Narrating eros and agape

Erotext in the exposition Edward Prime-Stevenson’s Imre: A Memorandum1

Zsolt Bojti 1
  • 1 Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary
Zsolt Bojti


Fin-de-Siècle1 gay literature in English operated with a double narrative: one narrative offers a historical (and “innocent”) reading available to general readership; the other offers a personal (often illicit) reading available to the susceptible and initiated readers only. The double narrative, thus, allowed authors to give subtle visibility to same-sex desire in their works that would evade censorship. This paper argues that there is a similar double narrative in the exposition of Imre: A Memorandum by the American music critic and émigré writer Edward Prime-Stevenson. The double narrative of the novel, however, differs from that of prior gay literature. I argue that Prime-Stevenson thought it was a literary sin that prior gay literature offered a sensual, erotic, or even pornographic, subversive secondary reading to susceptible readers. In my reading, Prime-Stevenson consciously planted cues in the exposition of the novel, thus, created an erotext to trigger a similar subversive and illicit reading of his text. However, Prime-Stevenson used this technique to demonstrate that purely erotic literary representations denigrate same-sex desire; therefore, in what followed, he presented a different, agapeic view on same-sex desire. The paper substantiates that Prime-Stevenson’s intention was to break away from earlier narrative “traditions” of gay literature to offer a naturalised and legitimised representation and “script” of “homosexuality” per se. Prime-Stevenson did so in a crucial period of time, as the term “homosexual” just barely entered the English language and its pejorative connotations may not have been set in stone. The paper, as a result, casts a new complexion on sexuality as a literary phenomenon and the relevance of a complex narrative structure composed of “snares” and “false snares” in the exposition of Imre, which plays a crucial role in Prime-Stevenson authoring one of the very first openly homosexual novels in English, which has a happy ending.



A Hungarian version of the present paper was published as “Erósz és Agapé: Erotextus Edward Prime-Stevenson Imre: Egy emlékirat című regényének expozíciójában” (2019) in Literatura affiliated with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Supported by the ÚNKP-19-3 New National Excellence Program of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology.”

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