British Columbia

UBC acquires rare, gay books with unproven links to Oscar Wilde

Some of the first published gay-themed novels, with unproven links to Oscar Wilde, are now the property of UBC thanks to one student's crowdfunding campaign.

Books written in late 1890s purchased thanks to student's fundraising idea

The late 19th century novels Teleny was acquired by UBC.

Some of the first published gay-themed novels, with unproven links to Oscar Wilde, are now the property of UBC thanks to one student's crowdfunding campaign.

The late 19th century novels Teleny and its sequel Des Grieux were bought for $16,000 and $22,000 respectively.

"In less than a week I was over halfway to the goal. I wanted to raise around $3000, which I thought would be a very competitive bid," said Justin O'Hearn, who stumbled upon an auction for the books while researching his PhD dissertation in Victorian literature. 

Teleny was published in 1893 while Des Grieux was published in 1899. Some believe Oscar Wilde, who did go to prison for homosexual acts, may have helped write the book.

Teleny was first published in 1893.
"Teleny is very explicit. It's probably the first novel that focuses not on simply gay activities but on a romantic relationship between two men," said Gregory Mackie, who is an assistant professor in UBC's English department. 
As gay erotica, these books would have been forbidden literature in the 1890s. There are only three known copies of Des Grieux in the world and the novel has never been reproduced. Meanwhile, only 200 copies of Teleny were published.   

UBC is now the only library in the world where the books have been brought together and scholars can work on them in one place.

"The other copies that are available are either at the British library or they are in private collections. And, it was a huge, huge coup for the library and the university," said Katherine Kalsbeek, the acting head of Rare Books and Special Collections at the UBC Library. 

The price of the two books was much more than O'Hearn originally anticipated, which is when the UBC library stepped in with money from a fund earmarked for rare and special acquisitions. 

"The hammer price for Teleny was $16,000 Canadian. And, the hammer price for Des Grieux ended up being 22,000," said O'Hearn.  

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