Deceptive Picture

How Oscar Wilde painted over “Dorian Gray.”

Alex Ross

Even before Wilde sent the manuscript of

Even before Wilde sent the manuscript of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” to the typist, he was hesitating over its homoerotic content.

Oscar Wilde was not a man who lived in fear, but early reviews of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” must have given him pause. The story, telling of a man who never ages while his portrait turns decrepit, appeared in the July, 1890, issue of Lippincott’s, a Philadelphia magazine with English distribution. The Daily Chronicle of London called the tale “unclean,” “poisonous,” and “heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction.” The St. James Gazette deemed it “nasty” and “nauseous,” and suggested that the Treasury or the Vigilance Society might wish to prosecute the author. Most ominous was a short notice in the Scots Observer stating that 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”—an allusion to the recent Cleveland Street scandal, which had exposed the workings of a male brothel in London. Within five years, Wilde found himself convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency with certain male persons.”

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