The Green Carnation

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The Green Carnation book cover

The Green Carnation, first published anonymously in 1894, was a scandalous novel by Robert Hichens whose lead characters are closely based on Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas – also known as "Bosie", whom the author personally knew. It was an instant succès de scandale on both sides of the Atlantic.

The reviewer for The Observer wrote, "The Green Carnation will be read and discussed by everyone... nothing so impudent, so bold, or so delicious has been printed these many years."

The book features the characters of "Esmé Amarinth" (Wilde), and "Lord Reginald (Reggie) Hastings" (Douglas). The words put in the mouths of the hero and his young friend in the story are mostly gathered from the sayings of their originals. Robert Hichens spent nearly a year "in the company of the men" and was able to accurately recreate the atmosphere and relationship between Oscar and Bosie.

The book was withdrawn from circulation in 1895, but by that time the damage had been done. Wilde soon stood two consecutive trials for gross indecency and was sentenced to two years at hard labour. The Green Carnation was one of the works used against him by the prosecution.

The Green Carnation was republished in 1948 with an introduction by the author, which also included Wilde's letter to The Pall Mall Gazette, 2 October 1894, denying he was the anonymous author. It was reissued in paperback in this form in 1992, and republished again in 2006 as a hardcover with a foreword by Anthony Wynn.

In the letter Wilde wrote:

Sir. Kindly allow me to contradict, in the most emphatic manner, the suggestion, made in your issue of Thursday last, and since then copied into many other newspapers, that I am the author of The Green Carnation. I invented that magnificent flower. But with the middle-class and mediocre book that usurps its strangely beautiful name I have, I need hardly say, nothing whatsoever to do. The Flower is a work of Art. The book is not.[1]

There is a song The Green Carnation in Noël Cowards Operetta Bitter Sweet, the quartet of the aesthetes, a parody of the Dandy life style and the aestheticism movement and at the same time a tongue-in-cheek homage to the "gay live style" of the time.


  1. ^ Cacciottolo, Mario (10 March 2017). "Oscar Wilde's jail key and letter on display in Malta". BBC News. Retrieved 10 March 2017.

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