January 16, 2018
Oscar Wilde and Dorian GrayOn this day in 1891 Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray was published. The novel had originally appeared in Lippincot's Monthly Magazine the previous summer, and caused an uproar for what one newspaper called "its effeminate frivolity, its studied insincerity, its theatrical cynicism, its tawdry mysticism, its flippant philosophizing, its contaminating trail of garish vulgarity." In revising for book publication, Wilde toned down some of the more overt homosexuality and the decadent theme, but added prefatory comments which late-Victorian England found equally offensive, such as "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all."
W. H. Smith refused to carry the book, but it sold well, making Wilde the focus of even more debate and finger-pointing. This had his wife complaining that "Since Oscar wrote Dorian Gray no one will speak to us," but Wilde had long-perfected the art of contempt, and was impervious:
While in prison, Wilde composed The Ballad of Reading Gaol, the most famous line of which is, "For each man kills the thing he loves." Despite his fourteen readings of Dorian Gray, and his experiences with its author, Douglas apparently did not get it; when asked to explain, Wilde replied, "You ought to know."
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