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The Victorian Experience
 The Picture of Dorian Gray
(1891)
 Lady Windermere’s Fan
(1892)
 The Importance of Being
Earnest (1895).
 spokesman for Aesthetic
movement
 the object of celebrated
civil and criminal suits
involving homosexuality
and ending in his
imprisonment (1895–97).
 late-Victorian Gothic fiction - cf RL Stevenson’s
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Bram
Stoker’s Dracula (1897)
 Disturbing private desires behind acceptable public
faces
 Explores relationship between: art and reality;
 Ethics and aesthetics;
 Artist, subject, and resultant image.
 Inspired by the same August 1889 dinner that led to
Conan Doyle creating Sherlock Holmes!
Dorian Gray
 Like the earlier sensation novel, the fin- de-siècle
revival of romance and tales of the fantastic, explore
and respond to the technological revolutions of the
age
 layered, framed and embedded narratives including
journal extracts and other ostensibly documentary
records.
 DG – influence of French Decadence
 DG – first published in US journal Lippincott’s
Dorian Gray
 The Daily Chronicle of London :“unclean,” “poisonous,” and
“heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual
putrefaction.”
 The St. James Gazette :“nasty” and “nauseous,” and
suggested that the Treasury or the Vigilance Society might
wish to prosecute the author.
 The Scots Observer : although “Dorian Gray” was a work of
literary quality, it dealt in “matters only fitted for the
Criminal Investigation Department or a hearing in camera”
and would be of interest mainly to “outlawed noblemen
and perverted telegraph-boys”
 ‘There was that wretched boy in the Guards who
committed suicide. You were his great friend. There
was Sir Henry Ashton, who had to leave England, with
a tarnished name. You and he were inseparable.’
 ‘I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly’
 At the Wilde trials of 1895, the opposing attorneys read
aloud from “Dorian Gray,” calling it a “sodomitical
book.”
 ‘toned-down’ version of the
book published by Ward Lock
and Co in April 1891 - the
standard text of the novel.
 Wilde added six chapters and
more detail, but did little to
alter the tone of the book or
the tendencies the novel
explored
 coded in a long history of
what might now be regarded
as ‘gay’ taste or sensibility
Lippincott’s – 50 000 w
 ‘beauty’ ‘passion’ ‘pain’
 Dorian brushing against
Basil’s cheek
 “the world becomes young
to me when I hold his
hand.”
 “where there is really love,
they would see something
evil, and where there is
spiritual passion they
would suggest something
vile.”
 ‘good looks’, ’personality’,
‘feeling’, ‘perplexity’
 6 chapters added (c 28
000).
 episodes of society
comedy, more adventures
for Dorian in the opium
dens,
 More Sibyl Vane, and a
subplot involving James
Vane, Sibyl’s brother, who
seeks to avenge her.
Ward Lock
Dorian Gray
 “A man with curious eyes
had suddenly peered into
his face, and then
dogged him with stealthy
footsteps, passing and
repassing him many
times.” deleted by
Lippincott’s editor
 Moral assertions added:
“It was his beauty that
had ruined him, his
beauty and the youth
that he had prayed for”
to reassure the middle
classes.
 “To reveal art and
conceal the artist is art’s
aim”; “There is no such
thing as a moral or an
immoral book”; “All art is
quite useless.” “Art has
no influence upon
action. . . . It is superbly
sterile”),
 Revised preface
‘Yes: there was to be, as Lord Henry had prophesied, a new
Hedonism that was to re-create life, and to save it from that
harsh, uncomely puritanism that is having, in our own day,
its curious revival. It was to have its service of the intellect,
certainly; yet it was never to accept any theory or system that
would involve the sacrifice of any mode of passionate
experience. Its aim, indeed, was to be experience itself, and
not the fruits of experience, sweet or bitter as they might be.
Of the asceticism that deadens the senses, as of the vulgar
profligacy that dulls them, it was to know nothing. But it was
to teach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a
life that is itself but a moment.’
 ‘Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders. I don’t
blame them in the smallest degree. I should fancy that
crime is to them what art is to us, simply a method of
procuring extraordinary sensations’ (Lord Henry, ch.
19).
 Dorian’s visits to opium dens and his delight in high
culture combines the criminal and the aesthete = the
essence of ‘decadence’
 ‘one could never pay too high a price for any sensation’
(ch. 4).
 Does the painting serve a moral purpose? transformed
from an object of beauty into a vile record of guilt,
something ‘bestial, sodden and unclean’ (chapter 10).
 ‘Was there some subtle affinity between the chemical
atoms, that shaped themselves into form and colour
on the canvas and the soul that was within him? Could
it be that what that soul thought, they realised?’ (ch.
7).
 ‘The eerie thing about Wilde’s life is that he, too, could
not escape the infernal logic of the “Picture.” His own
book exhibited “poisonous” properties. Alfred Douglas
(1870 – 1945) read it at Oxford and, by his own
testimony, reread it thirteen times. He became
determined to meet the author. He was Wilde’s fantasy
come to life—Dorian stepping from the canvas. But he
had an ugly soul; as Wilde recognized in “De
Profundis,” hate excited him more than love. Wilde,
Basil to the end, adored the young man all the same.’
Alex Ross (New Yorker Aug 8 2011)
 “Tired of being on the
heights I deliberately
went to the depths in the
search for new
sensations.”
 “All excess, as well as all
renunciation, brings its
own punishment,”

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Dorian Gray

  • 2.  The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)  Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)  The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).  spokesman for Aesthetic movement  the object of celebrated civil and criminal suits involving homosexuality and ending in his imprisonment (1895–97).
  • 3.  late-Victorian Gothic fiction - cf RL Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)  Disturbing private desires behind acceptable public faces  Explores relationship between: art and reality;  Ethics and aesthetics;  Artist, subject, and resultant image.  Inspired by the same August 1889 dinner that led to Conan Doyle creating Sherlock Holmes!
  • 5.  Like the earlier sensation novel, the fin- de-siècle revival of romance and tales of the fantastic, explore and respond to the technological revolutions of the age  layered, framed and embedded narratives including journal extracts and other ostensibly documentary records.  DG – influence of French Decadence  DG – first published in US journal Lippincott’s
  • 7.  The Daily Chronicle of London :“unclean,” “poisonous,” and “heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction.”  The St. James Gazette :“nasty” and “nauseous,” and suggested that the Treasury or the Vigilance Society might wish to prosecute the author.  The Scots Observer : although “Dorian Gray” was a work of literary quality, it dealt in “matters only fitted for the Criminal Investigation Department or a hearing in camera” and would be of interest mainly to “outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph-boys”
  • 8.  ‘There was that wretched boy in the Guards who committed suicide. You were his great friend. There was Sir Henry Ashton, who had to leave England, with a tarnished name. You and he were inseparable.’  ‘I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly’  At the Wilde trials of 1895, the opposing attorneys read aloud from “Dorian Gray,” calling it a “sodomitical book.”
  • 9.  ‘toned-down’ version of the book published by Ward Lock and Co in April 1891 - the standard text of the novel.  Wilde added six chapters and more detail, but did little to alter the tone of the book or the tendencies the novel explored  coded in a long history of what might now be regarded as ‘gay’ taste or sensibility
  • 10. Lippincott’s – 50 000 w  ‘beauty’ ‘passion’ ‘pain’  Dorian brushing against Basil’s cheek  “the world becomes young to me when I hold his hand.”  “where there is really love, they would see something evil, and where there is spiritual passion they would suggest something vile.”  ‘good looks’, ’personality’, ‘feeling’, ‘perplexity’  6 chapters added (c 28 000).  episodes of society comedy, more adventures for Dorian in the opium dens,  More Sibyl Vane, and a subplot involving James Vane, Sibyl’s brother, who seeks to avenge her. Ward Lock
  • 12.  “A man with curious eyes had suddenly peered into his face, and then dogged him with stealthy footsteps, passing and repassing him many times.” deleted by Lippincott’s editor  Moral assertions added: “It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had prayed for” to reassure the middle classes.
  • 13.  “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim”; “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book”; “All art is quite useless.” “Art has no influence upon action. . . . It is superbly sterile”),  Revised preface
  • 14. ‘Yes: there was to be, as Lord Henry had prophesied, a new Hedonism that was to re-create life, and to save it from that harsh, uncomely puritanism that is having, in our own day, its curious revival. It was to have its service of the intellect, certainly; yet it was never to accept any theory or system that would involve the sacrifice of any mode of passionate experience. Its aim, indeed, was to be experience itself, and not the fruits of experience, sweet or bitter as they might be. Of the asceticism that deadens the senses, as of the vulgar profligacy that dulls them, it was to know nothing. But it was to teach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life that is itself but a moment.’
  • 15.  ‘Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders. I don’t blame them in the smallest degree. I should fancy that crime is to them what art is to us, simply a method of procuring extraordinary sensations’ (Lord Henry, ch. 19).  Dorian’s visits to opium dens and his delight in high culture combines the criminal and the aesthete = the essence of ‘decadence’  ‘one could never pay too high a price for any sensation’ (ch. 4).
  • 16.  Does the painting serve a moral purpose? transformed from an object of beauty into a vile record of guilt, something ‘bestial, sodden and unclean’ (chapter 10).  ‘Was there some subtle affinity between the chemical atoms, that shaped themselves into form and colour on the canvas and the soul that was within him? Could it be that what that soul thought, they realised?’ (ch. 7).
  • 17.  ‘The eerie thing about Wilde’s life is that he, too, could not escape the infernal logic of the “Picture.” His own book exhibited “poisonous” properties. Alfred Douglas (1870 – 1945) read it at Oxford and, by his own testimony, reread it thirteen times. He became determined to meet the author. He was Wilde’s fantasy come to life—Dorian stepping from the canvas. But he had an ugly soul; as Wilde recognized in “De Profundis,” hate excited him more than love. Wilde, Basil to the end, adored the young man all the same.’ Alex Ross (New Yorker Aug 8 2011)
  • 18.  “Tired of being on the heights I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensations.”  “All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment,”

Editor's Notes

  1. 1884 HUYSMANS novel