by Oscar Wilde
Upon receipt of the typescript of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s editor panicked at what he saw. Contained within its pages was material he feared readers would find “offensive” — especially instances of graphic homosexual content. He proceeded to go through the typescript with his pencil, cleaning it up until he made it “acceptable to the most fastidious taste.” Wilde did not see these changes until his novel appeared in print. Wilde’s editor’s concern was well placed. Even in its redacted form, the novel caused public outcry. The British press condemned it as “vulgar,” “unclean,” “poisonous,” “discreditable,” and “a sham.” When Wilde later enlarged the novel for publication in book form, he responded to his critics by further toning down its “immoral” elements.
Wilde famously said that The Picture of Dorian Gray “contains much of me”: Basil Hallward is “what I think I am,” Lord Henry “what the world thinks me,” and “Dorian what I would like to be — in other ages, perhaps.” Wilde’s comment suggests a backward glance to a Greek or Dorian Age, but also a forward-looking view to a more permissive time than his own repressive Victorian era. By implication, Wilde would have preferred we read today the uncensored version of his novel. Now over a century after Oscar Wilde submitted The Picture of Dorian Gray for publication in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Nicholas Frankel has given us the true story in The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray. Here is a brief excerpt.
Tell me more about Dorian Gray. How often do you see him?”
“Everyday. I couldn’t be happy if I didn’t see him everyday. Of course sometimes it is only for a few minutes. But a few minutes with somebody one worships mean a great deal.”
“But you don’t really worship him?”
“How extraordinary! I thought you would never care for anything but your painting — your art, I should say. Art sounds better, doesn’t it?”
“He is all my art to me now. I sometimes think, Harry, that there are only two eras of any importance in the history of the world. The first is the appearance of a new medium for art, and the second is the appearance of a new personality for art also. What the invention of oil-painting was to the Venetians, the face of Antinous was to late Greek sculpture, and the face of Dorian Gray will some day be to me. It is not merely that I paint from him, draw from him, model from him. Of course I have done all that. 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 waters’ silent silver the wonder of his own beauty. But he is much more to me than that. I won’t tell you that I am dissatisfied with what I have done of him, or that his beauty is such that art cannot express it. There is nothing that art cannot express, and I know that the work I have done, since I met Dorian Gray, is good work, is the best work of my life. But in some curious way — I wonder will you understand me? — his personality has suggested to me an entirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style. I see things differently, I think of them differently. I can now recreate life in a way that was hidden from me before. ‘A dream of form in days of thought,’ — who is it who says that? I forget; — but it is what Dorian Gray has been to me. The merely visible presence of this lad — for he seems to me little more than a lad, though he is really over twenty — his merely visible presence — ah! I wonder can you realise all that that means? Unconsciously he defines for \ me the lines of a fresh school, a school that is to have in itself all the passion of the romantic spirit, all the perfection of the spirit that is Greek. The harmony of soul and body, — how much that is! We in our madness have separated the two, and have invented a realism that is bestial, an ideality that is void. Harry! Harry! If you only knew what Dorian Gray is to me! You remember that landscape of mine, for which Agnew offered
me such a huge price, but which I would not part with? It is one of the best things I have ever done. And why is it so? Because, while I was painting it, Dorian Gray sat beside me.”
“Basil, this is quite wonderful! I must see Dorian Gray.”
Tell me; is Dorian Gray very fond of you?” Hallward considered for a few moments. “He likes me,” he answered, after a pause; “I know he likes me. Of course I flatter him dreadfully. I find a strange pleasure in saying things to him that I know I shall be sorry for having said. I give myself away. As a rule he is charming to me, and we walk home together from the club arm in arm, or sit in the studio and talk of a thousand things. Now and then, however, he is horribly thoughtless, and seems to take a real delight in giving me pain. Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to someone who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day.”
“You must introduce me now,” cried Lord Henry, laughing. Basil Hallward turned to the servant, who stood blinking in the sunlight.
“Ask Mr. Gray to wait, Parker: I will be in in a few moments.”
The man bowed, and went up the walk. Then he looked at Lord Henry. “Dorian Gray is my dearest friend,” he said. “He has a simple and a beautiful nature. Your aunt was quite right in what she said of him. Don’t spoil him for me. Don’t try to influence him. Your influence would be bad. The world is wide, and has many marvellous people in it. Don’t take away from me the one person that makes life absolutely lovely to me and that gives to my art whatever wonder or charm it possesses. Mind, Harry, I trust you.” He spoke very slowly, and the words seemed wrung out of him almost against his will.
“What nonsense you talk!” said Lord Henry, smiling, and, taking Hallward by the arm, he almost led him into the house.