Picture of Dorian Grey

Oscar Wilde published his book The Picture of Dorian Grey in 1890. The publisher altered some of the substance of the book because it dealt with so much indecent desire. Despite being censored, the novel started to offend British reviewers' morals. They maintained that he had broken morality's rules. The book underwent additional revisions to make it less offensive, but on the plus side, it was developing a reputation for its writing style and distinctive portrayal. It evolved into a real-world credo for art.The novel exists in different versions. They are; the 1890 edition which had 13 chapters, the uncensored version by Lippincott’s monthly magazine which also had 13 chapters, and another published by Harvard university press in 2011. In 1891 an edition of 20 chapters was also published.

There were two versions; the censored and the uncensored version. We are going to discuss the censored edition first. In the book, Dorian gray is the topic of discussion. The artist, Basil Hallward is in love with Dorian’s beauty. He feels that making a drawing of Dorian is going to open doors for him on a quest to new mode of art. When at his house with Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian pays him a visit and has some charm with him. The conversation goes on well and he therefore wants to be painted. When Lord Henry sees that Dorian is posing for the art, he requests to leave only to be persuaded to stay and keep him company as Basil does his work. Basil is much more reserved and having Lord Henry will ensure he doesn’t get bored because they can converse on many topics. Their conversation which is predominantly told by Lord Henry leads to an aristocratic and hedonistic view of the world. With his convincing words, Lord Henry tells him that that the only thing to pursue in life is sensual fulfillment and beauty.

In the context of their conversation, Dorian understands that the beauty he has will eventually fade. He decides to sell his soul so that the picture ages and not him. His aim was to retain his beauty and never fade. And with that wish, Dorian is able to live a life of abnormal and varied experiences, staying fair and young, while the portraits gathers all the old age and sins.

To understand the novel, we have to look at each chapter and the characters present. The story will be on the first edition that was made on the 1890 edition. In chapter one, we find the characters Basil and Lord Henry in a conversation about Basils latest portrait. Lord Henry praises the work of art and suggests that it should be displayed in one of the respectable art galleries. Basil rejects and feels like he has put a lot of himself in the painting that he wouldn’t want to showcase it. He feels that an art that has a lot to say about the author isn’t advisable. He would prefer an abstract art that is independent to the artist’s feelings and attachment. He then gives out that the art is of Dorian Gray, a person he has met sometime back and he has personal admiration for him.

After a lot of fears of pouring his heart and love for another man, Basil doesn’t see himself ever letting anyone see the art he has made. In the midst of talks, the butler comes and informs them that Dorian, the man who was the subject of their conversation had arrived. In this chapter, we see Lord Henry as one manipulative character. He enjoys smoking opium and sounding profound.

As for Dorian, we see his character from the painting made about him. We see a portrayal of a handsome young man. He is definitely handsome than the two characters and he seems to be a charming man with a trustworthy character. The theme of the novel clearly shows the power of beauty in any other setting. A handsome or beautiful person is quite likely to be given a higher privilege and recognition by their peers. “A fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings”, says Basil. He refers to the strengths that people have and how they lead to people’s downfall. People’s physical and intellectual excellence is what finally brings them down. From this chapter, we get to see Basil wishing to be like Dorian. According to Wilde, Lord Henry wanted his own public image but he was just like Basil and he wanted to be Dorian.

In chapter two, we see the part where Lord Henry, with his manipulation, is able to convince Dorian to sell his soul and always remain young as the portrait gets older. When Basil interrupts and tries not to let Dorian get manipulated, Dorian is able to be convinced to be himself, not to listen to other people.

After the talk, we see Lord Henry and Dorian become even closer friends than what Basil had with Dorian. Dorian get sold to his beauty and flows with it. The worldliness in him is evident. The chapter introduces the horrible signs about age and being old. We see the despair to sins of the world. This is known as the Faust theme. What he beliefs are that he will in the end ask for forgiveness and be forgiven by God.

On chapter three, we are taken back to understand the history of Dorian. We get to know his parents, and his grandparents. Here, we are able to see the charm and the easily adaptable Lord Henry becomes. He is able to interact and really connect with the relatives of Dorian. We get to know that Dorian has been left some fortunes with his parents. Lord Henry is seen to continue to be more manipulative and wants to dominate him completely.

On chapter four we try and look at the development of Dorian character as from what he was earlier to maturity. He has always been seen as a pretty face who loved his paintings and obedient to Lord Henry. He now starts to act independently in his decision. He tries to make his own decisions without interference from his friend. We see him meeting with the lady Sibyl Vane, an actor and a great person. Even without knowing a lot about the girl, at the end of the chapter, they are engaged yet to be married. Although it is a fast decision, we see him going to his options on his own term.

With the manipulation from Lord Henry, we see him setting himself up to become the Lady’s agent. Although he is smart not to directly interfere with their love, he is shocked with the news of engagement. The chapter also brings up the anti-Semitism and racism in the theatre. The calling of a specific Jew in a demeaning way really explores the problems that the country was facing during that time.

Here, we see Basil coming back into the picture. He quite feels that the engagement was rushed and they all say that Dorian rushed the marriage with following the girls beautiful face instead of following her talent. This causes embarrassment and he breaks up with the girl. But he cannot live with the guilt and decides to get back to the lady and apologize. Lord Henry is there to give him the bad news that Sibyl committed suicide. She had taken prussic acid. This depressed him and he decides to lock up the portrait for 18 years. During this time, he decides to experiment with vices that he got from a French novel he was given by Lord Henry.

Then, one day, as Basil was leaving for Paris, decides to pay him a visit and ask him about his indulging with sensualism. He accepts that he has been having difficulties and even shows him the painting that he made for him. The photo was different. It looked old and weary. If it were not for the initials that basil had put, he wouldn’t recognize it. Basil asks Dorian to ask for salvation so as the worries are gone. This angers Dorian and he stabs him to death. He feels guilty and goes to the opium den where he had visited before with Henry. Here, he meets with James Vane who has been looking for him for revenge for being responsible for the death of Sibyl. But he looked eighteen years younger and James couldn’t clearly confirm if it was him. He escapes death and runs away. He then used the knowledge of a chemist to destroy the body of Basil Hallward. Due to guilt, Allan the chemist killed himself. After all these, he wonders why he isn’t happy. Find s out that his goodness of never aging had reverted with the corruption in the portrait. He decides to confess his sins to erase all wrongdoings. He decides to tear of the portrait. He used the knife he used to murder basil and he stabs the portrait. A loud noise I heard from outside and they rush to see what was happening. The butlers found a disfigured body. The portrait was now back to its original beauty.

The uncensored version of the novel was published in 2011 by the Harvard university press. It was in a time that was different and people understood about the issue of homosexuality. In a nutshell, the book clearly explains the deeper meanings employed earlier in the book. Phrases aren’t hidden and are given to the readers so as they could understand his feelings and emotions as pertaining to his sexual orientation. His use of language was one of a kind and he was one of the pioneers of this way of explaining. Oscar Wilde was gay and he went for two years in prison because of his book. His way of writing also had hidden meanings and not everyone could understand what he meant. It requires some precise attention to detail to grasp the meaning and reason for a certain explanation. The book was first denounced as a “poisonous book, heavy with the mephitic odors of moral and spiritual putrefaction” by the Daily chronicles.

With the new uncensored book, every instance of the book is well explained. For example, the lines that described Sybil Vane as a mistress were removed and the meaning slightly changed. Certain words that referred to homosexuality were edited. His relations with Hettie Merton were also censored and not told. There were missing passages that were clear that Dorian’s relationship were not around women. An example of an excerpt from the book is this. It is from the 1890 publication. “A man with curious eyes had suddenly peered into his face and the dogged him with stealthy footsteps, passing and repassing him many times”. He was describing Dorian’s night time through London.

Another example is when the censored book asks “why is it Dorian that a man like the Duke of Berwick leaves the room of a club when you enter it?”. During that time, the duke of Berwick signified masculinity and it was traditional and upright. On of the cases in that period was that a number of aristocratic and military men were found in a male brothel on Cleveland street. This led to many men fleeing for fear of being persecuted. In the novel, Oscar wrote “why is it that every young man that you take up seems to come grief, to go to the bad at once? 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”.

What was also important was the name Dorian Grey which connected with other Victorian literature. It was relatable to earlier big names that had tried to highlight the plight of these majorities.

After reading through the uncensored version, we are tempted to go back and read through the book again a see the hidden meaning that we had skipped earlier. We need a third eye to see what we couldn’t see. The uncensored version highlights the problems that the gay communities go through and this even did show the authors creativity and talent.

The use of words like “unclean”, “corruption”, “Leprous”, “Putrefaction” and “French decadents” were all coded terms for homosexuality. The story about the Cleveland street affair which was aired during that period, spoke of some boys who worked as telegraph messengers during the day and turned to be male prostitutes in a brothel at night. They were arrested and those who could, fled for their lives. The aristocrats and military men like Lord Arthur Somerset and Prince of Wales left the country before they could be arrested. In his novel, we meet Lord Henry who is a manipulative character. The resemblance of the two lords really made the book raise some questions on who in particular was being talked about. Wilde emphasized on Dorian Grey’s youthfulness and his vulnerability to the old corrupt man. Reviewers became nostalgic.

The true story about Wilde is that, he was married since 1884 to a beautiful lady Constance Lloyd but he had a secret life of having homosexual relationship two years into his marriage. In 1889, he started going out with a young man by the name of John Gray, who was a poet, hence the name Dorian Grey in his novel. After the publishing of the novel, Wilde started an affair with another man Lord Alfred Douglas. He was even fined with the father of his lover and the lawsuit became one of the most famous of that time. He was then arrested and charged with sodomy and got locked up for two years. His wife, with all the shame she endured, changed her name and relocated with their sons, who never got to see him again. Constance changed her name to Holland and advised his children never to tell anyone that their names were Wilde. After the end of his arrest, he exiled in France and by his own prediction, he died in 1990. He knew the English people would never stand to see him live longer than the previous century.

The original text might be quite better but the book underwent a lot of reviews and changes to suit the readers of that time. The name Mistress for example wasn’t suitable for publishing. But the editions gave the characters in the novel new roles that were interesting to read and for everyone who had an interest in Wilde found it fascinating.

From the uncensored book, we get to understand quite clearly what the author meant in the censored book. There were phrases that cannot be understood in the context of what is happening right now. We need the uncensored to fill in the dots of why he spoke of homosexuality. When we look at his personal life, we see the resemblance in the names used and the novel. The honesty on a sensitive issue when nobody could is what lets him share the space with other great people as the most daring artists of our time.

The main talking point with the difference between the two versions is that we had more understanding with the story being told. We start the plot as just not a story, but we get to understand the hidden meaning. From reading the censored book, we cannot fathom that the book is about homosexuality. In fact, one would wonder why the book got such high criticism and it was written to be as harmless as possible. The society however wasn’t ready for such a description about them and this led to his arrest and finally exile to a different country.

This was after his release and he knew that the English couldn’t let him live in their country after him rattling their feathers. In France, he didn’t have a lot of criticism and he was able to live peacefully until his death . After his death, and the new century, the art of writing underwent even more changes and with the growing society, the topic of homosexuality became open and accepted in England. More than a hundred years later, there is much more acceptance and understanding of people with different sexual orientation.

Works cited

Difference between the 1890 and 1891 editions of Dorian Gray. Retrieved 25 December 2013

The picture of Dorian Gray- Oscar Wilde, Nicholas Frankel- Harvard University press. Retrieved 30 may 2011

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