Fascinating article from Salon.com about Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and the restored edition about to come out…
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 (The Labouchère amendment was not repealed until 1956.)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.”
via “Dorian Gray” as Wilde actually wrote it – Fiction – Salon.com.