In the summer of 1889, American editor Joseph Stoddart came to London to solicit material for Lippincott’s Magazine and persuaded Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle to write a novel-length story for him. While Conan Doyle submitted his second Sherlock Holmes story, The Sign of Four, Wilde offered him the short story The Fisherman and His Soul, which was turned down by Stoddart as unsuitable – though it was later published in A House of Pomegranates. Undeterred, Wilde wrote back to Stoddart in December: ‘I have invented a new story, which is much better… and I am quite ready to set to work at once on it.’ By the following April, he had finished his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Wilde’s manuscript reveals the deletions and additions that both sharpen his prose, and started a form of self-censorship which Stoddart would later continue before publication, mentioning “[a] number of things which an innocent woman would make an exception to.” In particular, Wilde tones down the more overt references to the homoerotic nature of Basil Hallward’s relationship with Dorian, crossing out completely his confession (below) that “the world becomes young to me when I hold his hand”.
Despite these initial precautions, Dorian Gray’s publication in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s was met with critical hostility. Notwithstanding this adverse reception, or indeed because of it, the story undoubtedly enjoyed a certain succès de scandale and Wilde expanded it for publication in book form with new material and the further revision of passages of the text that had been criticised. For example, Basil’s declaration of love for Dorian on page 147 of the manuscript was removed entirely: ‘It is quite true that I have worshipped you with far more romance than a man should ever give to a friend.’ Such passages were used five years later as evidence when Wilde was tried and subsequently sent to prison for homosexual offences.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is now the most widely translated and best known of all Wilde’s works, possibly due to the fact that its author, as Merlin Holland writes, “never quite endorsed and yet never entirely condemned his creation either”. The manuscript is testament to the complex relationship between Wilde and his novel and the story of Wilde himself.
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Source: SP Books