The recent publication of a paperback French edition of Teleny in Jean-Jacques Pauvert's collection Lectures amoureuses (Paris, La Musardine, 2009, 192p) provided me with the opportunity to read the erotic novel attributed to Oscar Wilde. At Les Mots à la Bouche, where several copies were displayed in a stack, I was first attracted by the cover which features a portrait by Egon Schiele.
I was surprised by how explicit and detailed the descriptions of the sex scenes are...
Teleny was first published anonymously in England in 1893 by Leonard Smithers. According to Charles Hirsch, a French bookseller established in London who had seen the manuscript, the published version had been significantly amended by Smithers: the Prologue which introduced the characters was omitted, and the action was switched from London to Paris.
Hirsch came into possession of the manuscript after Smithers's death and in 1934 a French translation of Teleny, based on the manuscript, was published in Paris, under the Ganymède Club imprint, with an introduction by Hirsch. This is, apparently, the text of the current paperback edition. The manuscript has since been lost.
Teleny is thought to have been in part written by Oscar Wilde, with the possible collaboration of three close friends. Its composition is contemporary with The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), "the most explicit novel about love and sex between men that had ever been published - at least by a respectable publisher. There had been works of pornography like The Sins of the Cities of the Plain, but these had never had the mass audience reached by Dorian Gray," writes Neil McKenna in his excellent, though provocative, biography The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (London, Century, 2003, 535p), adding:
In the first part of the novel Des Grieux gives an account of some of his not-so-satisfactory sexual encounters with women. During one of them, in a dirty brothel, he hears for the first time the expression 'rose-leaf' and he is puzzled(*):
Needless to say that when he gets to explore his sexuality with Teleny later on, he finds rose-leaves a 'thrilling sensation.'
Most available English editions of Teleny reproduce the text of the faulty 1893 edition. The best editions seem to be the Gay Sunshine Press (San Francisco) edited by Winston Leyland (1984) and the Gay Modern Classics (London) edited by John McRae (1986). None are currently in print.
Graham Robb, who wrote the best biography of Rimbaud in English, reviews on two full pages the third Pléiade edition of Rimbaud's works by André Guyaux (see Rimbaud in Pléiade, version 3.0) in the April 17th issue of the TLS (Top of the class). He calls it a "splendid edition" and mentions "Guyaux's careful erudition". He adds, though: "A scrupulous textual critic with relatively little interest in biographical minutiae, and still less interest in Rimbaud's post-literary adventures, Guyaux is unusually sensitive to the poet's unrebellious side." And: "Poems of which no manuscript in Rimbaud's hand survives are printed in a smaller typeface. This is a curious act of editorial ostentation. It means that Le Bateau ivre, which is known from a copy made by Verlaine, looks less significant than some of Rimbaud's jokes and jottings: lacking official documents, the poet literally fades from sight." This is indeed annoying for a spendid edition. In his acknowledgments Guyaux thanks Graham Robb, among others, for having contributed, through intellectual exchanges, books and articles, to his better understanding of Rimbaud's works...
There were two good news this week, upon my return. The first was that Maine became the fifth state to legalize gay marriage, when the Governor signed the same-sex marriage bill voted by the Legislature on Wednesday. A popular challenge will probably lead to a referendum this November or on June 2010. In the meantime the new law will be suspended... The other good news was that the Obama administration has decided to reopen the access to the Statue of Liberty's Crown starting next July 4th! It had been closed for security reasons since 9/11.
(*) I discovered the lovely expression last year when reading an article on gay porn in Critique (see my blog post of March 23 2008)...