The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition

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Overview

The Picture of Dorian Gray altered the way Victorians understood the world they inhabited. It heralded the end of a repressive Victorianism, and after its publication, literature had—in the words of biographer Richard Ellmann—“a different look.” Yet the Dorian Gray that Victorians never knew was even more daring than the novel the British press condemned as “vulgar,” “unclean,” “poisonous,” “discreditable,” and “a sham.” Now, more than 120 years after Wilde handed it over to his publisher, J. B. Lippincott & Company, Wilde’s uncensored typescript is published for the first time, in an annotated, extensively illustrated edition.

The novel’s first editor, J. M. Stoddart, excised material—especially homosexual content—he thought would offend his readers’ sensibilities. When Wilde enlarged the novel for the 1891 edition, he responded to his critics by further toning down its “immoral” elements. The differences between the text Wilde submitted to Lippincott and published versions of the novel have until now been evident to only the handful of scholars who have examined Wilde's typescript.

Wilde famously said that Dorian Gray “contains much of me”: Basil Hallward is “what I think I am,” Lord Henry “what the world thinks me,” and “Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.” Wilde’s comment suggests a backward glance to a Greek or Dorian Age, but also a forward-looking view to a more permissive time than his own, which saw Wilde sentenced to two years’ hard labor for gross indecency. The appearance of Wilde’s uncensored text is cause for celebration.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray has been adapted into a film, a television movie, a musical, a full-length dance, a comic book, a video game, and even a Lego story, but it first appeared as a novel in 1890. Strangely though, the fiction that Wilde himself originally wanted published has never appeared fully in print—until now. Under pressure, both the novel's first editor and then Wilde himself excised passages deemed immoral by the standards of Victorian England. In this annotated critical edition, editor Nicholas Frankel restores the text to its original unbridled vitality. In essential ways, this edition presents a picture of Oscar Wilde that mirrors the controversial man we have come to know.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

First published in 1890 in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine and the following year in novel form, The Picture of Dorian Gray categorically changed Victorian Britain and the landscape of literature. An ostentatious, self-confessed aesthete, known for his wit and intellect, Wilde not only had to endure his prose being labeled "poisonous" and "vulgar," but also suffer its use as evidence in the ensuing trial, resulting in his eventual imprisonment for crimes of "gross indecency." Frankel's introduction provides a deft preliminary analysis of the novel itself-exploring etymology and extensive editorial alterations (both accidental and deliberate)-and offers valuable insight into the socio-cultural juxtaposition of aristocratic Victorian society and the London underworld. The original typescript provides the unique opportunity to examine what was considered acceptable in both the US and UK at the time. Intriguing annotations allude to Wilde's influences and enterprising range of reference, incorporating art, poetry, literature, Greek mythology, philosophy, and fashion (certain to inspire further reading; an appendix is provided). Comparisons are drawn between Dorian Gray and Wilde's other literary output, as well as to the work of Walter Pater. Numerous illustrations subtly compliment Frankel's inferences. A fine contextualization of a major work of fiction profoundly interpreted, ultimately riveting.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New Republic online

Frankel's extensive annotations reveal that the homoerotic qualities of the novel are deeply encoded within it and cannot be excised by the removal of a few phrases...If the restored text is interesting primarily as a social document of what was and was not permissible in England in the 1890s, it poignantly reveals an author desperately at war with his society and with himself.
— Ruth Franklin

Washington Post

In pages redolent of fin-de-siecle languor and sparkling with bons mots, Wilde's only novel raises several seriously troubling questions: If one could live a life of absolute freedom, would the result be happiness or a nightmare? How much of our complex selves do we deny or sacrifice to conventional morality? ...This Harvard edition of the untouched typescript is thus a necessary acquisition for any serious student of Wilde's work...After this enthralling novel has left you shaken and disturbed, look for deeper understanding in Nicholas Frankel's superb annotated edition.
— Michael Dirda

PopMatters

This edition gives us a chance to read Wilde's text in a form as close as possible to the way he meant it to appear.
— Sarah Boslaugh

Weekly Standard

There is a good argument that the published version of the novel is not quite true to its author's intent or achievement, and Nicholas Frankel, who teaches English at Virginia Commonwealth University, has now set things right—and in handsome fashion. He has skillfully restored Wilde's original version, and in the manner of other great annotated editions, supplied readers with everything anyone would need to know about Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and their lives and times...The entire product—novel and critical/biographical material—makes fascinating reading.
— Philip Terzian

The Times

Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray may have outraged Victorian society even more had his editor not deleted sections of his original text...These passages and others deemed risky 120 years ago now appear for the first time.
— Nicholas Clee

Times Literary Supplement

Splendid...Profusely illustrated and annotated, the edition's most interesting feature will be a comparison of the original hand-emended typescript with the two main published versions, each of which toned down the novel in a vain effort to avoid the notoriety that descended on both the work and its author...Frankel's edition is a major contribution to the studies of Wilde and of late Victorian legal, sexual, and social contexts...Required reading for students and scholars of Wilde and his period.
— George Bornstein

Pittsburgh Examiner

In this day of Kindles, e-books and tweets, this is truly a magnificent job of bookmaking. Oversized, lavishly illustrated and gorgeously presented, Oscar would have loved it. The text is examined minutely, with a variety of comparisons from various publications of the novel, as well as Wilde's original manuscript...The scholarship is both astounding and informative. The annotator and editor, Nicholas Frankel, easily and effortlessly places the modern reader in Wilde's time and place, London's late Victorian Age in London. There is still a tingle to Dorian's story of endless debauchery while he remains looking pure and innocent for decades and the painting ages and grows monstrous, reflecting his sins and crimes. Strangely, the book seems more modern than one would imagine. Rather than merely a potboiler from two centuries back, Wilde's genius imbues the story with a strange and haunting immediacy, and a cautionary tale for us all: Be careful what you wish for. One could hardly wish for a more beautifully accoutered book.
— Alan W. Petrucelli

Books & Culture

There is much to be appreciated in this handsome scholarly edition...Frankel [is] an accomplished guide and this edition an elegant resource that enables us to admire all the more deeply the portrait and the artist.
— Richard Gibson

New Yorker

The version that Wilde submitted to Lippincott's [published for the first time by Harvard University Press] is the better fiction. It has the swift and uncanny rhythm of a modern fairy tale—and Dorian is the greatest of Wilde's fairy tales.
— Alex Ross

The Australian

It's a revelatory exercise to examine the text of Wilde's original typescript...It yields a deeper understanding of its author and of the hypocrisy and intolerance of late-Victorian English society which led to his two-year imprisonment for "gross indecency."...With this landmark edition we have the opportunity, until now denied us, to read what the author originally wrote. It unquestionably belongs on every Wildean's shelves.
— Joel Greenberg

Barnes & Noble Review

A richly annotated and illustrated volume edited by Nicholas Frankel. It is not often that a piece of serious scholarship is accorded such deluxe treatment, and in this case it is a cause for real celebration, for Frankel has provided a wealth of supplemental material and visual matter, as well as a "Textual Introduction" and a series of notes that explain references and cultural context, help the reader understand the editing processes, and point out the passages that were singled out for deletion...This annotated version [is] a treasure for scholars and for anyone with a serious interest in Wilde, the 1890s, and Aestheticism.
— Brooke Allen

Bay Area Reporter

Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray has the distinction of being one of the few pieces of literature that grew longer by way of being censored...It's seven chapters longer than his original version, which now appears for the first time from Harvard University Press by way of a brilliant scholarly presentation of the typescript Wilde submitted to the Philadelphia office of Lippincott's magazine...The typescript (in the UCLA library, but published for the first time here) is, besides truer to Wilde's original intentions, a vastly better novel than the one Lippincott's Monthly Magazine published, say nothing of the much expanded version England's Ward, Lock and Company brought out the next year, the one most of us know. To call Wilde's earlier version leaner would miss the flavor and point of this aestheticism-drenched work, but it's a swifter, bolder, more uncompromising, less moralistic and in every respect more affecting work than its edited, rewritten, or otherwise censored versions. Who would have thought a scholarly edition would be the one to have? But everything about Nicholas Frankel's revelatory new edition of the typescript of The Picture of Dorian Gray is game-changing. Reading it is like viewing a painting by Michelangelo—one of the great artists Wilde named while explaining what he meant by the phrase "the love that dare not speak its name" (to cheers of applause from some in the gallery) in the 1895 court trial—returned to its original glory by deeply knowledgeable, painstaking art restorers. If it did nothing more, Frankel's exhaustively researched book would be a dream presentation of any edition of Dorian Gray, lavishly illustrated with relevant art of the period, including priceless photographs that bring the details of Wilde's book, amazingly now 120 years old, to vivid life. The typescript text is larded with footnotes I'm tempted to describe as being as absorbing as Wilde's writing, except that no one's writing is more captivating than Wilde's, as Frankel would be the first to agree...Entry by entry, Frankel's painstaking explication of the culture Wilde's writing was both a product of, and immeasurably advanced, makes this dense, brilliant book comprehensible...Once through this seminal text with all its notes, illustrations, and explanations, the drive is to go back and re-read the typescript (easily recognized by its larger typeface) all over again, just because it's such a terrific book.
— Tim Pfaff

Victorians

We now have an uncensored Dorian, which is very exciting...[It's] a beautifully produced volume: lots of white space, helpful annotations, crisp color illustrations and photographs.
— Nikolai Endres

London Review of Books

[A] superbly annotated new edition of Wilde's novel.
— Colm Tóibín

David Leavitt
Nicholas Frankel has done a great service to Oscar Wilde's readers in preparing this new edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray. His introduction and annotations deepen our understanding not only of Wilde the writer but of the political and sexual milieu in which he lived and published. This is the kind of scholarship that reminds us why scholarship matters.
New Republic online - Ruth Franklin
Frankel's extensive annotations reveal that the homoerotic qualities of the novel are deeply encoded within it and cannot be excised by the removal of a few phrases...If the restored text is interesting primarily as a social document of what was and was not permissible in England in the 1890s, it poignantly reveals an author desperately at war with his society and with himself.
Washington Post - Michael Dirda
In pages redolent of fin-de-siecle languor and sparkling with bons mots, Wilde's only novel raises several seriously troubling questions: If one could live a life of absolute freedom, would the result be happiness or a nightmare? How much of our complex selves do we deny or sacrifice to conventional morality? ...This Harvard edition of the untouched typescript is thus a necessary acquisition for any serious student of Wilde's work...After this enthralling novel has left you shaken and disturbed, look for deeper understanding in Nicholas Frankel's superb annotated edition.
PopMatters - Sarah Boslaugh
This edition gives us a chance to read Wilde's text in a form as close as possible to the way he meant it to appear.
Weekly Standard - Philip Terzian
There is a good argument that the published version of the novel is not quite true to its author's intent or achievement, and Nicholas Frankel, who teaches English at Virginia Commonwealth University, has now set things right--and in handsome fashion. He has skillfully restored Wilde's original version, and in the manner of other great annotated editions, supplied readers with everything anyone would need to know about Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and their lives and times...The entire product--novel and critical/biographical material--makes fascinating reading.
Barnes & Noble Review - Brooke Allen
A richly annotated and illustrated volume edited by Nicholas Frankel. It is not often that a piece of serious scholarship is accorded such deluxe treatment, and in this case it is a cause for real celebration, for Frankel has provided a wealth of supplemental material and visual matter, as well as a "Textual Introduction" and a series of notes that explain references and cultural context, help the reader understand the editing processes, and point out the passages that were singled out for deletion...This annotated version [is] a treasure for scholars and for anyone with a serious interest in Wilde, the 1890s, and Aestheticism.
The Times - Nicholas Clee
Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray may have outraged Victorian society even more had his editor not deleted sections of his original text...These passages and others deemed risky 120 years ago now appear for the first time.
Times Literary Supplement - George Bornstein
Splendid...Profusely illustrated and annotated, the edition's most interesting feature will be a comparison of the original hand-emended typescript with the two main published versions, each of which toned down the novel in a vain effort to avoid the notoriety that descended on both the work and its author...Frankel's edition is a major contribution to the studies of Wilde and of late Victorian legal, sexual, and social contexts...Required reading for students and scholars of Wilde and his period.
Pittsburgh Examiner - Alan W. Petrucelli
In this day of Kindles, e-books and tweets, this is truly a magnificent job of bookmaking. Oversized, lavishly illustrated and gorgeously presented, Oscar would have loved it. The text is examined minutely, with a variety of comparisons from various publications of the novel, as well as Wilde's original manuscript...The scholarship is both astounding and informative. The annotator and editor, Nicholas Frankel, easily and effortlessly places the modern reader in Wilde's time and place, London's late Victorian Age in London. There is still a tingle to Dorian's story of endless debauchery while he remains looking pure and innocent for decades and the painting ages and grows monstrous, reflecting his sins and crimes. Strangely, the book seems more modern than one would imagine. Rather than merely a potboiler from two centuries back, Wilde's genius imbues the story with a strange and haunting immediacy, and a cautionary tale for us all: Be careful what you wish for. One could hardly wish for a more beautifully accoutered book.
Books & Culture - Richard Gibson
There is much to be appreciated in this handsome scholarly edition...Frankel [is] an accomplished guide and this edition an elegant resource that enables us to admire all the more deeply the portrait and the artist.
New Yorker - Alex Ross
The version that Wilde submitted to Lippincott's [published for the first time by Harvard University Press] is the better fiction. It has the swift and uncanny rhythm of a modern fairy tale--and Dorian is the greatest of Wilde's fairy tales.
The Australian - Joel Greenberg
It's a revelatory exercise to examine the text of Wilde's original typescript...It yields a deeper understanding of its author and of the hypocrisy and intolerance of late-Victorian English society which led to his two-year imprisonment for "gross indecency."...With this landmark edition we have the opportunity, until now denied us, to read what the author originally wrote. It unquestionably belongs on every Wildean's shelves.
Bay Area Reporter - Tim Pfaff
Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray has the distinction of being one of the few pieces of literature that grew longer by way of being censored...It's seven chapters longer than his original version, which now appears for the first time from Harvard University Press by way of a brilliant scholarly presentation of the typescript Wilde submitted to the Philadelphia office of Lippincott's magazine...The typescript (in the UCLA library, but published for the first time here) is, besides truer to Wilde's original intentions, a vastly better novel than the one Lippincott's Monthly Magazine published, say nothing of the much expanded version England's Ward, Lock and Company brought out the next year, the one most of us know. To call Wilde's earlier version leaner would miss the flavor and point of this aestheticism-drenched work, but it's a swifter, bolder, more uncompromising, less moralistic and in every respect more affecting work than its edited, rewritten, or otherwise censored versions. Who would have thought a scholarly edition would be the one to have? But everything about Nicholas Frankel's revelatory new edition of the typescript of The Picture of Dorian Gray is game-changing. Reading it is like viewing a painting by Michelangelo--one of the great artists Wilde named while explaining what he meant by the phrase "the love that dare not speak its name" (to cheers of applause from some in the gallery) in the 1895 court trial--returned to its original glory by deeply knowledgeable, painstaking art restorers. If it did nothing more, Frankel's exhaustively researched book would be a dream presentation of any edition of Dorian Gray, lavishly illustrated with relevant art of the period, including priceless photographs that bring the details of Wilde's book, amazingly now 120 years old, to vivid life. The typescript text is larded with footnotes I'm tempted to describe as being as absorbing as Wilde's writing, except that no one's writing is more captivating than Wilde's, as Frankel would be the first to agree...Entry by entry, Frankel's painstaking explication of the culture Wilde's writing was both a product of, and immeasurably advanced, makes this dense, brilliant book comprehensible...Once through this seminal text with all its notes, illustrations, and explanations, the drive is to go back and re-read the typescript (easily recognized by its larger typeface) all over again, just because it's such a terrific book.
Victorians - Nikolai Endres
We now have an uncensored Dorian, which is very exciting...[It's] a beautifully produced volume: lots of white space, helpful annotations, crisp color illustrations and photographs.
London Review of Books - Colm Tóibín
[A] superbly annotated new edition of Wilde's novel.
Library Journal
This novel by Wilde is so well known that even many who have never read it or seen a movie version know the story. Briefly, a beautiful young man has a portrait painted that will show his aging and corruption while he himself remains young. And though it has been published in many editions since its first appearance in 1890 in a magazine, this edition is the first one based on Wilde's uncensored typescript. Frankel (English, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.) provides an introduction that sets the scene of the book in its cultural context, and he presents a bibliographic history detailing the rationale for this particular edition. Accompanying the text itself are Frankel's hundreds of annotations, a mixture of commentary, background information, and notes on sources. There are extensive illustrations reproduced here in both color and black and white, many from earlier editions of Dorian and others chosen to further illuminate the novel's themes. There are several images of Wilde as well. VERDICT Like Harvard University Press's other beautiful annotated editions of classics, this is both handsome and instructive. Recommended for all English literature collections.—David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib., Philadelphia
Michael Dirda
…a necessary acquisition for any serious student of Wilde's work…a great work of art inevitably raises as many questions as it answers. That's why it remains a classic, a book that generation after generation returns to. If you've never read The Picture of Dorian Gray, I'd still suggest you start with the 1891 version, widely available. But after this enthralling novel has left you shaken and disturbed, look for deeper understanding in Nicholas Frankel's superb annotated edition.
—The Washington Post
The Barnes & Noble Review

From Brooke Allen's "READER'S DIARY" column on The Barnes & Noble Review


More than a century after its publication, Oscar Wilde's novella The Picture of Dorian Gray is recognized as one of the classics of English literature, a masterpiece of fin-de-siècle Aestheticism and in many respects a harbinger of the Modernist movement. Its current iconic status could not have been foreseen in 1890 when the story first appeared -- simultaneously in Britain and the United States -- in the pages of Lippincott's Magazine. This review from London's Daily Chronicle voiced the outrage of many:

Dulness and dirt are the chief features of Lippincott's this month: The element that is unclean, though undeniably amusing, is furnished by Mr. Oscar Wilde's story of The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French decadents -- a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction -- a gloating study of the mental and physical corruption of a fresh, fair and golden youth, which might be fascinating but for its effeminate frivolity, its studied insincerity, its theatrical cynicism, its tawdry mysticism, its flippant philosophizings…. Mr. Wilde says the book has "a moral." The "moral," so far as we can collect it, is that man's chief end is to develop his nature to the fullest by "always searching for new sensations," that when the soul gets sick the way to cure it is to deny the senses nothing.

"Unclean," "corruption," "leprous," "putrefaction," and "French decadents" were of course all coded terms for "homosexuality" -- a word that would not enter the English language until two years later, and a concept that could not be openly discussed in a respectable newspaper of the time, nor mentioned in polite company; when Dorian Gray was revised for publication in book form a good portion of the material deemed unclean and leprous had to be removed. In fact, there had already been substantial cuts made in the Lippincott's version by its editor, J. M. Stoddart, a process over which the author, in accordance with magazine protocol of the era, was given no control whatever. And Wilde and his subsequent editor would make further changes for the publication of Dorian Gray in book form a year later, in 1891.

Strangely, considering the cult status The Picture of Dorian Gray would eventually attain, Wilde's original version has never been published until now, more than one hundred and twenty years after the Lippincott edition. It has been made available by Harvard's Belknap Press in a richly annotated and illustrated volume edited by Nicholas Frankel. It is not often that a piece of serious scholarship is accorded such deluxe treatment, and in this case it is a cause for real celebration, for Frankel has provided a wealth of supplemental material and visual matter, as well as a "Textual Introduction" and a series of notes that explain references and cultural context, help the reader understand the editing processes, and point out the passages that were singled out for deletion, such as this speech the portrait painter Basil Hallward addresses to Dorian:

"It is quite true I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man should ever give to a friend. Somehow I have never loved a woman…. From the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me…. I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly. I was jealous of everyone to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you."

(This was a little strong even for an era when "romantic friendships" between men were acceptable, and in fact even the hero's name, "Dorian" -- "Greek" -- was more than a bit suggestive.) Altogether, the revised 1891 manuscript that eventually appeared in book form encompassed a whole series of changes and omissions designed to alter and conventionalize the "moral," such as it is, by heightening the beautiful Dorian's monstrosity and thus rendering him a far less sympathetic character than he had appeared to be in the original typescript. Looking at the typescript, then, we find more comprehensible Wilde's oft-quoted statement on the book's autobiographical elements: "Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be -- in other ages, perhaps."

Frankel has done much to place Wilde and his novel within the context of their time -- "a heated atmosphere of hysteria and paranoia" about sexual "deviation." The 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act was extended by Henry Labouchère, a radical Member of Parliament, to include the criminalization of acts of "gross indecency" between men. (The Labouchère Amendment was not repealed until 1956.) The vagueness of the amendment's language -- just what acts did "gross indecency" encompass, anyway? -- caused fear amounting to paranoia among the homosexual community; as Frankel writes, "The conditions had been created for a series of homosexual scandals that would rock London and increase the level of homophobia in British society."  

The so-called Cleveland Street Affair, which broke only months before Dorian Gray's first appearance, was the most spectacular of these, involving the infiltration and arrest of a ring of "rent boys" who worked by day as telegraph messengers and by night as prostitutes out of a brothel in Cleveland Street. A number of aristocrats and prominent military men were implicated; Lord Arthur Somerset, the Prince of Wales' equerry, fled the country; a shadow was even cast on the name of the Prince's elder son, though that suspicion was subsequently proved groundless. "In the wake of the Cleveland Street Scandal," Frankel explains, "Wilde's emphasis on Dorian Gray's youthfulness, or susceptibility to the 'corruption' of an older aristocratic man (Lord Henry), is one of the features of the novel that most outraged reviewers."

Nowadays, the knowledge of Wilde's poignant subsequent history casts a shadow over Dorian Gray. Married since 1884 to a beauty, Constance Lloyd, Wilde had been secretly leading a homosexual life at least since 1886 and probably much longer. ("The one charm of marriage," Lord Henry quips in Dorian Gray, "is that it makes a life of deception necessary for both parties.") In 1889 Wilde began courting a beautiful young poet named John Gray, the probable model for Dorian. (At least Gray himself believed this to be so, and the name would seem to be a clincher.) After the novel was published Wilde began his disastrous affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. His feud with his lover's violent father, the Marquess of Queensberry, resulted in one of the most famous lawsuits in history, Wilde's eventual arrest on charges of sodomy, and his sentencing to two years' hard labor. The most celebrated playwright and wit in England had become its most despised pariah. He never saw his two sons again; Constance changed their name, and hers, to "Holland," and taught the boys "to forget that we had ever borne the name of Wilde and never to mention it to anyone." After his release from prison Wilde went into exile in France, where he assumed the name "Sebastian Melmoth" and died, in penury, in 1900. "I will never outlive the century," he had predicted. "The English people would not stand for it."

Whether the original text is actually "better" than the book version published in 1891 is a moot point. Some of Wilde's original material may have been lost in the latter (even the word "mistress" was deemed unsuitable for publication at that time, and the novel's heterosexual material was censored as ruthlessly as its homosexual innuendos). But much was gained, too, in the expanded version Wilde prepared in 1891, with the brilliant Lord Henry being given some wonderful new material. This annotated version, though a treasure for scholars and for anyone with a serious interest in Wilde, the 1890s, and Aestheticism, should serve as a supplement to the standard text rather than a replacement.




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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674057920
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/29/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 170,958
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Frankel is Associate Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Biography

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, to an intellectually prominent Dublin family. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a renowned physician who was knighted for his work as medical adviser to the 1841 and 1851 Irish censuses; his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Elgee, was a poet and journalist. Wilde showed himself to be an exceptional student. While at the Royal School in Enniskillen, he took First Prize in Classics. He continued his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, on scholarship, where he won high honors, including the Demyship Scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford.

At Oxford, Wilde engaged in self-discovery, through both intellectual and personal pursuits. He fell under the influence of the aesthetic philosophy of Walter Pater, a tutor and author who inspired Wilde to create art for the sake of art alone. It was during these years that Wilde developed a reputation as an eccentric and a foppish dresser who always had a flower in his lapel. Wilde won his first recognition as a writer when the university awarded him the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna."

Wilde went from Oxford to London, where he published his first volume of verse, Poems, in 1881. From 1882 to 1884, he toured the United States, Ireland, and England, giving a series of lectures on Aestheticism. In America, between speaking engagements, he met some of the great literary minds of the day, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Walt Whitman. His first play, Vera, was staged in New York but did poorly. After his marriage to Constance Lloyd in 1884 and the birth of his two sons, Wilde began to make his way into London's theatrical, literary, and homosexual scenes. He published Intentions, a collection of dialogues on aesthetic philosophy, in 1891, the year he met Lord Alfred Douglas, who became his lover and his ultimate downfall. Wilde soon produced several successful plays, including Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and A Woman of No Importance (1893). Wilde's popularity was short-lived, however. In 1894, during the concurrent runs of his plays An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, he became the subject of a homosexual scandal that led him to withdraw all theater engagements and declare bankruptcy. Urged by many to flee the country rather than face a trial in which he would surely be found guilty, Wilde chose instead to remain in England. Arrested in 1895 and found guilty of "homosexual offenses," Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor and began serving time in Wandsworth prison. He was later transferred to the detention center in Reading Gaol, where he composed De Profundis, a dramatic monologue written as a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas that was published in 1905. Upon his release, Wilde retreated to the Continent, where he lived out the rest of his life under a pseudonym. He published his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, in 1898 while living in exile.

During his lifetime, Wilde was most often the center of controversy. The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was serialized in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890 and published in book form the next year, is considered to be Wilde's most personal work. Scrutinized by critics who questioned its morality, the novel portrays the author's internal battles and arrives at the disturbing possibility that "ugliness is the only reality." Oscar Wilde died penniless, of cerebral meningitis, in Paris on November 30, 1900. He is buried in Paris's Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Good To Know

To make ends meet, Wilde edited the popular ladies' periodical Woman's Day from 1887 to 1889.

When in exile on the Continent, Wilde was forced to live under the alias Sebastian Melmoth.

It is rumored that Wilde's last written words were found in his journal, left behind in the Left Bank flophouse where he died: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has got to go."

Wilde is buried in the Paris cemetery of Père Lachaise; there, he keeps company with other famous artists, including Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 16, 1854
    2. Place of Birth:
      Dublin, Ireland
    1. Date of Death:
      November 30, 1900
    2. Place of Death:
      Paris, France

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    My favorite book of all time ever. I've read it multiple times a

    My favorite book of all time ever. I've read it multiple times and probably won't stop! This is the third version of this novel that I own and I am so incredibly glad that it was released unedited like this. As soon as I caught the news, I made it down to B&N to buy it -- with my lunch money, no less.
    The annotations are helpful and insightful and interesting, in my opinion. Some people might be bothered by them, or distracted by the disruption, but if you're good at ignoring the interrupted flow of the story like that, then I recommend this book, one-hundred percent!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted April 29, 2011

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    Posted April 28, 2011

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    Posted May 2, 2011

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