cover image Pagan Light: Dreams of Freedom and Beauty in Capri

Pagan Light: Dreams of Freedom and Beauty in Capri

Jamie James. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-37414-276-6

This beguiling study of bohemian subcultures celebrates the louche gay expat scene on the sun-drenched Italian island of Capri through the mid 20th century. Journalist James (The Glamour of Strangeness) traces Capri’s dissolute reputation to the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was said to hold obscene orgies with children on the island. He then leaps to the Edwardian era when Capri became a haven for writers, artists, and gay aesthetes drawn by its isolation, spectacular views, relaxed attitude toward homosexuality, and hedonistic vibe. James centers his profile of the community on the French aristocrat and writer Jacques d’Adelswärd Fersen, who was convicted of corrupting minors in 1903 and fled to Capri—where he resumed corrupting minors in private and at mystical ceremonies. There was also a thriving lesbian contingent, led by the painter Romaine Brooks, who entangled herself in many a dramatic love triangle with women and men. James’s narrative spotlights famous Capri sojourners including Oscar Wilde, D.H. Lawrence, and Vladimir Lenin and their art and writings; along the way he offers colorful historical anecdotes that feature wild parties, ritual nudity, and occasional gunplay, as well as a travelogue of the modern-day island. The result is a sensitive, wryly comic, engrossing history about creative eccentrics and erotic outlaws seeking a physical and spiritual home. Photos. [em](Mar.) [/em]