5 of the Most Scandalous Affairs in Literary History

Here’s Mallory Ortberg at The Toast with news of one of the most wonderful literary meetings in history:

History has reached out to you specifically and given you a gift. The gift is the knowledge that Oscar Wilde once put his hand on Walt Whitman’s knee and then they drank elderberry wine together; the gift is that the next day a reporter turned up and Whitman expounded at length on his big, splendid boy.

If it’s true that the two 19th-century literary icons did more than just brush each other’s knees in passing, then this is indeed quite an exciting revelation. It’s just as awesome as it is awkward to picture the dandy author of The Picture of Dorian Gray stroking the very long beard of America’s great bard; their encounter undoubtedly ranks as one of the better flings in literary history. But here are five more that ought to make your jaw drop even farther.

NPG x28098,Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas,by George Charles Beresford

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

It’s difficult to picture Wilde moving on from the handsome, young Douglas to the then-73-year-old Walt Whitman, but apparently Oscar didn’t discriminate.

The affair between Wilde and Douglas began in 1892, when Wilde was married with two sons, with many stops and starts due to a series of lover spats, including one in which Wilde was too critical of Douglas’ translation of his work. The romance slowly came to an end as Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry, started to realize there was more than just friendship between his son and Wilde. In attempt to stop the affair, the Marquess publicly attacked Wilde, first by leaving a visiting card at Wilde’s club, the Albemarle, that read: “For Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite” (yes, he misspelled “sodomite”). Wilde then turned around and had Queensberry arrested and charged with criminal libel. The only way for Queensberry to win his innocence was to prove that Wilde was, in fact, a sodomite, and things only got messier from there…