Like clockwork, roughly every twenty years, in 1896, 1916, and 1937, novelist and travel writer Norman Douglas had to flee another nation in the wake of another gay scandal. After two years in the British foreign service, he was forced to leave St. Petersburg in 1896. He was 27. At loose ends the next year, he bought a villa outside of Naples. Still bored the year after that, he married his first cousin, had two sons, and divorced his wife within five years on the basis of her infidelity. Working at Ford Maddox Ford's literary journal The English Review he met, befriended, and feuded with D.H. Lawrence whose revenge was to render him a character, James Argyle, in Aaron's Rod. Amid the frenzy of the Great War in 1916, Douglas at 45 was charged with "indecent assault" on a 16 year-old lad. Douglas later explained it was "for kissing a boy and giving him some cakes and a shilling," but the youth was angry enough to press charges and Douglas was anxious enough to skip bail and live in exile in Capri. It's the setting of his best known novel, published the next year, a hedonistic farce called South Wind whose purported lightness I found a touch heavy. David Higdon says, 'The novel stands in a tradition of such works as Samuel Johnson's Rasselas, the Marquis de Sade's Justine, Thomas Love Peacock's Nightmare Abbey, and W. H. Mallock's The New Republic." His travel books include Siren Land: A Celebration of Life in Southern Italy and Old Calabria. Unreformed in his late sixties, Douglas faced another sex scandal and left Italy for France in 1937. Was he on schedule to have still another scandal in his late eighties? Unknown, because he died in 1952 with the last words, "Get these f---ing nuns away from me." His language was even saltier in his book of limericks, for years said to be among the most pirated writings in English.
Photo by Carl van Vechten, Florence, 1935