Teleny

Posted on October 9, 2010

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One of the first English gay pornographic novels, Teleny, or the Reverse of the Medal was supposedly written by Oscar Wilde, or at least a group of his friends, according to bookseller and pornographer Charles Hirsch, who claimed that the manuscript was originally left at his shop by Wilde and passed around from friend to friend via Hirsch.

The actual book was first published in an edition of 200 by Leonard Smithers, a late Victorian publisher involved in publishing and producing pornography in Paris and London at the turn of the 20th century and part of Wilde’s circle. He was one of the driving forces behind Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley’s collaboration on the English edition of Wilde’s play Salomé.

Teleny was published under Smither’s Erotika Biblion Society, which published erotica in small print runs of high quality and distributed the books privately (the society also printed versions of the Carmina of CatullusRichard Burton’s original translation of the One Thousand and One Nights and a version of Petronius’ Satyricon) The story is about the passionate affair between young Camille Des Grieux and the Hungarian pianist Teleny. Set in London in the original manuscript, Smithers changed the location to Paris.

It wasn’t until 1966 that Teleny came out in paperback, albeit with the graphic scenes removed, referring readers to a copy of the book in the British Museum if they wished to read the unexpurgated version. It finally was published in whole in 1986 and has been in print since then.

Teleny has a page on Wikipedia, here. It’s also on Google books, here. A graphic novel version of the book has been written and illustrated by Jon Macy, available on Amazon, here.

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