The Importance of Being Oscar

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I’ve recently been reading Teleny which has been ‘attributed’ to Oscar Wilde. Published in London in 1893 the book has been hailed as an early example of gay erotica. I fell in love with the works of Oscar Wilde when I was in junior high school. Surely his play The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the most perfect comedies for the stage ever written.

Although it has been claimed that Teleny was authored by Wilde, it is much more likely to have been written by a small group of associates. It is more than likely that Wilde was a member of this group, however whether or not he was actually one of the authors or played an editorial role has never been proven. Charles Hirsch, a London erotic bookseller and original publisher of Teleny cast some light on the group – “A few days later one of the young gentlemen I had seen with Wilde handed me a package and said ‘Would you kindly give this to one of our friends who will call for it in a few days time.'” Hirsch reported that this process was repeated several times before it finally made its way back to Wilde. The book seller defied strict instructions not to open the package and he discovered a manuscript that had obviously been written by several different hands.

The story concerns a young Parisian business man who falls in love with a Hungarian classical pianist, Rene Teleny. The two men realize that they are linked by a strange sexual telepathy and their relationship has tragic consequences.

Teleny is reputed to have transcended its crude pornographic origins by creating characters that are complex and well developed. Although the writing is certainly inconsistent some of the more imaginative passages display wit and erudition that could certainly have been contributed (or at least inspired by) Wilde. Curiously for a novel that has been described as belonging to the genre of gay erotica much of the sex in the first half of the story is actually very heterosexual. There is a great deal of description of “lower frontal lips encased in hair” and so on. Actually much of the hetero sex is pretty gross.

When the two young guys eventually get together the descriptions of their encounters are very graphic and at times quite arresting and beautiful. For fans of of the gay erotic genre this early classic should be of some interest.

Work is the curse of the drinking classes – Oscar Wilde

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