After a chance meeting aboard the ocean liner Paris in 1924, Harvard University scholar and activist F. O. Matthiessen and artist Russell Cheney fell in love and remained inseparable until Cheney’s death in 1945. During the intervening years, the men traveled throughout Europe and the United States, achieving great professional success while contending with serious personal challenges, including addiction, chronic disease, and severe depression.
During a hospital stay, years into their relationship, Matthiessen confessed to Cheney that “never once has the freshness of your life lost any trace of its magic for me. Every day is a new discovery of your wealth.” Situating the couple’s private correspondence alongside other sources, Scott Bane tells the remarkable story of their relationship in the context of shifting social dynamics in the United States. From the vantage point of the present day, with marriage equality enacted into law, Bane provides a window into the realities faced by same-sex couples in the early twentieth century, as they maintained relationships in the face of overt discrimination and the absence of legal protections.