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.
SCOTT BANE is a program officer at The John A. Hartford Foundation.
“In A Union Like Ours, Scott Bane carefully tracks both men’s careers through the changes in American culture that they were either reflecting or contributing to . . . [A] smart, sensitive study.”—Gay and Lesbian Review
“[P]articularly impressive in Bane’s work is the thorough, 360-degree view he gives to his subjects' lives . . . A Union Like Ours is an absorbing read and a significant addition to America’s sociological and intellectual history.”—Washington Independent Review of Books
“Scott Bane shows the relationship between F. O. Matthiessen and the painter Russell Cheney as an example of how two men could—precariously and passionately—live together and love each other in the America of the 1930s and 1940s. His book enriches our knowledge of the gay past.”—Colm Tóibín, international best-selling author of The Magician: A Novel
“A Union Like Ours succeeds as a nuanced exploration of a marriage, one characterized by great joy but also buffeted by tremendous conflict (societal, financial, and health-related). I came to know these men, their life together, and their creative output in a layered way.”—R. Tripp Evans, author of Grant Wood: A Life
“The relationship between Cheney and Matthiessen is a terrific subject. Bane is in his element when writing about intimacy and about the pathologization of homosexuality in the early twentieth century.”—Lance Richardson, author of House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row