The Birth of Dorian Gray

Alex Ross, otherwise the music critic for The New Yorker and author of the excellent The Rest is Noise, wrote a piece about Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray that is as informative as it is well written. Ross talks about how the novel and its author were tied, much to the detriment of the author at his public trial. Wilde defended himself at the trial from malicious and willfully naive accusations that Dorian Gray is autobiographical and hence proof of Wilde’s immorality. And while the attempts of the prosecution to equate Oscar and Dorian seem laughable to us today, a disturbing parallel between the work and the author’s life emerges. While we still today read and love the novel, during his lifetime, the novel ruined its author’s life. Much like the final scene in the novel where Dorian turns into a withered corpse, whereas the portrait returns to its initial youthfulness and beauty and remains such.

But that’s not why I’m writing this. I wanted to share with you a vignette Ross tells in his article.
“Dorian Gray emerged from the same dinner that insured the immortality of Sherlock Holmes. Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle dined together in London in August, 1889, as guests of Joseph Marshall Stoddart, the editor of Lippincott’s. Doyle, like so many others, came away dazzled by Wilde. “He towered above us all, and yet had the art of seeming to be interested in all that we could say,” Doyle recalled. Later that year, Doyle sent Lippincott’s his second Holmes tale, “The Sign of Four,” assigning a few Wildean traits to the great detective. (You can imagine Wilde saying, “I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.”) Wilde, for his part, may have picked up some tricks from Holmes’s creator: parts of “Dorian Gray” are as gruesome as a police procedural.”

How great is that?

The Sign of Four was published in February of 1890, while Dorian Gray appeared in Lippincott’s in July of the same year.

Also, here is a page from Wilde’s handwritten manuscript of Dorian Gray, held at the Morgan Library in New York.


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