The original manuscript of The Picture of Dorian Gray
« The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. »
SP Books presents Oscar Wilde’s manuscript for The Picture of Dorian Gray: an exceptional document which shows Wilde’s text as it was initially composed, in which the reader can follow how he edited and sharpened his prose and observe, even in this early version, what appears to be a form of self-censorship.
A novel drafted in layers of censorship
Oscar Wilde began writing this 13-chapter draft for Lippincott’s Magazine in 1889. Its pages showcase the writer’s tremendous craft, but also his self-censorship in the context of 19th century English homophobia. Basil Hallward’s use of the word “beauty” in reference to Dorian Gray is, for example, replaced by the softer “good looks”. The word “passion” becomes “feeling,” “boy” is replaced by “lad”. Passages are also crossed out, such as Basil’s confession: “the world becomes young to me when I hold [Dorian Gray’s] hand.”
By April 1890, Wilde had finished the manuscript and had it typed out to submit to Lippincott’s. James Stoddart, the publisher, accepted the piece but still expressed concern about its homoerotic overtones. He began to censor Wilde’s text, deleting about 500 words. He removed single words as well as entire sentences, such as Basil’s tirade that in his portrait “There was love in every line, and in every touch there was passion”.
Scandal and protest
Despite the multiple layers of censorship that shaped Dorian Gray before publication, the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s was met with uproar. Critics described the work as “unclean”, “poisonous”, “nasty”, and “nauseous”, “heavy with mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction”. As a consequence, the influential bookseller WH Smith refused to stock the July issue of the magazine.
Notwithstanding the adverse critical reception, or indeed because of it, the story undoubtedly enjoyed a certain succès de scandale and Wilde quickly began to revise and expand the novella for publication as a novel in book form. He made various structural changes, introduced new characters, added 6 chapters and a set of aphorisms to preface the work, and toned down homoerotic passages. Basil’s beautiful confession of love for Dorian Gray, which can be found in the manuscript, “It is quite true that I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man usually gives to a friend. Somehow I have never loved a woman… I quite admit that I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly”, disappears.
The resulting 20-chapter version of the novel, which has since served as the text for all popular editions of The Picture of Dorian Gray,was published by Ward, Lock and Company in April 1891.
With a foreword by Merlin Holland
Merlin Holland is an Oscar Wilde specialist and the writer’s grandson. He is the author of several notable works: The Wilde Album (1998), Coffee with Oscar Wilde (2007), A Portrait of Oscar Wilde (2008). He also edited The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde (2000), Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde (2003).
A limited, large format, luxury edition
Hand-numbered from 1 to 1.000, each book is presented in a 14x10 inch slipcase, bound, and sewn using only the finest materials. The slipcase and cover ornamentations are gilt embossed, and the pages are printed using vegetal ink on environmentally friendly paper.
This manuscript grants readers unfiltered access to lines of pure, unadulterated affection that the author was compelled to omit if he ever wanted the story to become the literary success it did. (...)
SP Books are primarily artistic editions. They strive to give an impression to readers that they possess a piece of art that allows them to connect with the writer in a special and intimate way. We have cultivated a unique house style: hand-assembled, large-format editions printed on thick, luxury paper (...)
This facsimile edition of a handwritten manuscript by Oscar Wilde’s own hands — including the author’s own crossings out and corrections — is well worth a place on your bookshelf (...)
The new edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray from SP Books is the first publication of the novel in its original, unedited form, in Wilde’s own autograph, inclusive of Wilde’s own struck-out paragraphs (...)
The manuscript shows the workings of Wilde’s mind as he was writing it, said Merlin Holland, the author’s 72-year-old grandson, who has written a foreword to the new edition. (...)
Wilde's purpose was to break out of what Lady Bracknell called the 'three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality' (...)