Oscar Wilde’s “Dorian Gray” Gets Uncensored and Totally Gay

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.
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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.
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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:
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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?


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Jess is a pop culture junkie living in New York City. She enjoys endless debates about The L Word, Howard Stern, new techy gadgets, DVR, exploring the labyrinth of the Lesbian Internet, memoirs, working out, sushi, making lists, artsy things, anything Lady Gaga touches, traveling, puppies, and nyc in the fall. Find her on Twitter @jessxnyc or via email.

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51 Comments

  1. i’m looking forward to reading it, but not sure it will make its way into schools. even the salon article ends with saying it should be a supplement to the original (ly published) version. it also notes: “But much was gained, too, in the expanded version that Wilde prepared in 1891, with the brilliant Lord Henry being given some wonderful new material.”

    so it sounds like it isn’t just a matter of adding in some lines; it is a different text. i bet they will be studied comparatively, extensively, in university English departments; but i imagine high schools will stick to the old one. not out of homophobia but out of habit.

  2. Iiiiinteresting. Definitely will pick this up over the summer. The censorship is insane here. Also, I think that if an English teacher had the balls to have their kids read a queerish book like this in a classroom, things would definitely change, for many reasons: 1) Queer kids would be happy, 2) It makes other people more accepting if they’re exposed to queer things, 3) The fact that it’s possible means the world could be a better place.

    • i read this book in high school (in the closet), only SORTA caught on that it was gay…but when i tried to suggest the idea to the group no one else believed me!

      obvs i need to read the book again and figure out what i missed back then.

  3. When I was a baby gay my mother told me that I was only allowed to visit Wilde’s grave if I promised not to kiss it. I did, of course.

    I am ridiculously excited about this, I hope it is as exciting as it looks.

  4. This is the best thing ever. Way to make my favorite book even more…favorite. Though, It sort of makes me regret the fact that I’ve purchased three copies of the censored version. I never really expected it to be released in its entirety.

  5. I am so excited about this. I have an incredible aversion to censored literature, first of all, so this is exciting. I really feel that it does the author an injustice to rewrite something that she or he spent time and energy on. I was in a production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men last year, and they took out the N word but none of the sexist slurs or derogatory comments about mental illness, and I felt like it changed the whole tone of the play and imbalanced the importance of the injustices done to the characters.
    It can go the other way, though, and instead of minimizing the impact of negative feelings, in this specific case it minimized the importance of positive feelings – mainly GAY LOVIN’.
    In short, this is awesome and I’m buying one right away.

  6. As the teacher who assigned Dorian to Jess in 1999, I am sincerely thrilled an unedited version is being released and that she (you) are writing about it. Although, no one will likely find this version in a high school classroom because of objections in content (not mine) and cost–public schools barely have enough money for the booklet alone new editions. Coincidentally, I overheard my colleagues at GGC (Georgia Gwinnett College) talking about the re-release with excitement.

    On another note: Jess, I was so naive in 1999; I had no idea how much the book meant to you until far after we closed its pages. I am an idiot who loves you.

    • There is nothing more unbelievable and amazing about this entire post- Jess writing and Lisa replying! I admire you both!

      -The cousin who loves you!

  7. I ordered it last week as soon as I read about it’s release. I first read The Picture of Dorian Gray about 4 years ago and it haunted me like no other book I’ve ever read.
    Since then it has become my favorite book and Oscar Wilde is my favorite writer, I have more books on him/his work than I have room for really. So excited that after all he went through his original vision for this work is out there for every one!

  8. “…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,”

    WOW. You don’t see reviews like that anymore. :S I shall be reading that. Also: I highly doubt it will be read in high schools, unfortunately. I moved out of state during high school (not to a neighboring state, either!) and this was never part of the curriculum. But maybe the states I lived in were weird (California, Florida)?

  9. I am super excited for this! Reading The Importance of Being Earnest made me laugh out loud as a T.A. for my English teacher in high school and from that moment on I ADORED Wilde. Also, what a sick last name. Wilde.

  10. Yay! Finally the elusive traces of raging homogayness that enspelled me in my teenage years will be enjoyed in their entirety by my slightly older, not that much wiser self. Cheers, Mr. Wilde.

  11. Whaaat? I am seriously excited about this, but as if it happened only a couple of weeks after I submitted my essay on it! Dayum.

    Oh, just to add to the ‘in classroom’ aspect: we had an extended debate about the extent to which it was a gay novel. But then, in that module, which was on the fin-de-siecle, we also read pretty much the first ever lesbian vampire novel, discussed the homoerotic nature of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and various other books, read lesbian and gay poetry, and read essays by sexologists. I love that lecturer.

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