that night, in the presence of the unsuspecting Nino and Manfred, Fersen committed suicide by taking an overdose of cocaine in a glass of wine. His ashes are conserved in the non-Catholic cemetery of Capri. Nino was left 300,000 francs and the usufruct of the Villa Lysis, with power to let it. Ownership of the villa and its contents went to Germaine; everything else was left to his mother, the Baroness d’Adelswärd. After a number of unsatisfactory tenants Nino sold his rights to Germaine, who gave the villa to her daughter, the Marchesa del Castelbianco. Ierace’s statue of Nino seated on a triton shell and a painting of him in the nude on horseback were sold to an antiquary, together with the furniture of the Chinese room. On his return to Rome, Nino took up his father’s trade of newsvendor and for many years was to be seen in charge of a newspaper kiosk. He died, middle-aged, in a Roman hospital.
''Lord Lyllian'', published in 1905, is one of d'Adelswärd-Fersen's more important novels, satirizing 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 who seems awfully similar to 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 caricatured. The work is an audacious mix of fact and fiction, including four characters that are alter egos of d'Adelswärd-Fersen himself. ''Lord Lyllian'' was translated and first published in English in 2005.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE