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Teleny -- Oscar Wilde -- Chapter 7-1

This Teleny chapter took a little while, since LustSpiel is an old-fashioned, lazy outfit, unwilling to emulate the busy bees from the self-help literature. And because it far exceeds the event horizon of today's attention spans, we've broken the chapter into parts. Here's part one. Enjoy:


(The narrator Camille des Grieux fell hopelessly in love with Teleny, the diabolical, yet passionate pianist. More details here:)

"On the morrow the events of the night before seemed like a rapturous dream."
"Still you must have felt rather seedy, after the many——"
"Seedy? No, not at all. Nay, I felt the 'clear keen joyance' of the lark that loves, but 'ne'er knew love's sad satiety.' Hitherto, the pleasure that women had given me had always jarred upon my nerves. It was, in fact, 'a thing wherein we feel there is a hidden want.' Lust was now the overflowing of the heart and of the mind—the pleasurable harmony of all the senses.
"The world that had hitherto seemed to me so bleak, so cold, so desolate, was now a perfect paradise; the air, although the barometer had fallen considerably, was crisp, light, and balmy; the sun—a round, furbished, copper disc, and more like a red Indian's backside than fair Apollo's effulgent face—was shining gloriously for me; the murky fog itself, that brought on dark night at three o'clock in the afternoon, was only a hazy mist that veiled all that was ungainly, and rendered Nature fantastic, and home so snug and cosy. Such is the power of imagination.
"You laugh! Alas! Don Quixote was not the only man who took windmills for giants, or barmaids for princesses. If your sluggish-brained, thick-pated costermonger never falls into such a trance as to mistake apples for potatoes; if your grocer never turns hell into heaven, or heaven into hell—well, they are sane people who weigh everything in the well-poised scale of reason. Try and shut them up in nutshells, and you will see if they would deem themselves monarchs of the world. They, unlike Hamlet, always see things as they really are. I never did. But then, you know, my father died mad.


"They, unlike Hamlet, always see things as they really are. I never did."


"Anyhow, that overpowering weariness, that loathsomeness of life, had now quite passed away. I was blithe, merry, happy. Teleny was my lover; I was his.
"Far from being ashamed of my crime, I felt that I should like to proclaim it to the world. For the first time in my life I understood that lovers could be so foolish as to entwine their initials together. I felt like carving his name on the bark of trees, that the birds seeing it might twitter it from morn till eventide; that the breeze might lisp it to the rustling leaves of the forest. I wished to write it on the shingle of the beach, that the ocean itself might know of my love for him, and murmur it everlastingly."
"Still I had thought that on the morrow—the intoxication passed—you would have shuddered at the thought of having a man for a lover?"
"Why? Had I committed a crime against nature when my own nature found peace and happiness thereby? If I was thus, surely it was the fault of my blood, not myself. Who had planted nettles in my garden? Not I. They had grown there unawares, from my very childhood. I began to feel their carnal stings long before I could understand what conclusion they imported. When I had tried to bridle my lust, was it my fault if the scale of reason was far too light to balance that of sensuality? Was I to blame if I could not argue down my raging motion? Fate, Iago-like, had clearly shewed me that if I would damn myself, I could do so in a more delicate way than drowning. I yielded to my destiny, and encompassed my joy.
"Withal, I never said with Iago,—'Virtue, a fig!' No, virtue is the sweet flavour of the peach: vice, the tiny droplet of prussic-acid—its delicious savour. Life, without either, would be sapidless."
"Still, not having, like most of us, been inured to sodomy from your school-days, I should have thought that you would have been loath to have yielded your body to another man's pleasure."
"Loath? Ask the virgin if she regrets having given up her maidenhood to the lover she dotes on, and who fully returns her love? She has lost a treasure that all the wealth of Golconda cannot buy again; she is no longer what the world calls a pure, spotless, immaculate lily, and not having had the serpent's guile in her, society—the lilies—will brand her with an infamous name; profligates will leer at her, the pure will turn away in scorn. Still, does the girl regret having yielded her body for love—the only thing worth living for? No. Well, no more did I. Let 'clay-cold heads and lukewarm hearts' scourge me with their wrath if they will.
"On the morrow, when we met again, all traces of fatigue had passed away. We rushed into each other's arms and smothered ourselves with kisses, for nothing is more an incentive to love than a short separation. What is it that renders married ties unbearable? The too-great intimacy, the sordid cares, the triviality of every-day life. The young bride must love indeed if she feels no disappointment when she sees her mate just awakened from a fit of tough snoring, seedy, unshaven, with braces and slippers, and hears him clear his throat and spit—for men actually spit, even if they do not indulge in other rumbling noises.
"The husband, likewise, must love indeed, not to feel an inward sinking when a few days after the wedding he finds his bride's middle parts tightly tied up in foul and bloody rags. Why did not nature create us like birds—or rather, like midges—to live but one summer day—a long day of love?
"On the night of this next day Teleny surpassed himself at the piano; and when the ladies had finished waving their tiny handkerchiefs, and throwing flowers at him, he stole away from a host of congratulating admirers, and came to meet me in my carriage, waiting for him at the door of the theatre; then we drove away to his house. I passed that night with him, a night not of unbroken slumbers, but of inebriating bliss.
"As true notaries of the Grecian god, we poured out seven copious libations to Priapus—for seven is a mystic, cabalistic, propitious number—and in the morning we tore ourselves from each other's arms, vowing everlasting love and fidelity; but, alas! what is there immutable in the ever-changing world, except, perhaps, the sleep eternal in the eternal night."
"And your mother?"
"She perceived that a great change had been wrought in me. Now, far from being crabbed and waspish, like an old maid that cannot find rest anywhere, I was even-tempered and good-humoured. She, however, attributed the change to the tonics I was taking, little guessing the real nature of these tonics. Later, she thought I must have some kind of liaison or other, but she did not interfere with my private affairs; she knew that the time for sowing my wild oats had come, and she left me complete freedom of action."


 "Perfect happiness cannot last long."


"Well, you were a lucky fellow."
"Yes, but perfect happiness cannot last long. Hell gapes on the threshold of heaven, and one step plunges us from ethereal light into erebian darkness. So it has ever been with me in this chequered life of mine. A fortnight after that memorable night of unbearable anguish and of thrilling delight, I awoke in the midst of felicity to find myself in thorough wretchedness.
"One morning, as I went in to breakfast, I found on the table a note which the postman had brought the evening before. I never received letters at home, having hardly any correspondence, save a business one, which was always transacted at the office. The handwriting was unknown to me. It must be some tradesman, thought I, leisurely buttering my bread. At last I tore the envelope open. It was a card of two lines without any address or signature."
"And——?"
"Have you ever by accident placed your hand on a strong galvanic battery, and got through your fingers a shock that for a moment bereaves you of your very reason? If so, you can have but a faint impression of what that bit of paper produced on my nerves. I was stunned by it. Having read those few words I saw nothing more, for the room began to spin round me."
"Well, but what was there to terrify you in such a way?"
"Only these few harsh, grating words that have remained indelibly engraved on my mind.
"'If you do not give up your lover T… you shall branded as an enculé.'
"This horrible, infamous, anonymous threat, in all its crude harshness came so unexpectedly that it was, as the Italians express it, like a clap of thunder on a bright sunshiny day.
"Little dreaming of its contents, I had opened it carelessly in my mother's presence; but hardly had I perused it than a state of utter prostration came over me, so that I had not even strength enough to hold up that tiny bit of paper.
"My hands were trembling like aspen leaves—nay, my whole body was quivering; so thoroughly was I cowed down with fear and appalled with shame.
"All the blood fled from my cheeks, my lips were cold and clammy; an icy perspiration was on my brow; I felt myself growing pale, and I knew that my cheeks must have been of an ashen, livid hue.
"Nevertheless, I tried to master my emotion. I lifted up a spoonful of coffee to my mouth; but, ere it had reached my lips, I gagged, and was ready to throw up. The pitching and tossing of a boat on the heaviest sea could not have brought about such a state of sinking sickness as that with which my body was then convulsed. Nor could Macbeth, upon seeing Banquo's murdered ghost, have been more terrified than I was.
"What was I to do? To be proclaimed a sodomite in the face of the world, or to give up the man who was dearer to me than my life itself? No, death was preferable to either."
"And still, you said just now that you would have liked the whole world to know your love for the pianist."
"I admit that I did, and I do not deny it; but have you ever understood the contradictions of the human heart?"
"Moreover, you did not consider sodomy a crime?"
"No; had I done society any harm by it?"
"Then why were you so terrified?"
"Once a lady on her reception day asked her little boy—a lisping child of three—where his papa was?
"'In his room,' said he.
"'What is he doing?' quoth the imprudent mother.
"'He is making proots,' replied the urchin, innocently, in a high treble, loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room.
"Can you imagine the feelings of the mother, or those of the wife, when, a few moments afterwards, her husband came into the room? Well, the poor man told me that he almost regarded himself as a branded man, when his blushing wife told him of his child's indiscretion. Still, had he committed a crime?
"Who is the man that, at least once in his lifetime, has not felt a perfect satisfaction in breaking wind, or, as the child onomatopoetically expressed it, making a 'proot?' What was there, then, to be ashamed of; that surely was no crime against nature?
"The fact is that now-a-days we have got to be so mealy-mouthed, so over-nice, that Madame Eglantine, who 'raught full semely after her meat' would be looked upon, in spite of her stately manners, as something worse than a scullery-maid. We have become so demurely prim that every member of parliament will soon have to provide himself with a certificate of morality from the clergyman, or the Sabbath-school teacher, before he is allowed to take possession of his seat. At any cost, appearances must be saved; for ranting editors are jealous gods, and their wrath is implacable, for it pays well, as good people like to know what naughty folks do."


"We have become so demurely prim that every member of parliament will soon have to provide himself with a certificate of morality from the clergyman, or the Sabbath-school teacher, before he is allowed to take possession of his seat."


"And who was the person who had written those lines to you?"
"Who? I cudgelled my brain, and it evoked a number of spectres, all of which were as impalpable and as frightful as Milton's death; all threatened to hurl at me a deadly dart. I even fancied, for an instant, that it was Teleny, just to see the extent of my love for him."
"It was the Countess, was it not?"
"I thought so, too. Teleny was not a man to be loved by halves, and a woman madly in love is capable of everything. Still, it seemed hardly probable that a lady would use such a weapon; and moreover, she was away. No, it was not, it could not be, the Countess. But who was it? Everybody and nobody.
"For a few days I was tortured so incessantly that at times I felt as if I were growing mad. My nervousness increased to such a pitch that I was actually afraid to leave the house for fear of meeting the writer of that loathsome note.
"Like Cain, it seemed as if I carried my crime written upon my brow. I saw a sneer upon the face of every man that looked at me. A finger was for ever pointing at me; a voice, loud enough for all to hear, was whispering, 'The sodomite!'
"Going to my office, I heard a man walking behind me. I went on quickly; he hastened his step. I almost began to run. All at once a hand was laid on my shoulder. I was about to faint with terror. At that moment I almost expected to hear the awful words,—'In the name of the law I arrest you, sodomite!'
"The creaking of a door made me shiver; the sight of a letter appalled me.
"Was I conscience-stricken? No, it was simply fear—abject fear, not remorse. Moreover, is not a sodomite liable to be condemned to perpetual imprisonment?
"You must think me a coward, but after all even the bravest man can only face an open foe. The thought that the occult hand of an unknown enemy is always uplifted against you, and ready to deal you a mortal blow, is unbearable. To-day you are a man of a spotless reputation; to-morrow, a single word uttered against you in the street by a hired ruffian, a paragraph in a ranting paper by one of the modern bravi of the press, and your fair name is blasted for evermore."
"And your mother?"
"Her attention had been drawn elsewhere when I opened my letter. She only remarked my paleness a few moments afterwards. I therefore told her that I was not feeling well, and seeing me retching she believed me; in fact, she was afraid I had caught some illness."
"And Teleny—what did he say?"
"I did not go to him that day, I only sent him word that I would see him on the morrow.
"What a night I passed! First I kept up as long as I could, for I dreaded going to bed. At last, weary and worn out, I undressed and laid down; but my bed seemed electrified, for all my nerves began to twitch, and a feeling of creepiness came over me.
"I felt distracted. I tossed about for some time; then, frightened lest I should grow mad, I got up, went stealthily to the dining-room and got a bottle of cognac, and returned to my bedchamber. I drank down about half a tumbler, and then went again to bed.
"Unaccustomed to such strong drinks I went off to sleep; but was it sleep?
"I awoke in the middle of the night, dreaming that Catherine, our maid, had accused me of having murdered her, and that I was about to be tried.
"I got up, poured myself another glass of spirits, and again found oblivion if not rest.
"On the morrow I again sent word to Teleny that I could not see him, although I longed to do so; but the day after that, seeing that I did not come to him as usual, he called upon me.
"Surprised at the physical and moral change which had come over me, he began to think that some mutual friend had been slandering him, so to reassure him, I—after much pressing and many questions—took out that loathsome letter which I as much dreaded to touch as if it had been a viper, and gave it to him.
"Although more than myself inured to such matters, his brow grew cloudy and thoughtful, and he even went pale. Still, after pondering over over it for a moment, he began to examine the paper on which those horrible words were written; then he lifted up both card and envelope to his nose, and smelt them both. A merry expression came all at once over his face. 'I have it—I have it—you need not be afraid! They smell of attar of roses,' cried he; 'I know who it is.'
"'Who?'
"'Why! can't you guess?'
"'The Countess?'
"Teleny frowned.
"'How is it you know about her?'
"I told him all. When I had finished, he clasped me in his arms and kissed me again and again.
"'I tried in every way to forget you, Camille, you see if I succeeded. The Countess is now miles away and we shall not see each other again.'
"As he said these words my eyes fell on a very fine yellow diamond ring—a moonstone—which he wore on his little finger.
"'That is a woman's ring,' said I, 'she gave it you?'
"He made no answer.
"'Will you wear this one in its stead?'
"The ring I gave him was an antique cameo of exquisite workmanship, surrounded with brilliants, but its chief merit was that it represented the head of Antinöus.
"'But,' said he, 'this is a priceless jewel;' and he looked at it closer. Then taking my head between his hands, and covering my face with kisses,—'Priceless indeed to me, for it looks like you.'
"I burst out laughing.
"'Why do you laugh?' said he, astonished.
"'Because,' was my reply, 'the features are quite yours.'
"'Perhaps then,' quoth he, 'we are alike in looks as well as in tastes. Who knows—you are, perhaps, my doppel-gänger? Then, woe to one of us!'
"'Why?'
"'In our country they say that a man must never meet his alter ego, it brings misfortune to one or to both;' and he shivered as he said this. Then, with a smile, 'I am superstitious, you know.'
"'Anyhow,' added I, 'should any misfortune part us, let this ring, like that of the virgin queen, be your messenger. Send it to me and I swear that nothing shall keep me away from you.'
"The ring was on his finger and he was in my arms. Our pledge was sealed with a kiss.
"He then began to whisper words of love in a low, sweet, hushed, and cadenced tone that seemed like a distant echo of sounds heard in a half-remembered ecstatic dream. They mounted up to my brain like the bubbles of some effervescent, intoxicating love-philtre. I can even now hear them ringing in my ear. Nay, as I remember them again, I feel a shiver of sensuality creep all over my body, and that insatiable desire he always excited in me kindles my blood.
"He was sitting by my side, as close to me as I am now to you; his shoulder was leaning on my shoulder, exactly as yours is.
"First he passed his hand on mine, but so gently that I could hardly feel it; then slowly his fingers began to lock themselves within mine, just like this; for he seemed to delight in taking possession of me inch by inch.
"After that, one of his arms encircled my waist, then he put the other round my neck, and the tips of his fingers twiddled and fondled my throat, thrilling me with delight.
"As he did so, our cheeks slightly grazed each other; and that touch—perhaps because it was so imperceptible—vibrated through all my body, giving all the nerves around the reins a not unpleasant twinge. Our mouths were now in close contact, and still he did not kiss me; his lips were simply tantalizing mine, as if to make me more keenly conscious of our nature's affinity.
"The nervous state in which I had been these last days rendered me ever so much the more excitable. I therefore longed to feel that pleasure which cools the blood and calms the brain, but he seemed disposed to prolong my eagerness, and to make me reach that pitch of inebriating sensuality that verges upon madness.


We tore off our clothes.


"At last, when neither of us could bear our excitement any longer, we tore off our clothes, and then naked we rolled, the one on the other, like two snakes, trying to feel as much of each other as we could. To me it seemed that all the pores of my skin were tiny mouths that pouted out to kiss him.
"'Clasp me—grip me—hug me!—tighter—tighter still!—that I may enjoy your body!'
"My rod, as tough as a piece of iron, slipped between his legs; and, feeling itself tweaked, began to water, and a few tiny, viscid drops oozed out.
"Seeing the way in which I was tortured, he at last took pity upon me. He bent down his head upon my phallus, and began to kiss it.
"I, however, did not wish to taste this delightful pleasure by halves, or to enjoy this thrilling rapture alone. We therefore shifted our position, and in a twinkling I had in my mouth the thing at which he was tweaking so delightfully.
"Soon that acrid milk, like the sap of the fig tree or the euphorbia, which seems to flow from the brain and the marrow, spouted out, and in its stead a jet of caustic fire was coursing through every vein and artery, and all my nerves were vibrating as if set in motion by some strong electric current.
"Finally, when the very last drop of spermatic fluid had been sucked out, then the paroxysm of pleasure which is the delirium of sensuality began to abate, and I was left crushed and annihilated; then a pleasant state of torpor followed, and my eyes closed for a few seconds in happy oblivion.
"Having recovered my senses, my eyes again fell on the repulsive, anonymous note; and I shuddered and nestled myself against Teleny as if for protection, so loathsome was truth, even then, to me.
"'But you have not told me yet who wrote those horrible words.'
"'Who? Why, the general's son, of course.'
"'What! Briancourt?'
"'Who else can it be. No one except him can have an inkling of our love; Briancourt, I am sure, has been watching us. Besides, look here,' added he, picking up the bit of paper, 'not wanting to write on paper with his crest or initials, and probably not having any other, he has written on a card deftly cut out of a piece of drawing paper. Who else but a painter could have done such a thing? By taking too many precautions, we sometimes compromise ourselves. Moreover, smell it. He is so saturated with attar of roses that everything he touches is impregnated with it.'
"'Yes, you are right,' said I, musingly.
"'Over and above all this, it is just a thing for him to do, not that he is bad at heart——'
"'You love him!' said I, with a pang of jealousy, grasping his arm.
"'No, I do not; but I am simply just towards him; besides you have known him from his childhood, and you must admit that he is not so bad, is he?'
"'No, he is simply mad.'
"'Mad? Well, perhaps a little more so than other men,' said my friend, smiling.
"'What! you think all men crazy?'
"'I only know one sane man—my shoemaker. He is only mad once a week—on Monday, when he gets jolly drunk.'
"'Well, don't let us talk of madness any more. My father died mad, and I suppose that, sooner or later——'
"'You must know,' said Teleny, interrupting me, 'that Briancourt has been in love with you for a long time.'
"'With me?'
"'Yes, but he thinks you dislike him.'
"'I never was remarkably fond of him.'
"'Now that I think it over, I believe that he would like to have us both together, so that we might form a kind of trinity of love and bliss.'
"'And you think he tried to bring it about in that way.'
"'In love and in war, every stratagem is good; and perhaps with him, as with the Jesuits, "the end justifies the means." Anyhow, forget this note completely, let it be like a mid-winter night's dream.'
"Then, taking the obnoxious bit of paper, he placed it on the glowing embers; first it writhed and crackled, then a sudden flame burst forth and consumed it. An instant afterwards, it was nothing but a little, black, crumpled thing, on which tiny, fiery snakes were hastily chasing and then swallowing each other as they met.
"Then came a puff from the crackling logs, and it mounted and disappeared up the chimney like a little black devil.
"Naked as we were on the low couch in front of the fireplace, we clasped and hugged each other fondly.
"'It seemed to threaten us before it disappeared, did it not? I hope Briancourt will never come between us.'
"'We'll defy him,' said my friend, smiling; and taking hold of my phallus and of his own, he brandled them both. 'This,' said he, 'is the most efficient exorcism in Italy against the evil eye. Moreover he has doubtless forgotten both you and me by this time—nay, even the very idea of having written this note.'
"'Why?'
"'Because he has found out a new lover.'
"'Who, the Spahi officer?'
"'No, a young Arab. Anyhow we'll know who it is by the subject of the picture he is going to paint. Some time ago he was only dreaming of a pendant to the three Graces, which to him represented the mystic trinity of tribadism.'
"A few days afterwards we met Briancourt in the green room of the Opera. When he saw us, he looked away and tried to shun us. I would have done the same.
"'No,' said Teleny, 'let us go and speak to him and have matters out. In such things never shew the slightest fear. If you face the enemy boldly, you have already half vanquished him.' Then, going up to him and dragging me with him,—'Well,' said he, stretching out his hand, 'what has become of you? It is some days since we have seen each other.'
"'Of course,' replied he, 'new friends make us forget old ones.'
"'Like new pictures old ones. By the bye, what sketch have you begun?'
"'Oh, something glorious!—a picture that will make a mark, if any does.'
"'But what is it?'
"'Jesus Christ.'
"'Jesus Christ?'
"'Yes, since I knew Achmet, I have been able to understand the Saviour. You would love Him, too,' added he, 'if you could see those dark, mesmeric eyes, with their long and jetty fringe.'
"'Love whom," said Teleny, 'Achmet or Christ?'
"'Christ, of course!' quoth Briancourt, shrugging his shoulders. 'You would be able to fathom the influence He must have had over the crowd. My Syrian need not speak to you, he lifts his eyes upon you and you grasp the meaning of his thoughts. Christ, likewise, never wasted His breath spouting cant to the multitude. He wrote on the sand, and could thereby "look the world to law." As I was saying, I shall paint Achmet as the Saviour, and you,' added he to Teleny, 'as John, the disciple He loved; for the Bible clearly says and continually repeats that He loved this favourite disciple.'
"'And how will you paint Him?'
"'Christ erect, clasping John, who hugs Him, and who leans his head on his friend's bosom. Of course there must be something lovably soft and womanly in the disciple's look and attitude; he must have your visionary violet eyes and your voluptuous mouth. Crouched at their feet there will be one of the many adulterous Marys, but Christ and the other—as John modestly terms himself, as if he were his Master's mistress—look down at her with a dreamy, half-scornful, half-pitiful expression.'
"'And will the people understand your meaning?'
"'Anybody who has any sense will. Besides, to render my idea clearer, I'll paint a pendant to it: "Socrates—the Greek Christ, with Alcibiades, his favourite disciple." The woman will be Xantippe.' Then turning to me, he added, 'But you must promise to come and sit for Alcibiades.'
"'Yes,' said Teleny, 'but on one condition.'
"'Name it.'
"'Why did you write Camille that note?'
"'What note?'
"'Come—no gammon!'
"'How did you know I wrote it?'
"'Like Zadig, I saw the traces of the dog's ears.'
"'Well, as you know it's me, I'll tell you frankly, it was because I was jealous.'
"'Of whom?'
"'Of you both. Yes, you may smile, but it's true.'
"Then turning towards me,—'I've known you since we both were but little more than toddling babies, and I've never had that from you,'—and he cracked his thumb-nail on his upper teeth—'whilst he,' pointing to Teleny, 'comes, sees, and conquers. Anyhow, it'll be for some future time. Meanwhile, I bear you no grudge; nor do you for that stupid threat of mine, I'm sure.'
"'You don't know what miserable days and sleepless nights you made me pass.'
"'Did I? I'm sorry; forgive me. You know I'm mad—everyone says so,' he exclaimed, grasping both our hands; 'and now that we are friends you must come to my next symposium.'
"'When is it to be?' asked Teleny.
"'On Tuesday week.'
"Then turning to me,—'I'll introduce you to a lot of pleasant fellows who'll be delighted to make your acquaintance, and many of whom have long been astonished that you are not one of us.'
"The week passed quickly. Joy soon made me forget the dreadful anxiety caused by Briancourt's card.
"A few days before the night fixed for the feast,—'How shall we dress for the symposium?' asked Teleny?
"'How? Is it to be a masquerade?'
"'We all have our little hobbies. Some men like soldiers, others sailors; some are fond of tightrope dancers, others of dandies. There are men who, though in love with their own sex, only care for them in women's clothes. L'habit ne fait pas le moine is not always a truthful proverb, for you see that even in birds the males display their gayest plumage to captivate their mates.'



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