The controversy spurred by the initial publication in 1890 of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is fairly well known. The novel ushered in great and disruptive changes in the way that people understood their Victorian world. What’s less known, though, is that the text that caused such outcry was a censored version of Wilde’s work. Portions of Wilde’s typescript were excised by its first publisher, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, and then Wilde himself made further edits before its publication in book form. Our beautifully illustrated new annotated edition of Dorian Gray represents the first publication of Wilde’s original text.
Scholars have known of the existence of the original uncensored Dorian Gray since at least 1976, but academic attitudes towards textual authority worked to prevent its publication until now. However, as Nicholas Frankel, the editor of our edition, explained in a recent blog post, this is almost certainly the version of the novel that Wilde would want us to read today. Its restoration of Wilde’s previously censored work makes plain much of the homosexuality that in previously published editions has been coded.
In a recent episode of the HUP podcast, Frankel elaborated on the response to the initial publication of Dorian Gray and on the history of this edition of the text. You can listen via the player below or by heading here.
As Frankel details in the book’s introduction, in the Victorian era sexual preference was less clearly seen as identity, and he points out that the word homosexual did not even enter the English language until 1892. At the time of the writing of Dorian Gray, same-sex encounters were considered “unclean” vices rather than identity-defining acts. Given that Wilde’s life and work are, as Frankel states, “widely credited with instating homosexuality as a distinct sexual and social identity,” it’s only fitting that we should finally have access to the original work at the center of this shift.
Through its extensive annotations and lush illustrations, Frankel’s book doesn’t just present an analysis of Victorian society. Rather, his remarks on the various incarnations of Dorian Gray through the years serve to annotate a broader evolution in societal attitudes towards sexuality. The image at right, for example, is a publicity poster for the 1945 MGM movie adaptation of Dorian Gray. Its caption reads “Why did women talk about Dorian Gray in whispers?” The film, like the poster, emphasized heterosexuality and expanded the role of the novel’s female characters.
As Frankel's notes and Introduction make clear, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel that has been made to serve various purposes since the very moment of its publication. This new edition of the text finally lets Wilde’s own original intentions be known.