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Good books like good music travel underground to reach their audience. One could justifiably argue a case for Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray comprising a blueprint for the subversive genre of fiction which in the 20th century has counted amongst its numbers the works of Jean Genet, William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard.
Wilde's belief that the artist should be imaginatively free of moral inhibitions and socially exempt from accounting for that freedom was to make him into an unrepentant literary outlaw. In writing what was to be the first attempt at an explicitly homosexual novel in English literature, and one in which criminality is celebrated at the expense of bourgeois ethics, Wilde was to take on the role of antagonist to Victorian moral constraint. With his novel attacked for its licentious forays into the sexual and drug underworlds, Wilde was to retaliate by writing to the editor of the St. James's Gazette in defence of his placing imagination over and above sterile conventions. "I am quite incapable" Wilde wrote, "of understanding how any work of art can be criticized from a moral standpoint. The sphere of art and the sphere of ethics are absolutely distinct and separate; and it is to the confusion between the two that we owe the appearance of Mrs Grundy, that amusing old lady who represents the only original form of humour that the middle-classes of this country have been able to produce."
The Wilde who was to serve as the progenitor of novelistic amorality and to provide a template for the likes of Jean Genet and William Burroughs to advance this expression, was by sensibility a man at odds with his class. Wilde had married Constance Lloyd largely for financial considerations, and prior to the publication of The Picture Of Dorian Gray in 1890, had been considered as little more than an imposingly colourful aesthete, and an affected former editor of Woman's World. But the real Oscar, by which I mean the courageously defiant rebel, the irreverent O.T.T. and outrageously camp raconteur, and the hedonist who shot his cells with absinthe and brandy was also a man who cruised the bars off Shaftesbury Avenue in pursuit of rent boys. Wilde was by nature attracted to illicit pleasures and to the night as the arena in which he lived out his fascination with the London underworld...