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Pagan Light

Dreams of Freedom and Beauty in Capri

Jamie James


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ISBN10: 1250251141
ISBN13: 9781250251145

Trade Paperback

352 Pages



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Isolated and arrestingly beautiful, the island of Capri has been a refuge for renegade artists and writers fleeing the strictures of conventional society from the time of Augustus, who bought the island in 29 BC after defeating Antony and Cleopatra, to the early twentieth century, when the poet and novelist Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen was in exile there after being charged with corrupting minors, to the 1960s, when Truman Capote spent time on the island. We also meet the Marquis de Sade, Goethe, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Compton Mackenzie, Rilke, Lenin, and Gorky, among other astonishingly vivid characters.

Grounded in a deep intimacy with Capri and full of captivating anecdotes, Jamie James’s Pagan Light tells how a tiny island served as a wildly permissive haven for people—queer, criminal, sick, marginalized, and simply crazy—who had nowhere else to go.


Praise for Pagan Light

"A splendid and nuanced collective biography."—The New York Times Book Review

"Pagan Light is a sequence of braided long-form profiles, full of bright digressions, horrors and lives that dead end . . . James deserves a lot of credit for giving attention to important artists who, in many cases, have not been sufficiently examined by critics . . . [A] roguish, diverting book."—David Mason, The Wall Street Journal

"A languorous, tipsy walking tour of a locale laden with history . . . [James] proves a most entertaining guide . . . A pleasure."—Alexander C. Kafka, The Washington Post

"Pagan Light is mesmerizing. Every detail is compelling. I felt I was reading a family history of a family far more interesting than mine."—Edmund White, author of Our Young Man

“No one writes better than Jamie James about the intersection of history, art, literature, and place, especially when the place in question is a haven for nonconformists. After reading this ravishing book, I wasn’t sure whether to head to Capri without delay or to decide a visit would be redundant, because James had already taken me there.”—Anne Fadiman, author of The Wine Lover’s Daughter

"Part travelogue, part history, and part literary analysis, this book pleasantly meanders through the lives of foreigners who have, over the centuries, decamped to the little island of Capri to find sexual and artistic freedom . . . A colorful, captivating literary companion for those visiting the island and a peek into the lives of some figures largely faded from history."—Kirkus Reviews

"[A] beguiling study . . . [James] offers colorful historical anecdotes that feature wild parties, ritual nudity, and occasional gunplay, as well as a travelogue of the modern-day island. The result is a sensitive, wryly comic, engrossing history about creative eccentrics and erotic outlaws seeking a physical and spiritual home."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

FROM THE MAINLAND, Capri looks tantalizingly near, peaking up from the sea like a perfect meringue, just out of reach, but it has always been a world apart. The island is just twenty-two nautical miles from Naples, yet until the twentieth...

About the author

Jamie James

Jamie James is the author of several books of nonfiction, including The Glamour of Strangeness, Rimbaud in Java, and The Snake Charmer, and two novels. He has contributed to The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, and The Atlantic, among other publications, and he previously served as the American arts correspondent for The Times (London). The recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation grant, he has lived in Indonesia since 1999.

Fabrizio Ottaviani

Jamie James

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