The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, which circulated in both Britain and the United States. Both the American and British editions of the magazine ran the entirety of Wilde’s novel—originally approximately 50,000 words or 98 pages long—as the selling feature of the issue (Bristow, “Introduction” xii-xiii). The reviews for this first edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray were mixed, and while there were positive reviews, there were also many who found Wilde’s novel indecent or “corrupt” (Bristow xviii). Wilde responded to several of these negative reviews, some of which are supplied in the Appendices of this edition, to defend his novel against their accusations (Bristow xlviii).
As Michael Patrick Gillespie suggests, Wilde may not only have been aware that his novel would cause such negative reactions, but perhaps he counted on it (Gillespie 349). At any rate, the British press’s harshly negative responses to The Picture of Dorian Gray should not be too surprising if one considers two incidents still fresh in the public’s mind when the novel was first published in Lippincott’s Magazine (Gillespie 348-9). The first was Wilde’s essay “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.,” which was published in Blackwell’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1889; “the essay offers an elegant and deliberately transparent defense of an old theory that Shakespeare’s sonnets were dedicated to and written for a young actor, Willie Hughes” (Gillespie 348), and the biggest criticism that Wilde got for the essay was because it “implied that England’s greatest poet was gay and, what was worse, had plenty of company among the world’s geniuses” (349). The second, and surely the important in this case, was the “Cleveland Street Affair”—also referred to as the “West End Scandals”—of late-1889/early-1890, a few months after “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” was published. This scandal featured a brothel where upper-class men, some of whom were part of the government, paid young male workers at the post office for sexual favours (Bristow xlviii). The trials and coverage of this scandal ran for months in the press, into March of 1890, only about two months before The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in Lippincott’s Magazine. It is not hard to see how, following these two incidents, the British public and press were still hypersensitive to the possibility of homosexual undertones in The Picture of Dorian Gray when it came out, and why critics latched onto the novel as a story of immorality.
I say “immorality” and not “homosexuality” because the word “homosexual did not enter the English language until 1892” (Frankel 7), and was not used as a noun until 1912. That said, homosexual behaviour was seen by the Victorians as unclean, repugnant, and deviant (Frankel 7). It is not hard to see that the root of this view of homosexuality stemmed from Christianity, the dominant religion in England, and Europe in general, for hundreds of years, as Christianity named sodomy a sin. However, it was not until five years before the publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray that Britain made homosexual acts illegal as well as sinful, with the institution of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 (7). Victorian Britain, far more than many other countries at the time, abhorred and were disgusted by the idea of homosexuality; indeed “Britain stood out at the turn of the 20th century as the only country in Western Europe that criminalized all male homosexual acts with draconian penalties” (Adut 214).
The second version of the novel had been expanded to approximately 78,000 words and was 20 chapters long plus the new preface, where the 1890 edition had comprised of only 13 chapters, and was printed by Ward, Lock & Co., who were also the British issuers of Lippincott’s Magazine (Bristow xix). Likely at least in part because of the negative reviews from the British press regarding Wilde’s novel, George Lock, senior partner of Ward, Lock & Co., encouraged Wilde to “bring the story to a much plainer moral conclusion” (Bristow xx). This second edition had yet more negative reviews from the British press, and sales were certainly less than Wilde must have hoped for (Bristow lviii). Furthermore, The Picture of Dorian Gray would, in 1895, be used in Wilde’s own gross indecency trials against him, not only the 1891 text, but the 1890 as well. In the end, Wilde was found guilty and subjected to the full punishment stated by the laws in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885: two years in prison with hard labour (Frankel 14-15). This scandal seemingly ruined his reputation for a long time, as well as his physical and mental health, and in 1900 Oscar Wilde died poor in a cheap hotel room in Paris (1). Just as Dorian Gray had helped to make him an iconic figure, it also played a part in his disgrace.
Although far fewer scholars discuss or deal with the 1890 text of The Picture of Dorian Gray, I think it is very important to note and acknowledge the changes that were made between the novel’s first iteration in Lippincott’s Magazine, and the revised and expanded version that was published as a single volume by Ward, Lock & Co. in 1890. Joseph Bristow argues in his introduction to the Oxford University Press The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde edition, in which he presents both the 1890 and 1891 texts in their entirety, these two texts are so vastly different that they can and should be treated as separate entities (Bristow xxxi). Bristow disagrees with Lawler—the first to produce an edition that presents both texts—who argued that the 1891 was the superior, finished text, which “expresses the author’s final intention for his work” (Lawler 128), and that the 1890 text is “the preliminary to a full-length work that needed more space and time to reach its full promise (Bristow xxxi). I agree with Bristow that these two texts are of equal importance, and that the 1890 text should not be ignored simply because it is shorter and seemingly unfinished. As such, in this edition, I have selected two excerpts from each text—Chapters 7 and 13 from 1890, and the matching chapters from 1891: Chapters 9 and 19/20—and present them side-by-side on the same page, so that the two texts can be easily compared. In addition, I have carefully annotated the various changes, additions, and omissions between the two texts in order to make it easier to understand their differences.
This digital edition presents, as I explained briefly above, two sets of excerpts with the matching chapters from both the 1890 and 1891 texts presented side by side. Along with these two excerpts, this introduction, and the Note on the Text, this edition features a carefully compiled list of the differences between the two texts, available by hovering over the annotation numbers in the texts themselves, as well as on a separate page. I have also included certain cultural and historical definitions in annotations, some of which link to images for further context and examples. Finally, I have also included some selected reviews of both the 1890 Lippincott’s Magazine edition of Dorian Gray, as well as for the expanded 1891 text.
Although this is not the first edition to publish the 1890 and 1891 texts together in one place (Both Joseph Bristow in Volume 3 of Oxford UP’s Complete Works of Oscar Wilde set and Donald L. Lawler’s Norton Critical Editions, for example), my edition is a bit different. The purpose of this edition is to make it easy to look closely at the differences in the two versions of the text. As such, selections from the 1890 and 1891 texts are shown side-by-side for easy comparison, along with the annotations to point out specific differences throughout the text. There is plenty of evidence in the literary criticism, supported in part by the numerous negative reviews that both editions of The Picture of Dorian Gray received, that the additions and revisions made to the text for the 1891 book edition were at least in part to lessen the obviousness of the homosexual relationships between Basil Hallward, Dorian Gray, and Lord Henry Wotton; in putting together this edition, some of the subtle changes that I found between the two texts further helped to support this idea. For example, in the scene where Basil confesses his reasons for originally not wanting to exhibit Dorian’s portrait—Chapter VII in 1890, and Chapter IX in 1891—where the 1890 text used Basil’s name, the 1891 text frequently replaces his name simply with “the painter;” this clearly helps to deemphasise Basil’s humanity, while putting the emphasis on his role as an artist, which is also evident in the type of confession that he makes to Dorian. The confession featured in 1890 could be much more easily read as a confession of romantic love, whereas the one featured in the 1891 text is twisted to read more like the obsession of an artist for his muse; in other words, a more socially acceptable obsession for one man to have for another to the eyes of a Victorian audience. Another very interesting shift in the text seems to work to take away some of Basil’s agency in the same scene: he uses “cannot” instead of “must not,” for example, and seems far less sure of himself in the 1891 text. These are just a couple of the ways in which subtle word or phrase changes in the text have affected the overall feeling and meaning of the text, a full list of changes is available in the “Notes” section linked in the top bar, and are highlighted by orange text in the texts themselves.