Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in 1890 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, and its assault on repressive Victorianism was immediately controversial. Though appreciated by some, the novel provoked hostile reactions from many members of the British press. The outcry prompted Wilde to cut portions of the text when he later prepared it to be published as a book, but, in fact, the version originally published by Lippincott's had already been subject to censorship. Our new extensively illustrated annotated edition of the novel, edited by Nicholas Frankel, is the first edition to present Wilde’s original text. Below, Frankel explains the history of this version of the text, and outlines the developments in textual criticism that have finally led to its publication.
On Wednesday, February 23rd, Nicholas Frankel will be discussing The Picture of Dorian Gray as a guest on the Diane Rehm Show. (UPDATE: You can listen to the episode here.)
The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition is the first edition to restore “objectionable” material cut by Lippincott editor J. M. Stoddart, shortly before the novel’s appearance in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in June 1890. It constitutes the emended typescript Wilde had submitted to Lippincott & Co. for publication a few months earlier. When Wilde’s typescript of the novel arrived on Stoddart’s desk, he quickly determined that it contained “a number of things which an innocent woman would make an exception to,” as he explained to Craige Lippincott, while assuring his employer that The Picture of Dorian Gray would “not go into the Magazine unless it is proper that it shall.” He further guaranteed Lippincott that he would edit the novel to “make it acceptable to the most fastidious taste.”
The vast majority of Stoddart’s deletions were acts of censorship, bearing on sexual matters of both a homosexual and a heterosexual nature. Much of the material that Stoddart cut makes the homoerotic nature of Basil Hallward’s feelings for Dorian Gray more vivid and explicit than either of the two subsequent published versions, or else it accentuates elements of homosexuality in Dorian Gray’s own make-up. But some of Stoddart’s deletions bear on promiscuous or illicit heterosexuality too – Stoddart deleted references to Dorian’s female lovers as his “mistresses,” for instance -- suggesting that Stoddart was worried about the novel’s influence on women as well as men. Stoddart also deleted many passages that smacked of decadence more generally.
The first time Wilde saw these changes was when he opened his own copy of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. In my textual introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition, I explain why Wilde had neither the chance nor the authority to approve Stoddart’s edits before the novel’s appearance in Lippincott’s, as well as why, in the wake of public outcry against Wilde’s novel, it was impossible for him to restore the material cut by Stoddart. Indeed, when Wilde revised the novel for publication in book form in 1891, he set about cutting even more of the content the British press condemned as “vulgar,” “unclean,” “poisonous,” “discreditable,” and “a sham.”
The chief differences between the text Wilde submitted to Lippincott and published versions of the novel were made known in 1976 by John Espey, a Professor of English at UCLA, where Wilde’s emended typescript (on which the present edition is based) is housed. “It would be a relatively simple matter to restore the full text as Wilde submitted it to Stoddart,” Espey remarked. But Espey, a Modernist scholar, had little interest in undertaking such an edition himself. More importantly, the time was inauspicious. Textual scholars were then trained to believe that the final text of a literary work to have been published in its author’s lifetime was authoritative, representing the author’s final intentions. Oscar Wilde studies were still in an embryonic state, moreover, partly because of the stigma still surrounding Wilde on account of his homosexuality and Irishness. Scholarship about Wilde – especially scholarly editions of his writings – still lagged behind that about many other writers.
Three events in the 1980s marked a shift in attitudes. In 1988 Richard Ellmann published his magisterial biography of Wilde, bringing a new respectability and seriousness to Wilde studies in the eyes of many. In the same year Donald Lawler edited the text of the 1890 Lippincott’s version of the novel alongside the more familiar 1891 version for Norton Critical Editions. For the first time in many years, in the English-speaking world at least, readers could attend to the differences between the two versions published in Wilde’s lifetime, as well as reflect on the reasons for those differences. Lawler still prioritized the 1891 text: he remarked, as other editors had before him, that “the revised version represents Wilde’s final intentions” and “has become the primary reading text.” But it was clear to many readers that Wilde’s revisions were not driven chiefly by artistic considerations. Moreover, Lawler (who was aware of Espey’s work on the typescript) included some of Stoddart’s prepublication “bowdlerizations” in his textual notes. The process of shifting authority away from the 1891 text that culminates in the present “uncensored” edition had clearly begun.
Mention must be made too of a third critical event. In 1983 Jerome McGann had published his landmark Critique of Modern Textual Criticism, a treatise that marked a sea-change in modern editorial theory and that continues to shape scholarly editing today. McGann tackled head-on the ideology of final intentions and the problem of textual authority in editing, giving voice to what has come to be known as a social theory of textual editing, fully alive to the institutional and social constraints that go into the publication of an author’s work. McGann’s treatise clearly shaped Lawler’s decision to emphasize textual process and two different published versions -- as it has shaped the present edition.
Following Ellmann’s biography, the late-1980s and 1990s saw a spate of scholarship focused on Wilde’s homosexuality and imprisonment for gross indecency; and in the wake of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s landmark Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), as queer literary theory became more sophisticated and nuanced, a number of critics addressed how or whether The Picture of Dorian Gray embodies its author’s sexuality. So it is perhaps surprising that the publication of the uncensored text of the novel has taken so long. Joseph Bristow’s meticulous variorum edition of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray: The 1890 and 1891 Texts, published in 2005 as part of Oxford University Press’s ongoing multivolume Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, laid the groundwork for the present edition: Bristow called greater attention to the Lippincott’s version and to Stoddart’s editing than Lawler had done. But in a day when “don’t ask, don’t tell” is no longer tolerated in policy, the time is ripe for the publication of Wilde’s novel in its uncensored form -- as Wilde submitted it to Lippincott’s, before Stoddart went through it with his pencil attempting to make it “acceptable to the most fastidious taste.” It is the version of the novel that Wilde, I believe, would want us to be reading in the 21st century.