A Union Like Ours: The Love Story of F. O. Matthiessen and Russell Cheney by Scott Bane

A Union Like Ours: The Love Story of F. O. Matthiessen and Russell Cheney by Scott Bane
Publisher: Bright Leaf
Genre: Historical, Biography, Non-Fiction, LGBTQ
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

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.

Two men who want to be together finding a way to make it work.

I’d never heard of activist F. O. Matthiessen and artist Russell Cheney until I picked up this book. I was intrigued by the way these two managed to navigate life and a relationship during the early 20th century. I can’t imagine being them, with the laws against LGBTQ people, the hatred and the harshness of trying to be authentic at the time.

I loved that there are pieces of their private correspondence in amongst the rest of the story because it made the men seem more real, not just a story to be told.

I liked, though that seems odd, that these men were human and struggled. I know that sounds strange, but it made them more human. There’s success, but there’s also the problem of healthcare at the time, how to handle depression and the general atmosphere of the world at the time. I liked seeing how they navigated these choppy waters and still managed to stay together. It was refreshing.

If you’re looking for a book that’s not like the rest with a couple that proves love is real, then pick up a copy today.