January 20, 2015
Gay erotica with Oscar Wilde connection purchased with help of Kickstarter
by Nick Davies
Two little-known gay erotic novels with a connection to Oscar Wilde will soon be published again, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign by a Canadian scholar. Alison Flood reports for The Guardian that the obscure Teleny, and its even more obscure prequel Des Grieux, were recently purchased at a Christie’s auction by a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, Justin O’Hearn, who plans to publish the texts and rekindle the academic discussion about them.
The authorship of the books is, Flood is careful to note, still somewhat unclear. French bookseller Charles Hirsch attributed Teleny and Des Grieux to Wilde in 1934, stating that “Wilde had arrived at his shop with a manuscript, carefully wrapped, which he asked the bookseller to take care of. It was subsequently collected and returned by a series of young men, and when Hirsch unwrapped it, he found the manuscript of Teleny, written by several different authors.” Christie’s page for the auction only says that Teleny is “sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde,” and that the authorship “remains uncertain, and is more likely to have been a collaborative effort;” while Des Grieux is written in the same hand.
Gregory Mackie, an assistant professor of English at UBC, says that even if the books weren’t written by Wilde (or only by him), “the speculation is still a fascinating part of his enduring mythology.” But deputy chair at the Oscar Wilde Society Michael Seeney isn’t entirely convinced. “[Wilde’s involvement] is not corroborated by anybody else but obviously it made for a good story, when Hirsch published a new edition of [Teleny] in 1934,” he tells The Guardian, “The only other time Wilde’s name was mentioned in common with it before 1934 was by [occultist] Aleister Crowley.” Still, he concedes that it “some work on Des Grieux would be useful,” given that it’s such a rare book.
While Teleny has been republished several times over the years (occasionally under Wilde’s name), Des Grieux remains almost entirely unknown. O’Hearn, a PhD candidate in Victorian literature, points out on his Kickstarter page that “this text has only been seen by a small number of people and anyone interested in it cannot, at present, obtain a copy of it. I only have the slightest idea of what it contains based on second-hand accounts by people granted access to private collections.”
The books are notable, even unique, O’Hearn says, because of their explicit depictions of relationships between men. “All types of sex are depicted in both of these books,” he states, “but the homosexuality is the thing that makes it unique, because no book until that point had really dealt with it in a straightforward way. It’s blush-worthy, the things that are depicted.”
O’Hearn ended up raising some $3,000 on Kickstarter to acquire copies of Teleny and Des Grieux. Now, his goal is to transcribe and edit them in order to “disseminate the work as widely as possible for general readers and scholars alike.”
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.