It only took about 120 years, but modern society is apparently ready to handle The Gay in Oscar Wilde’s
first and only novella, The Picture of Dorian Gray
. See, the first published version of the gothic horror classic which tells the story of a young man who trades the purity of his soul for undying youth contained many more explicit homosexual overtones between the characters than in the version you probably read in English class. Passages which described the artist Basil Hallward’s feelings for Dorian Gray (which accentuated elements of homosexuality in Gray himself) were later deleted by Wilde’s editor, JM Stoddart, who felt it was far too “objectionable,” especially at a time when being gay in the United Kingdom was still illegal.
The novella’s original critics trashed it as “a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Decadents – a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction,” forcing Stoddart’s edits and even a final round of omissions by Wilde himself.
But we’re now living in a Gaga / Glee
kinda world and the Harvard University Press has published the uncensored novel
– full of annotations and new illustrations – restoring all of the text omitted by Stoddart. Harvard’s editor explains that “the time is ripe for the publication of Wilde’s novel in its uncensored form … It is the version of the novel that Wilde, I believe, would want us to be reading in the 21st century … I’m bringing it out of the closet a little more.”
+ Here is an example of what you will now see in the uncensored version, where Hallward professes his love for Dorian:
It is quite true I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man should ever give to a friend. Somehow I have never loved a woman…. From the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me…. I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly. I was jealous of everyone to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you.
By contrast, the current censored version appears:
From the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me.
+ In another passage, Hallward describes the feelings which inspired his portrait of Gray:
There was love in every line, and in every touch there was passion
+ Another restored line describes Gray walking the street at night:
A man with curious eyes had suddenly peered into his face, and then dogged him with stealthy footsteps, passing and repassing him many times.
+ Gray also reflects on Hallward’s feelings for him:
There was something infinitely tragic in a romance that was at once so passionate and sterile.
I first discovered The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1999 as a senior in high school, desperate for any images of homosexuality in literature, television and film. I immediately recognized its innate queerness and treasured the experience of reading it for the first time. Do you think this new, uncensored version will make its way into high school English classrooms? Will it make a difference to you?