“In becoming respectable’: a portrait of Oscar Wilde, circa 1882. Photograph: Alamy
A new edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, featuring handwritten notation from Oscar Wilde, reveals the extent to which the writer grappled with how much homoerotic content he should include in his novel.
It is the first time the original manuscript in Wilde’s own writing has been published and demonstrates how he self-censored some of the most romantic paragraphs. He tones down the more overt references to the homoerotic nature of Basil Hallward’s relationship with Dorian, crossing out his confession that “the world becomes young to me when I hold his hand”.
Yet the manuscript also includes passages – later removed from the novel we know today – that show how Wilde wanted to shock his Victorian readers by openly writing about homosexual feelings.
For example, this declaration of love by Basil for Dorian on page 147: “It is quite true that I have worshipped you with far more romance than a man should ever give to a friend. Somehow I have never loved a woman… I quite admit that I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly.”
“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.
“He’d reached a point when he was in danger of becoming respectable and conventional – in 1889 he was married with 2.4 children, living in slightly bohemian Chelsea.
What he’s doing with Dorian Gray is treading a very fine line.”