Last round


A young Fersen

There’s no glamour or glory in suicide. It’s a desperate, appalling course of action, devastating to loved ones and liable to turn up all sorts of loopholes in your insurance coverage. That said, few of us can deny a morbid fascination with those who break from the script with a self-penned exit, all the more so if it involves a grand, Tristan-style gesture rather than a pedestrian wrist-slash or cliff-jump.

French poet Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen set a high bar for elegant self-destruction in his Capri villa on this day in 1923. Already gravely ill, he took his last meal, then dissolved five grams of cocaine in a glass of champagne and expired. A Greek princess of his acquaintance applied rouge and lipstick to the corpse and placed a coin on his mouth to pay the ferryman, a classical reference Fersen would no doubt have enjoyed.Jacques

It was a death as decadent and self-willed as Fersen’s life had been. In his later years it was a waking dream, much of his time spent in Chinese robes, smoking opium in a specially outfitted room in the cellar, attended by Ceylonese houseboys and pining for his capricious Roman lover Nino. The Caprese frankly preferred it when Fersen was ripped to the gills; in his more lucid moments he was notorious as a menace to the island’s adolescent males.

Born Jacques d’Adelswärd to minor nobility and a major fortune, he later added the second barrel to his name in honour of his ancestor, the Swedish adventurer Count Fersen who was a favourite — and possibly lover — of Marie Antoinette. After his arrest in 1903 for hosting lewd black masses in his Paris apartment, the young poet became persona non grata in France.

Following a failed suicide and an equally unsuccessful attempt to join the Foreign Legion, he withdrew to Capri where he was welcomed by a pan-European colony of like-minded exiles. He built Villa Lysis among lemon trees and olive groves, at once handsomely neo-classical and prophetically mausoleum-like.

lordlylianThere Fersen dedicated his life to sensuality and poetry, his humid verse thick with opium smoke, heavy with self-pity and over-ripe with classical allusion. A contemporary critic said that he produced some good verses “but an infinite amount of very bad ones”. What self-awareness he possessed was saved for the 1905 roman à clef Lord Lyllian, which parodied his own downfall.


But the work of Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen, indebted as it was to the Symbolists and Decadents, was already unfashionable before his death and is all but forgotten now. So is the man himself, more or less. Even the wonderful (and otherwise comprehensive) Dedalus Book of Literary Suicides: Dead Letters finds no place for him. That leaves his house as his most lasting monument, where, above the entrance, you can still read the words which summed up Fersen’s obsessions: “AMORI ET DOLORI SACRUM” – dedicated to love and sadness.

The Villa Lysis is currently for sale at €7 million.  After checking down the back of the sofa I am pleased to announce that I am only €6,999,998.63 short of this goal.



  1. “Dedicated to love and sorrow” please.

  2. cardon patrick


    Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen, Messes Noires. Lord Lyllian (1905)
    éditions QuestionDeGenre/GKC

    Le succès de Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen (1880-1923) ne se dément pas. Les éditions originales ou anciennes de ses livres se vendent aujourd’hui à des prix remarquables. Je lui ai consacré en 1991 un dossier, enrichi en 1993, qui permet de com prendre dans quel contexte polémique son œuvre s’est développée. On doit à Mirande Lucien d’avoir donné une image assez exacte d’Akademos, revue que Fersen a fondée en 1909 et soutenue toute l’année et qui peut à juste titre être considérée comme la première revue homosexuelle française. Jean-Claude Féray a attiré notre attention sur son œuvre littéraire aux éditions Quintes-feuilles. Alors qu’il vient de publier Jeunesse (1907), je suis heureux d’avoir enfin pu mettre la dernière main à cette réédition de Lord Lyllian (1905).

    Lord Lyllian est un roman à clefs où se rencontrent les sommités homosexuelles de la fin du xixe : Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas, John Gray, Jean Lorrain, Joséphin Péladan, Achille Essebac, Robert de Montesquiou, Friedrich Krupp — et Fersen lui-même — ainsi que leurs égéries les actrices Ellen Terry et Sarah Bernhard. Les amateurs de ces personnages devenus de véritables icônes se réjouiront de la manière dont Adelswärd-Fersen les met en scène avec des dialogues très camp que Wilde n’aurait pas reniés et dans des poses mélodramatiques à souhait. J’espère que, comme moi, vous tomberez amoureux de Lord Lyllian, dans une nouvelle édition portée par d’éminents spécialistes respectivement de la littérature homosexuelle et de la littérature décadente, Jean-Claude Féray et Jean de Palacio.

    Patrick Cardon

    17 € ISBN 978-2-908050-68-4

    Disponible à partir du 1er mars aux librairies Les Mots à la Bouche, 75004 et Comme un roman 75003 Paris
    ou commandes franco de port = chèque de 17 euros libellé à GKC
    à adresser à Patrick Cardon chez Faria
    37 rue Gabrielle
    94220 Charenton le Pont (France)
    tél 06 03 554 566.

  3. Forget Paris, Capri in the ’20s was the happening place. As long you weren’t an attractive, unwilling teenage boy, that is.

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