The University of British Columbia Library has acquired two rare, 19th-century novels that scholars believe may have been written by Oscar Wilde.
The books are examples of early homosexual literature, and only a handful of the first editions exist in the world. The UBC Library bought Teleny (published in 1893) for about C$16,000, and Des Grieux (published in 1899) for about C$23,000.
It was Justin O’Hearn, a PhD candidate in Victorian Literature at UBC, who discovered the books were about to go up for auction. He quickly started a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, and within a few days reached his goal of C$3,000. Once O’Hearn earned faculty support with the help of Gregory Mackie, assistant professor in the university’s English department (and O’Hearn’s dissertation supervisor), the library contributed the rest from a fund earmarked for rare and special acquisitions.
“This makes UBC the only institution in the world that owns both of these texts, which is hugely significant for scholars and researchers and anyone with an interest in this type of material,” O’Hearn told PW. “One of my goals with this project was just to make these texts available, because no one has ever seen it until now.”
The novels portray the relationship between the two title characters, Teleny and Des Grieux, and O’Hearn said they include explicit descriptions of sex. “All types of sex are depicted in both of these books. 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,” he said. “It’s blush-worthy, the things that are depicted.”
O’Hearn plans to transcribe and publish the second-ever edition of Des Grieux, which has never been available to the public before, as the only two other existing copies are in private collections. Both Teleny and Des Grieux will be added to UBC Library’s Colbeck Collection of 19th-century literature, which already includes many of Oscar Wilde’s letters, original manuscripts, and first-edition works.