I never really thought about The Picture of Dorian Gray being censored, but when I went looking for a copy to read for our book discussion, I came across this version and decided to pick it up to find out exactly what had been taken out. It’s an exhaustive treatment, with a lengthy introduction, textual commentary, annotations and appendices. I was taken back to my English Literature graduate school days where I read this kind of thing on a regular basis. I had no idea that the manuscript had been ‘edited’ so many times over the years.
The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine which came out simultaneously in England and America. The spelling was Amercanized, as is usually the case with British manuscripts even today, and the references to sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual were edited and/or removed to make the work more acceptable. Even so, it created a firestorm of controversy.
Oscar Wilde revised and expanded the manuscript for the 1891 book version under the influence of the hostile reviews of the press and the fear of possible obscenity charges. The later version contains twenty chapters instead of the thirteen in the original with the addition of more characters and more explanatory incidents leading to, perhaps, a better understanding of the fate of Dorian.
Unfortunately, Wilde did not escape retribution for taking the risk of publishing his work. Parts of the novel were used as evidence against him in the court trials which sent him to jail with hard labor, into exile for three years after that, and ultimately to ruin and disgrace which resulted in his premature death at the age of forty-six.
The general and textual introductions and the annotations explain it all. They tell why, how, and what was used to prove his ‘guilt,’ give an overview of the attitudes and miasma of oppression of the time, and place the work in the context of Wilde’s life and career. While this version could be read without referring to the notes, it is a much richer experience when you take the time to read them as you work your way through the book. I recommend this version to anyone who is curious about why this book was such a big and damning deal for the Victorians and Wilde.