UBC Library acquires two rare historic gay novels linked to Oscar Wilde

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      UBC Library has acquired two historic documents of gay literature that could have possibly been written by Irish author Oscar Wilde.

      The books Teleny and Des Grieux were obtained by Justin O'Hearn, a UBC PhD candidate in Victorian literature. When O'Hearn learned that Des Grieux was up for auction at Christie's London on November 18, he launched a crowdfunding campaign to purchase it.

      O'Hearn raised over $3,000 from donors and the UBC Library contributed the remaining amount to purchase Des Grieux ($23,000) and Teleny ($16,000).

      Teleny, or the Reverse of the Medal was first published anonymously in a 1893 edition with only 200 copies. Only five sets of the two-volume book are known to exist. It is one of the earliest examples of gay erotica and one of the first novels to openly address homosexuality.

      The book tells the tale of a Frenchman, Des Grieux who develops a relationship with Teleny, a handsome, young Hungarian pianist. It follows the pair through their doomed love affair, involving orgies, the gay underworld, conflicted feelings about same-sex relations, affairs with women, telepathy, hypnosis, and the paranormal.

      It was deemed obscene at the time of its publication, and was attributed to Oscar Wilde.

      Don Erhardt/UBC

      Des Grieux was published in 1899, and was a prelude to the story in Teleny. Only three copies are known to remain. As they were in private collections, the novel has been little studied by scholars.

      The acquisitions are now a part of UBC Library's Colbeck Collection of 19th-century literature, which includes several rare texts by Wilde. 

      “UBC is the only collection in the world with both texts, and that is huge from a research perspective,” O'Hearn stated in a news release.

      “Even if Wilde didn’t write them, the speculation is still a fascinating part of his enduring mythology,” UBC English assistant professor Gregory Mackie stated. “These are crucial documents in queer history, literary history, sexuality studies, and studies of erotica.”