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.”
Austen, Roger. 1977. Playing the game: The homosexual novel in America. Indianapolis, New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
Baedeker, Karl. 1896. Austria, including Hungary, Transylvania, Dalmatia, and Bosnia. Leipsic: Karl Baedeke; London: Dulau & Co.
Bojti, Zsolt. 2017. A magyar mint alakzat a késő viktoriánus meleg irodalomban: Adalékok a queer kultúrtörténetéhez. In Enikő Bollobás (ed.), A szubjektum színeváltozásai: Narratív, kapcsolati és testi alanyiság az irodalomban és a kultúrában, 53–68. Szeged: Americana.
Bojti, Zsolt. 2019. Slum or Arcadia? Hungary as “other space” in Imre by Edward Prime-Stevenson. Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 25(1). 67–83.
Bristow, Joseph. 2011. Homosexual writing on trial: from Fanny hill to Gay news. In Hugh Stevens (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Gay and Lesbian Writing, 17–33. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cook, Matt. 2008. London and the culture of homosexuality, 1885–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crozier, Ivan. 2008. Introduction: Havelock Ellis, John Addington Symonds and the construction of Sexual inversion. In Ivan Crozier (ed.), Sexual inversion: A critical edition by Havelock Ellis & John Addington Symonds, 1897, 1–86. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Féray, Jean-Claude, Mandred Herzer. 1990. Homosexual studies and politics in the 19th century: Karl Maria Kertbeny. Trans. Glen W. Peppel. Journal of Homosexuality 19(1). 23–47.
Genette, Gérard. 1983 . Narrative discourse: An essay in method. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. New York: Cornell University Press.
Gifford, James (ed.). 2003. Introduction to Edward Prime-Stevenson, Imre: A memorandum, 13–29. Peterborough: Broadview.
Leck, Ralph M. 2016. Vita sexualis: Karl Ulrichs and the origins of sexual science. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press.
McDonald, Peter D. 2008. Old phrases and great obscenities: The strange afterlife of two Victorian anxieties. Journal of Victorian Culture 13(2). 294–302.
Plato. 2008 [ca. 385–370 BC]. The symposium (M. C. Howatson & Frisbee C. C. Sheffield eds.). Trans. M. C. Howatson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Prime-Stevenson, Edward [Xavier Mayne]. 1906. Imre: A memorandum. Naples: The English Book-Press/R. Rispoli.
Prime-Stevenson, Edward. 1911. A book list of a small library. The Independent 71(328). 1328–1331.
Prime-Stevenson, Edward [E. Irenaeus Stevenson]. 1896. The cuckoo and the sparrow: The Hungarian millenial and its significance. The Outlook 54(12). 504–506.
Prime-Stevenson, Edward [Xavier Mayne]. [ca. 1909]. The intersexes: A history of similisexualism as a problem in social life. Privately Printed.
Prime-Stevenson, Edward [E. Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson]. 1902. Kossuth: (1802–1902). The Independent 54(2811). 2472–2476.
Raffalovich, Marc-André, Philip Healy & Frederick S. Roden (eds.). 2016 . Uranism and unisexuality: A study of different manifestations of the sexual instinct. Trans. Nancy Erber & William A. Peniston. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Setz, Wolfram (ed.). 2013 . The sins of the cities of the plain. Kansas City: Valancourt Books.
Tobin, Robert Deam. 2015. Peripheral desires: The German discovery of sex. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Wood, Janice Ruth. 2008. The struggle for free speech in the United States, 1897–1915: Edward Bliss Foote, Edward Bond Foote, and anti-Comstock operations. New York and London: Routledge.