The Picture of Dorian Gray

Literary significance

Publication history

The Picture of Dorian Gray originally was a short novel submitted to Lippincott's Monthly Magazine for serial publication. In 1889, J. M. Stoddart, an editor for Lippincott, was in London to solicit short novels to publish in the magazine. On 30 August 1889, Stoddart dined with Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and T. P. Gill [14] at the Langham Hotel, and commissioned short novels from each writer.[15] Conan Doyle promptly submitted The Sign of the Four (1890) to Stoddart, but Wilde was more dilatory; Conan Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes novel was published in the February 1890 edition of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, yet Stoddart did not receive Wilde's manuscript for The Picture of Dorian Gray until 7 April 1890, nine months after having commissioned the novel from him.[15]

The literary merits of The Picture of Dorian Gray impressed Stoddart, but, as an editor, he told the publisher, George Lippincott, "in its present condition there are a number of things an innocent woman would make an exception to. . . ."[15] Among the pre-publication deletions that Stoddart and his editors made to the text of Wilde's original manuscript were: (i) passages alluding to homosexuality and to homosexual desire; (ii) all references to the fictional book title Le Secret de Raoul and its author, Catulle Sarrazin; and (iii) all “mistress” references to Gray's lovers, Sibyl Vane and Hetty Merton.[15]

The Picture of Dorian Gray was published on 20 June 1890, in the July issue of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. British reviewers condemned the novel’s immorality, and said condemnation was so controversial that the W H Smith publishing house withdrew every copy of the July 1890 issue of “Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine” from its bookstalls in railway stations.[15] Consequent to the harsh criticism of the 1890 magazine edition, Wilde ameliorated the homoerotic references, in order to simplify the moral message of the story.[15] In the magazine edition (1890), Basil tells Lord Henry how he “worships” Dorian, and begs him not to “take away the one person that makes my life absolutely lovely to me.” In the magazine edition, Basil concentrates upon love, whereas, in the book edition (1891), Basil concentrates upon his art, saying to Lord Henry, “the one person who gives my art whatever charm it may possess: my life as an artist depends on him.” The magazine edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) was expanded from thirteen to twenty chapters; and the magazine edition’s final chapter was divided into two chapters, the nineteenth and twentieth chapters of the book edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). Wilde’s textual additions were about "fleshing out of Dorian as a character" and providing details of his ancestry that made his “psychological collapse more prolonged and more convincing.”[16]

The introduction of the James Vane character to the story develops the socio-economic background of the Sibyl Vane character, thus emphasising Dorian's selfishness and foreshadowing James’s accurate perception of the essentially immoral character of Dorian Gray; thus, he correctly deduced Dorian’s dishonourable intent towards Sybil. The sub-plot about James Vane's dislike of Dorian gives the novel a Victorian tinge of class struggle. With such textual changes, Oscar Wilde meant to diminish the moralistic controversy about the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Preface

Consequent to the harsh criticism of the magazine edition of the novel, the textual revisions to The Picture of Dorian Gray included a preface in which Wilde addressed the criticisms and defended the reputation of his novel.[17] To communicate how the novel should be read, in the Preface, Wilde explains the role of the artist in society, the purpose of art, and the value of beauty. It traces Wilde's cultural exposure to Taoism and to the philosophy of Chuang Tsǔ (Zhuang Zhou). Earlier, before writing the preface, Wilde had written a book review of Herbert Giles’s translation of the work of Zhuang Zhou. The preface was first published in the 1891 edition of the novel; nonetheless, by June 1891, Wilde was defending The Picture of Dorian Gray against accusations that it was a bad book.[18]

In the essay The Artist as Critic, Oscar Wilde said that:

The honest ratepayer and his healthy family have no doubt often mocked at the dome-like forehead of the philosopher, and laughed over the strange perspective of the landscape that lies beneath him. If they really knew who he was, they would tremble. For Chuang Tsǔ spent his life in preaching the great creed of Inaction, and in pointing out the uselessness of all things.[19]

Criticism

In the 19th century, the critical reception of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) was poor. The book critic of The Irish Times said, The Picture of Dorian Gray was "first published to some scandal."[20] Such book reviews achieved for the novel a “certain notoriety for being ‘mawkish and nauseous’, ‘unclean’, ‘effeminate’ and ‘contaminating’.”[21] Such moralistic scandal arose from the novel's homoeroticism, which offended the sensibilities (social, literary, and aesthetic) of Victorian book critics. Yet, most of the criticism was personal, attacking Wilde for being a hedonist with a distorted view of conventional morality of Victorian Britain. In the 30 June 1890 issue, the Daily Chronicle the book critic said that Wilde's novel contains “one element . . .which will taint every young mind that comes in contact with it.” In the 5 July 1890 issue, of the Scots Observer, the reviewer asked, “Why must Oscar Wilde ‘go grubbing in muck-heaps?’ “ In response to such criticism, Wilde obscured the homoeroticism of the story and expanded the personal background of the characters.[22]

Textual revisions

After the initial publication of the magazine edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Wilde expanded the text from 13 to 20 chapters and obscured the homoerotic themes of the story.[23] In the novel version of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), chapters 3, 5, and 15 to 18, inclusive, are new; and chapter 13 of the magazine edition was divided, and became chapters 19 and 20 of the novel edition.[24] In 1895, at his trials, Oscar Wilde said he revised the text of The Picture of Dorian Gray, because of letters sent to him, by the cultural critic Walter Pater.[25]

Passages revised for the novel

  • (Basil about Dorian) "He has stood as Paris in dainty armour, and as Adonis with huntsman's cloak and polished boar-spear. Crowned with heavy lotus-blossoms, he has sat on the prow of Adrian's barge, looking into the green, turbid Nile. He has leaned over the still pool of some Greek woodland, and seen in the water's silent silver the wonder of his own beauty."
  • (Lord Henry describes “fidelity”) "It has nothing to do with our own will. It is either an unfortunate accident, or an unpleasant result of temperament."
  • "You don't mean to say that Basil has got any passion or any romance in him?" / "I don't know whether he has any passion, but he certainly has romance," said Lord Henry, with an amused look in his eyes. / "Has he never let you know that?" / "Never. I must ask him about it. I am rather surprised to hear it."
  • (Basil Hallward described) "Rugged and straightforward as he was, there was something in his nature that was purely feminine in its tenderness."
  • (Basil to Dorian) "It is quite true that I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man usually gives to a friend. Somehow, I had never loved a woman. I suppose I never had time. Perhaps, as Harry says, a really grande passion is the privilege of those who have nothing to do, and that is the use of the idle classes in a country."
  • (Basil confronts Dorian) "Dorian, Dorian, your reputation is infamous. I know you and Harry are great friends. I say nothing about that now, but surely you need not have made his sister's name a by-word." (The first part of this passage was deleted from the 1890 magazine text; the second part of the passage was inserted to the 1891 novel text.)

Passages added to the novel

  • "Each class would have preached the importance of those virtues, for whose exercise there was no necessity in their own lives. The rich would have spoken on the value of thrift, and the idle grown eloquent over the dignity of labour."
  • "A grande passion is the privilege of people who have nothing to do. That is the one use of the idle classes of a country. Don't be afraid."
  • "Faithfulness! I must analyse it some day. The passion for property is in it. There are many things that we would throw away, if we were not afraid that others might pick them up."

The uncensored edition

In 2011, the Belknap Press published The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition. The edition includes text that was deleted by JM Stoddart, Wilde's initial editor, before the story's publication in "Lippincott's Monthly Magazine" in 1890.[26][27][28][29]


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