In 1893, a novella called Teleny hit the streets of London, touted as “the most powerful and cleverly written erotic romance written in recent years.” The book was released by an anonymous author, but it didn’t take long for Oscar Wilde’s name to become associated with the text thanks to a man named Charles Hirsch, who decided to spill all the tea.
Hirsch was a French bookseller living in London and close friend to Wilde. According to Hirsch’s account, Wilde turned up in his shop one day with several handwritten pages and explained that some of his friends would come to pick them up. This went on for a few weeks, with the same group of guys taking the manuscript and then dropping it back off with new additions at Hirsch’s store.
Finally, Hirsch read the first draft of the text. “It was evident to me that several writers of unequal literary merit had collaborated in this anonymous but profoundly interesting work,” he wrote. Hirsch went on to publish his own printing of the book in 1934, in which he reaffirmed his story that Wilde was a collaborator. To this day, Teleny is printed with attribution to Wilde.
When I first heard this story, my curiosity got the better of me. After all, who doesn’t like a filthy book? So, I got a copy and ranked each chapter’s raunchiness on a scale of 1 to 5 eggplant emojis. You know why.
Our main character, an emo Victorian guy named Camille, sees a sexy musician named Teleny for the first time at a concert and falls madly in love. Like, literally madly. He gets so turned on he describes it as painful and has to run out of the theater to have a panic attack. I love a stunt queen, and I can already tell we’re in for some drama with this one.
Sadly, the hottest thing that happens is a handshake. One passage reads: “I bowed, blushing. The pianist [Teleny] stretched forth his ungloved hand. In my fit of nervousness, I had pulled off both my gloves so that I now put my bare hand into his.”
Rating: 🍆🍆, for the slow burn and old-fashioned barebacking.
Camille is still so lovesick after meeting Teleny that he goes home to have an erotic fever dream, as one does. Then, things get weird. He fantasizes that Teleny magically turns into his sister, which instigates a prolonged incest scene. It ends when Camille’s mom wakes him up to talk about his crush. Awkward!
Rating: 🍆, because this chapter is as gross as it is raunchy. I had to keep reminding myself this book had multiple authors. You know that old saying: Too many perverts spoil the wet dream. Or something.
This entire chapter is dedicated to Camille’s sexual history. Sounds promising, right? Wrong. He talks about watching his mother’s maid have sex with a brawny blacksmith. Then, he unpacks his humiliating teenage visit to a brothel with his friends. The brothel scene is bleak. Like, episode-of-Chernobyl bleak. There’s a long description of a sex worker dying of consumption, which isn’t a sentence I thought I’d ever write about gay erotica. Alas, here we are.
Rating: 🍆🍆, because I pictured the horny blacksmith as Gaston from Beauty & The Beast, and that kinda did it for me.
Camille evolves from stunt queen to stalker like some kind of fuckboy Pokémon in his final form. He starts following Teleny home after his shows. Maybe this was the Victorian era version of scrolling all the way through your crush’s Facebook pictures? Regardless, it totally blows up in his face when he sees Teleny take a married Countess back to his place for the night. The only action here is a lot of French kissing, some intense nipple play, and a fumbling handjob—coincidentally, also how I describe my senior year of high school. It’d be a wholesome good time if it weren’t for the predator lurking just outside the open window. Still, a marked improvement in terms of hotness.
Rating: 🍆🍆🍆🍆, but only because I stan The Countess for her sexual agency and sensitive nips.
This chapter is a master class in toxic masculinity. After watching Teleny hook up with a twink named Byrancourt (more on him later), Camille decides the only way to stop loving him is to force himself to love someone else. His plan? Have sex with his mother’s maid, with or without consent. Over it. This guy is a sociopath. He doesn’t follow through on his threat against the maid’s virginity, but her boyfriend does. What follows is an attempted rape, an actual rape, and finally, her suicide. That’s all in the span of 17 pages. What the hell? I was promised porn, not a Polanski film.
Rating: 0 egglant emojis, since I had to stop reading to do self-care. Sadly, even a hot bath didn’t wash away the memory of this chapter.
The stalking continues. This time, Camille follows Teleny and Bryancourt (the twink) to the docks for some cruising! Camille gets propositioned by a few guys, one of which he describes as a “spermsucker” (an actual job title, not a slur, mind you). “He does the work for the love of the thing,” Camille says. And, like, same. It’s all too much for Camille, who’s harboring more self-loathing than a Log Cabin Republican. He tries to jump into the water, but at the last minute someone pulls him to safety. It’s Teleny!
They profess their undying love for each other, which is confusing because they’ve only had one conversation. But who cares? They finally have sex, and it’s actually loving and tender.
Rating: 🍆🍆🍆🍆🍆, because the bar was set low, but it was the first chapter where I didn’t feel like I needed a shower or a Xanax after reading.
This chapter opens with Camille giving a long lecture on why anal sex is totally natural, a message we can all—ahem—get behind. However, his argument goes off the rails when he uses farts to prove his point. “Who is the man that, at least once in his lifetime, has not felt a perfect satisfaction in breaking wind?” he asks. Clearly, this is why it took his stank ass seven chapters to get a damn boyfriend.
Things heat up when Teleny and Camille get invited to an exclusive sex party hosted by Bryancourt the Twink™. The evening, which starts strong, plunges into madness when Bryancourt announces the multi-course dinner. Bryancourt’s boyfriend says he wants to teach the twink how to eat stuffed dates. So he puts his partner up on the table, and the following ensues:
Then he slipped the dates into the hole of the anus, where he nibbled them as his friend pressed them out, after which he licked carefully all the syrup that oozed out and trickled on the buttocks.
Rating: 🍆🍆🍆🍆, for creativity and technique. Honestly, though: Why would you serve dates at an orgy?! So gassy! No wonder these people are so preoccupied with farts.
Our lovers move in together, but after a few weeks, there’s trouble in paradise. Teleny has a ton of debt, and Camille suspects that he’s cheating. Meanwhile, word spreads that the pair is an item, earning them the nickname “The Angels of Sodom,” which is probably the best band name I’ve ever heard.
This chapter has some of the most realistic, beautifully written love scenes between the new couple. They keep pledging their eternal love for each other, which unfortunately only lasts until the end of the chapter. Out of nowhere, Teleny tells Camille he’s moving. A carriage turns up at the door, and he exits, leaving a heartbroken Camille in his wake.
Rating: 🍆🍆🍆🍆, since this is the most true-to-life chapter—and not just in terms of the sex. I’ve seen plenty of deeply committed gay relationships last a week then implode, and it’s a whole mood.
How does the novel end? With nonsense and tragedy, of course! Camille locks himself in his office for days to brood. As it turns out, Victorians were way better at brooding than they were at fucking.
Camille then decides he can’t live without Teleny and heads over to his house. Once a stalker, always a stalker, right? He rushes inside just in time to discover Teleny had stabbed himself in the heart. He finds him lying naked on a bearskin rug, which is the campiest death possible. They profess their love to each other one last time as Camille holds Teleny in his arms.
Rating: 🍆, not because it was particularly sexy, but because it was finally over, and I was relieved in more ways than one.