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Wilde-ly gay
by Asa Butcher
Issue 8
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The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde
Penguin Books Ltd, 1891
“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all,” writes Oscar Wilde in the preface of the book that is accredited to his downfall, when it was used as evidence against him at his trial for "committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons". Whether it was the prior knowledge that the author had homosexual tendencies or Wilde’s colourful text, the book screams The Picture of Dorian Gay.

This is not a disparaging remark; in fact, the book was an absolute pleasure to read and made me laugh aloud on a number of occasions. I have to admit to never reading anything by this renowned author, but now that has been set straight I can proceed with encouraging you to pick up and read The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Wilde’s writing needs little introduction to even those who have never read his work. My knowledge of his reputation was that his work was filled with flamboyant wit, acid commentary and intelligent writing, but to see the combination of these in action has inspired me to read more of his masterpieces. My comment earlier that the book screams ‘gay’ was provoked by many of his descriptive passages, especially in the first few chapters, for example:

“…the two young men went out into the garden together, and ensconced themselves on a long bamboo seat that stood in the shade of a tall laurel bush. The sunlight slipped over the polished leaves. In the grass, white daisies were tremulous.”

I have never read anywhere that ‘white daisies were tremulous’ and for it to be written by a man would seemingly seal his fate as being homosexual because there is something about those four words that just sound bizarre from the pen of a man…or perhaps it is just me.

Considering that Oscar Wilde was at least bisexual, there could be strong parallels between his life and that of Dorian Gray, the book’s protagonist. The social circles, the relationships, the era’s etiquette all depict an exquisite portrayal of 19th century London life and the hypocrisies of Victorian high society. Wilde transports the reader back to that time and makes the experience truly believable, although there are moments in the novel when it could easily be a modern day story.

Oscar Wilde sets to work immediately by introducing Dorian Gray as a handsome, young man who doesn’t seem to be concerned with his own life or his good looks. Lord Henry begins influencing Dorian by telling him that his looks are in fact his most important virtue and that his looks will wane as he ages. The idea frightens Dorian a great deal and, once the portrait is completed, he becomes highly emotional exclaiming: “...I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June.... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that--for that--I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”

Dorian’s wish for eternal youth is mysteriously granted and the painting ages instead of him. This allows him to stay an extremely handsome individual whose looks instil trust in those he encounters, but over the years he abuses, ruins and drives many to suicide through his thoughtless actions. The story is gripping and the homoerotic themes are almost forgotten as Wilde offers a moral warning over the story’s development.

My own warning to you reader is to ignore the looks and comments you may receive when reading Oscar Wilde because it is a gay – meaning ‘jolly’ – read.

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