Weekend links 144

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Ruins 3 by Rachel Thomas and Dan Tobin Smith.

“Dan wanted to do something on a really large scale and was looking at a lot of Piranesi and started talking to me about ruins. I then started looking at modern interpretations of this idea, I was obsessed with the post modern architecture of SITE, Disney fantasy settings, Busby Berkeley, Sotsass ceramics, Art Deco motifs in general, Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings, Arabic temples and on and on…” Rachel Thomas talks to Daisy Woodward about Imaginary View, an exhibition currently showing at Somerset House, London.

• A brief description of The Yokel’s Preceptor (1855), a guide to Victorian London’s gay underworld by William Dugdale. When do we get to see a facsimile of this document? The slang is a treat.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 054, a great selection by Biosphere of doomy ambience from the Post Punk/early Industrial era, 1979–1981.

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Stella (Ernest Boulton) with Fanny (Frederick Park) (c. 1860–1870).

While Stella and Fanny might be the most terrible show-offs, not to mention industrious sex workers, even they drew the line at coupling in public places. Over the course of the subsequent trial, and despite bribing witnesses, the prosecution failed to prove that sodomy had ever occurred, either between the two young men themselves, or within their circle of genteel “sisters”, or even in a dark corner behind the Haymarket with a passing guardsman. Eventually, and only after a second trial a year later, the young men were found not guilty and allowed to slip back into their lives of pro-am theatricals, touring together and separately in such limp pieces as A Comical Countess and A Morning Call.

Kathryn Hughes reviews Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England by Neil McKenna. Related: photographs of the pair.

The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, a book of essays and a cassette tape dedicated to the television dramatist.

Sheltered and Safe from Sorrow: “Victorian mourning rituals, tombstones, epitaphs, and other creepy things”.

Crate digging and the resurgence of vinyl. Related: Men & Vinyl, a Tumblr devoted to men and their discs.

• Designer Shirley Tucker talks about her cover for the first edition of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

• More Will Bradley at The Golden Age (formerly Golden Age Comic Book Stories).

The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2), a new track by The Haxan Cloak.

Psychedelic Press UK | Related: Catnip: Egress to Oblivion?

Paris in colour circa 1900.

Twilight (1983) by Pete Shelley | Twilight (2000) by Antony and the Johnsons | Twilight (2005) by Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd

Picturing Dorian Gray

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It’s taken a while but here at last are some of the pages from my series of illustrations based on The Picture of Dorian Gray, as featured in volume 2 of The Graphic Canon (“The World’s Great Literature as Comics and Visuals”) edited by Russ Kick. I agreed with Russ not to run everything so there’s some incentive to buy the book (or books…there are three volumes altogether). Now I’ve seen the printed edition the whole project seems even more remarkable: 500 large illustrated pages in a variety of media and art styles. Volume 2 runs through the 19th century and ends with my contribution; I opted to do this story in black-and-white but there’s colour used throughout the books. I especially like the Moby-Dick sequence by Matt Kish, a very different take on a very familiar tale.

As with many of the things I’ve been doing recently I opted for adapting materials of the period. Since I have a lot of Oscar Wilde-related reference material I was able to go further and incorporate details that relate directly to the book and Wilde’s life. All the text is taken from a scan of the first printing of the novel at the Internet Archive, the title lettering being drawn originally by Wilde’s friend, publisher and illustrator Charles Ricketts. A heavy black square on each page provides some continuity as well as resembling the frames of comic pages. (Or a picture frame.) The silhouette on the opening page is another of Wilde’s friends, the writer Max Beerbohm, taken from a drawing by William Rothenstein. The pair were dandyish Café Royal regulars throughout the 1890s.

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This is my favourite page. I liked the way the composition came together and also enjoyed being able to use John Singer Sargent’s portrait of W. Graham Robertson as the picture of Dorian. I’ve noted in an earlier post the similarity between this painting and the portrait seen in the BBC’s adaptation of the novel by John Osborne. Robertson was a theatre designer and illustrator who Wilde consulted when planning stage designs for what would have been the London debut of Salomé. Robertson was also (so far as we know) homosexual which adds an extra resonance.

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The Sibyl Vane page: a combination of details from The Studio, The Strand and The Magazine of Art. The motif at the foot of the page is by Walter Crane. Nothing of Wilde’s appeared in The Strand but that magazine’s most popular writer, Arthur Conan Doyle, had his second Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Sign of Four, commissioned at the same dinner that saw the commissioning of Dorian Gray, both novels being published by Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890.

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A page depicting Dorian’s distracting obsession with jewels and luxurious goods. This chapter can seem somewhat superfluous unless seen in the light of Wilde’s intention to write something like Huysmans’ À rebours (1884).

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The “Love that dare not speak its name” page. This makes explicit the subtext of the book although if you read the two paragraphs I selected it’s evident enough why Dorian is causing a problem for so many young men. The blindfolded Eros was a drawing by Walter Crane which I doubled then re-drew slightly so the pair were holding hands. The boy below is a picture from The Strand of the young Edward VII, a robust heterosexual in later years but with a son, Prince Albert Victoria, who became linked to the notorious Cleveland Street Scandal which involved a male brothel catering to aristocrats. The two young men in the picture frame are described as a pair of “panthers” in Neil McKenna’s The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (2003), by which he means that they were fin de siècle rent boys (as in Oscar’s remark about “feasting with panthers”); McKenna doesn’t give any further details about the photo but it suited the picture.

In addition to this series of illustrations, volume 2 of The Graphic Canon includes two of my Lewis Carroll illustrations in a section by different artists based on the Alice books. I’d be recommending The Graphic Canon even if I wasn’t a contributor, as I said above it’s a remarkable achievement. Watch out for it.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

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Illustration by W. Graham Robertson (19o8).

(No, this doesn’t concern Pink Floyd.)

The chapter – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn – is normally dropped because it jars, seems so strange compared to all the others and, to some, is vaguely homoerotic. [Kenneth] Grahame thought it essential.

Thus Mark Brown discussing the curious seventh chapter of The Wind in the Willows (1908) wherein Mole and Rat have a mystical encounter with the Greek god of nature in the British countryside:

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

Brown’s article concerns a forthcoming exhibition, Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, at the British Library, part of the summer’s Olympic celebrations. Kenneth Grahame’s hand-written text of chapter seven will be on display together with a later Arthur Rackham illustration of the goat god. The Library makes a point of noting that the Pan chapter is sometimes excised from the book although I’m not sure how often this occurs, it’s been present in all the editions I’ve seen including the cheap paperback edition I have somewhere. W. Graham Robertson’s rather fine drawing above (showing Mole and Rat bowing to their presiding deity) embellishes the first UK edition. Paul Bransom’s illustration below is the frontispiece to a 1913 US edition.

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Illustration by Paul Bransom (1913).

One benefit of this bit of news has been finding Robertson’s illustration which gives Brown’s use of “homoerotic” a slight twist. Robertson was a children’s illustrator and playwright who Neil McKenna in The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (2003) describes as being a member of the surreptitiously gay art world in London during the 1890s. (If there’s to be any dissent about this let’s note that one of his plays was entitled Pinkie and the Fairies…) Robertson knew Oscar Wilde but fell in with the contra-Wilde fraternity, notably Robert de Montesquiou, so gets left out of many accounts of Wilde’s circle. He was however immortalised by John Singer Sargent in this well-known portrait. I’ll be writing a little more about Robertson and Sargent’s painting at a later date. For more about the surprising recurrence of Pan in Victorian and Edwardian literature, see this earlier post.

Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands at the British Library opens on May 11th and runs throughout the summer.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrator’s archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Great God Pan
Peake’s Pan

Wildeana 3

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Some recent pieces of Wilde news. The cover above is for a new edition of Teleny and Camille, Jon Macy‘s comic strip adaptation of the erotic novel attributed to Oscar Wilde and members of his Uranian circle:

Teleny is the haunted musical genius that everyone desires but no one has truly touched… until the fateful night that he senses Camille’s presence in the audience. The wealthy young man is instantly seduced by Teleny’s dark beauty and smoldering melancholy. This groundbreaking and powerful early gay novel, written in secret by Oscar Wilde and his anonymous circle of writers, is now re-interpreted as a graphic novel, in all its lush, pansexual excess.

I wrote something about the novel last year. I’m not convinced that Wilde penned the whole thing but I can see places where he may have contributed. There’s a marvellous scene in an all-white room, for example, which seems inspired by the obsessive decor in Des Esseintes’ house from À rebours, the novel which had a great influence on Dorian Gray (both book and character). I’d been intending on writing something substantial about Macy’s adaptation all summer but failed dismally due to a deluge of deadlines. Suffice to say it’s a very accomplished and (most important) erotic work, doing full justice to a story that makes many later erotic novels seem timid and evasive. The drawings are black-and-white throughout which gives a Beardsley-like quality in places, and Macy conveys a period feel without fretting over details as I’m afraid I’d be tempted to do. Northwest Press have published the new edition and have a selection of reviews here.

For the other Wildeana, Lambda Literary had a review of a new book by Matthew Hofer and Gary Scharnhorst, Oscar Wilde in America: The Interviews which sounds like another essential purchase. And the Independent had this story about a sale of Wilde letters which included one to a magazine editor that may be read as a proposition. Readers of Neil McKenna’s The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde will be familiar with the form and know that there’s no “maybe” about it; Priapus was calling.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive
The Oscar Wilde archive

Teleny, Or the Reverse of the Medal

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Bibliothèque Libertine edition (1996).

The quintessence of bliss can, therefore, only be enjoyed by beings of the same sex… Teleny

More Wildeana, and yes, it’s that painting againTeleny is an authorless and explicitly homoerotic novel often attributed to Oscar Wilde although what evidence there is regarding its creation points to it being the work of several hands. It was published in a limited edition by Leonard Smithers in 1893 then subsequently reissued in a variety of editions which, being illicit and copyright-free, suffered excisions and textual amendments. Smithers was a good friend of Wilde’s and in addition to being Victorian London’s most prominent pornographer (a sign in his Bond Street shop window proudly declared “Smut is cheap today”), also financed The Savoy magazine and kept Aubrey Beardsley solvent after the artist’s commissions dried up following Wilde’s imprisonment in 1895.

The convoluted history of Teleny begins with its mysterious origin, recounted here by Beardsley scholar Brian Reade in Philippe Jullian’s 1969 Wilde biography:

Charles Hirsch, a Parisian bookseller, came to London in 1889 and opened a shop in Coventry Street where he sold Continental books and newspapers. Wilde was a frequent customer of his, and Hirsch used to obtain for him Alcibiades enfant à l’Ecole and The Sins of the Cities of the Plain. Many of these were reprints of well-known works of this character. Towards the end of 1890 Wilde brought into the shop a thin paper commercial-style notebook, wrapped up and sealed. This he instructed Hirsch to hand over to a friend who would present his card. Shortly afterwards, one of Wilde’s young friends whose name Hirsch had forgotten by the time he recorded the incident called at the shop and after showing Wilde’s card took away the packed-up notebook. A few days later the young man came back and handed the manuscript to Hirsch, saying another man would call and collect it in a similar manner. In all, four men seem to have taken away and returned the manuscript, and the last left the wrapper undone. Succumbing to temptation, Hirsch opened the parcel and read the contents of the notebook, the leaves of which were loose. On the cover there was a single word TELENY; inside about 200 pages of a novel which appeared to be a collaborative effort. No author’s name was given. The handwritings were various; there were conspicuous erasures, cuttings-out and corrections. Hirsch believed that some of the writing was Wilde’s. In due course Hirsch gave the manuscript back to Wilde. He next came across Teleny when he found it had been printed by Leonard Smithers in an edition privately issued and limited to 200 copies, with only the imprint ‘Cosmopoli’ at the bottom of the title page, and the date 1893. In this printed version, Paris had been substituted for London as the scene of the action, and there were certain differences of detail. There was an added sub-title Or the reverse of the Medal, and the Prologue had been cut out. When Hirsch got to know Smithers in 1900, he asked about the book, and was told that Smithers had wished not to upset the self-respect of clients by leaving the story with a London background. There was also Des Grieux. A Prelude to Teleny which was announced for publication by the Erotica Biblion Society in 1908. One can go over the names and literary mannerisms of some of the better-remembered persons in his circle in 1890, but to associate any of them with the authorship of Teleny would be difficult. Copies of Teleny in the 1893 edition are very rare indeed. The British Museum has one, but those in private possession have been reduced in number no doubt by executors and others who considered them unfit for anything else than fire. A new edition was brought out by the Olympia Press of Paris, and in it Wilde was definitely, but mistakenly, credited with the authorship; and an expurgated version was produced in paperback form by Icon in 1966, with an introduction by Montgomery Hyde.

Neil McKenna in The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (2003) is convinced of Wilde’s involvement whereas Richard Ellmann firmly dismissed the notion. Some of the dissent is perhaps a result of competing agendas, in McKenna’s case a determination to establish a firmly gay persona for the author. McKenna explores Wilde’s sex life in detail, something that Ellmann frequently skates over. Ellmann, meanwhile, has a better grasp of Wilde’s literary prowess and evidently thought that Teleny didn’t adequately match the rest of the author’s work. I remain agnostic on the issue while being struck by the frequent use in Teleny of flower metaphors which the narrator deploys when describing the object of his affection. Having recently read McKenna’s book (which quotes throughout from Wilde’s letters), and re-read The Picture of Dorian Gray, it’s impossible to avoid Wilde’s continuous recourse to flower imagery when referring to people or even items of furniture. The most famous instance of this was his description of Aubrey Beardsley and sister Mabel in a letter to Ada Leverson: “What a contrast the two are—Mabel a daisy, Aubrey the most monstrous of orchids.” On the debit side I’d say that Wilde is unlikely to have invented the central relationship between Camille de Grieux and his Hungarian lover, René Teleny. McKenna’s book also makes it clear that Wilde preferred younger men, particularly teenagers, and would no doubt have outlined a different story had he been the sole originator.

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left: Gay Men’s Press edition (1986); right: La Musardine edition (with Egon Schiele cover, 2009).

Everyone who discusses Teleny, however, is agreed that its prose is far more finely-wrought than much general writing of the period, never mind the era’s pornography. The sexual description is powerfully erotic and gives the lie to that canard (perpetuated by the egregious Auberon Waugh and his annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award) that describing sex is almost always a mistake. Describing anything poorly is a mistake, the challenge is to do the thing well, and Teleny describes the encounters of its pair of lovers better than many writers would manage today.

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Genuine (left) and pastiche (right) Beardsley designs.

With such an intriguing work it’s always a boon if there’s further discussion on the subject, and the Wilde connection pays off here with a whole section of the Oscholars website being devoted to the book. Of particular note is John McRae’s introduction to a revised and textually corrected edition published in 1986 by London’s Gay Men’s Press. Jason Boyd, meanwhile, argues that the book could never be wholly attributed to Wilde. Also present is a page showing different cover designs for the various editions, some of which are shown above. As well as the inevitable Wilde portraits and Beardsley designs there’s the surprise appearance of Flandrin’s Jeune Homme Assis au Bord de la Mer on several editions. Other pages at Oscholars include plates from an illustrated edition of the book whose publisher and illustrator, Uday K Dhar, forbid reproduction elsewhere, an all-too-common example of copyright paranoia which ensures the audience for their work remains a limited one. By contrast, artist Jon Macy has an entire site devoted to his comic strip adaptation of Teleny. His black-and-white drawing and attention to detail combine to make his book another item for the shopping list.

Update: The Oscholars site appears to have folded so the links now connect to archived pages.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive
The recurrent pose archive