Saturday, October 13, 2007

BOOK: Oscar Wilde, "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume 3: The Picture of Dorian Gray: the 1890 and 1891 texts. Ed. by Joseph Bristow. Oxford University Press, 2003. 0198187726. lxxvii + 465 pp.

Ah, The Picture of Dorian Gray. This is the book that got me hooked on Wilde. I had to know it really well for an exam at the end of secondary school, so I read it six times during the last year. I found that I enjoy Wilde a lot, so I later read his collected works in an inexpensive paperback edition, and then when I eventually saw that the OUP would begin publishing a variorum edition of his collected works, I decided to start buying it volume by volume as they would be published. But I wrote about this before, and there's no point in repeating myself. Anyway, I'm just saying that if it hadn't been for The Picture of Dorian Gray, I probably wouldn't be reading the OUP edition of Wilde right now.

This novel exists in two versions — first, Wilde published it in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, and later he expanded it to nearly twice the length to make it suitable for a standalone book. This OUP edition contains the text of both versions, as well as a critical apparatus in which this text is collated with various manuscripts and typescripts. In addition to that, there's a very interesting and extensive introduction by the editor, as well as wonderfully detailed explanatory notes at the end of the book. This is the third volume in the OUP edition of Wilde's collected works (the first two contain his poetry and De Profundis); although they are all expensive, I didn't regret buying any of them; but with this volume, my feeling that it was really worth the price is even greater than with any of the first two volumes.

The editor's introduction

I particularly enjoyed the editor's introduction, which describes the circumstances of the composition and publication of both versions of the novel, with an emphasis of what these things looked like from the perspective of the business side of publishing. The book version of The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in a small-paper and a large-paper edition; the former was a standard format at a standard price, while the latter was expensive and aimed at connoisseurs. “Certainly, the practice of issuing the same work in differently sized volumes dates from the 1600s. Yet this mode of publication appears to have become defunct by the turn of the nineteenth century. The trend for using the same plates for both a small-paper edition and an edition de luxe came into its own with the marketing of Pre-Raphaelite poetry.” (P. xxii.) There's also an interesting mention of the three-decker novels and the reasons for their demise at the end of the 19th century (p. xxi).

The introduction also notes the differences between the advertisements in the American and British editions of Lippincott's Magazine. The British edition contained, among other things, an ad for “ ‘Wansborough's Metallic Nipple Shields’ (‘at 1s. a pair’)” (p. xv). Sounds like something that Madonna might have a use for... :)

Another very interesting part of the introduction discussess the reviewers' responses to Dorian Gray. It's interesting how, when the novel was first published in the Lippincott's Magazine (in 1890) simultaneously in the UK and the USA, the negative criticism was all coming from the UK: “the New York Times observed that the controversy that Wilde had aroused with the publication of his story remained largely incomprehensible to American readers.” (P. l.) The editor adds: “I have found no evidence of outright hostility towards The Picture of Dorian Gray in the American press.” (Ibid.) On the other hand, many British newspapers were complaining about the supposed unwholesomeness of the novel, its lack of a clear moral and the presence passages that could be interpreted as allusions to homosexuality (pp. xliv–xlix). Wilde defended himself in letters to the editors of various newspapers, emphasizing that “his story refused to spell out what ‘Dorian Gray's sins are’ for the reader. ‘He who finds them,’ he added, ‘has brought them.’ ” (P. xlviii.)

In addition to these things, the introduction contains a discussion about the various kinds of revisions that Wilde (and his editor in the Lippincott's Magazine) made to the text at various points, both before the magazine publication and later when he was working on the longer version that would be published as a book in 1891.

By the way, it seems that Wilde had also done some translation work in the early part of his career. The editor's introduction (p. xliv) mentions his 1886 translation of A Fire at Sea, a short story by Turgenev. But I wonder — did Wilde understand Russian? I'd never heard of anything of that sort. Maybe he translated from a translation into some other language, rather than directly from the original. — Anyway, the editor also says (ibid.) that Wilde received offers to translate Euripides and Herodotus in 1879 (which sounds reasonable — after all, he had studied the classics, this was his area of expertise), but it isn't clear to me whether anything came of this or not.

Interesting things from the editor's notes

The editor's commentary and notes at the end of the book are wonderfully detailed. As an example: they even include a discussion of whether the various flowers mentioned as blossoming around Basil Hallward's studio in Chapter 1 really could all have blossomed at the same time :) (The conclusion is that this is improbable, p. 366.)

Sometimes the notes explain things that I would think are obvious to everyone. On p. 387, the note to 71.28 explains that when Dorian says to his servant that he is “not at home” to anyone, this means that he is “not available to receive visitors”. On p. 390, the note to 96.3 explains that Bologna is a “city in north-east Italy”. I don't know whether to praise the editor for this thoroughness of the notes and the unwillingness to expect too much from the reader, or to criticize him for thinking that the readers are such ingoramuses that they need to be told what Bologna is.

Wilde is well-known for frequently reusing the same witticisms and epigrams in several different works. One of the good things about this edition is that the editor's notes at the end of the book identify these cases, pointing out the passages that he reused in his plays and other works. I was, however, very surprised at one gaping omission: in chapter 11 (or chapter 9 of the 1890 text), he refers to one of the curious musical instruments collected by Dorian as “the mysterious juruparis of the Rio Negro Indians, that women are not allowed to look at and that even youths may not see till they have been subjected to fasting and scourging” (p. 112). Wilde later reused this idea in Salome, where Herod says: “I have a crystal, into which it is not lawful for a woman to look, nor may young men behold it until they have been beaten with rods.” But the editor's notes in this volume don't point out this reuse. Too bad — it's so wonderfully bizarre, and one of my favourite passages from Salome.

The editor's notes also identify the sources of various factoids that Wilde amassed in such quantities here in chapter 11 (or 9), as well as elsewhere to some extent. For example, he learned of the juruparis and other exotic instruments from an 1875 book, Musical Instruments by one Carl Engel. The sources of his facts about gems and outrageous anecdotes about Roman emperors and Renaissance tyrants have similarly been identified quite precisely.

Critical apparatus: 1890 text

I'm usually not particularly interested in studying critical apparatuses (whatever the correct plural of this word is), but in this case I took a glimpse at it anyway, and was often rewarded — it's a gold-mine of interesting comparisons between the 1890 text, the 1891 text and the various extant manuscripts and typescripts.

Thus the critical notes often reflect the minor battle of the wills between Wilde and J. M. Stoddart, the editor of Lippincott's Magazine in which The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published. For example, on p. 11, l. 13, we see that Wilde first wrote “he is” in the manuscript, then crossed it out and replaced it with “we are”; but then in the subsequent typescript, Stoddart crossed out “we are” and replaced it with “he is”, and this version was then published.

Stoddart also changed Wilde's spelling from British to American and made various other small modifications (e.g. toning down Wilde's use of capital initials: “Opera” → “opera” on p. 84; “Agate” → “agate”, “Cornelian” → “cornelian” and other names of gems on p. 114; “Science” → “science”, “Scientific Reviews” → “scientific reviews” on p. 145).

In addition to that, he occasionally tried to make some of Wilde's passages somewhat tamer: e.g. he changed “I don't suppose that ten per cent. of the lower orders live with their own wives” to “live correctly” (p. 11, l. 16). In ch. 9, there's a passage that discusses Dorian's descent into depravity: “he would [. . .] go down to dreadful places near Blue Gate Fields [i.e. probably to opium-dens], and stay there [. . .] until he was driven away.” Here, “until he was driven away” is Stoddart's text; Wilde had originally writen more luridly, “till they almost drove him out in horror, and had to be appeased by monstrous bribes” (p. 118, l. 25).

In a passage about a fictitious Lady Devereux on p. 122, l. 9, Wilde decided to change “the strange stories that were told about her lovers” into “[. . .] about the death of those to whom she granted favours”, but Stoddard changed it back to the earlier version :) On p. 124, l. 11, Wilde refers to a tapestry of “the Borgia on his white horse, with Incest and Fratricide riding beside him”, but Stoddard deleted Incest and kept only Fratricide. Stoddard also removed an allusion to homosexuality on p. 120, l. 2, and one to the depravity of Caligula (and of the hero of the novel that Lord Henry gave to Dorian as a present) on p. 123, l. 8. He removed a passage in which Lord Henry regrets that Dorian decided not to seduce a simple country girl named Hetty (p. 155, l. 19).

Another deletion by Stoddard, for which the reasons are less clear to me, is on p. 157, l. 2, where Lord Henry talks about missing his wife, who had left him for another man. It's true that his tone is somewhat aloof, as usual for him, but he does seem to have been genuinely fond of her. Thus I don't know why Stoddard removed this passage — keeping it would have made Lord Henry seem a better person. Perhaps he felt that Henry was an amoral cynic anyway and as such his positive sides shouldn't be emphasized, so that he can be safely seen as a negative character?

I guess that Wilde didn't disagree very much with these changes by Stoddard, as he retained practically all of them in the 1891 text; he didn't restore the passages that Stoddard had deleted.

Some interesting things were deleted by Wilde himself (or at least the critical apparatus doesn't say that it was Stoddard), e.g. on p. 124, l. 5, we hear of “Filippo, Duke of Milan, who slew his wife, and painted her lips with a scarlet poison” — but why? It turns out that Wilde had originally included an explanation in the manuscript, but then deleted it: “that her guilty lover might suck swift death from the dead thing that he fondled”. Wilde restored this passage in the 1891 text (p. 290, l. 4).

The Shame of Oscar Wilde

Yes, yes, I know that that's really the title of a book :) But here I'm referring to Wilde's spelling mistakes in the manuscripts, which are of course all faithfully noted in the critical apparatus. He had a tendency to write “do'nt” and “ca'nt” instead of “don't”, “can't” etc. (Another curious spelling, which however doesn't seem to be regarded as a mistake and is consistently used in the 1891 text, is “sha'n't”. This is not how it would be written nowadays, but I must admit that the extra apostrophe actually makes sense, because after all there is indeed an omission of “ll” between “sha” and “n”. This spelling appears e.g. on pp. 272, 291, 315, 321 and 352.)

The manuscript of the 1890 edition also contains many French phrases which were then replaced by English ones in the printed edition, partly because the readers of Lippincott's magazine couldn't be expected to understand French and partly because Wilde's own French was somewhat shaky (which is quite surprising, to me at least) and there was a risk of embarrassing mistakes (see the editor's introduction, p. xxxvi). In the 1891 edition, he misspells “fin de siècle” as “fin de siêcle” in chapter 15 (and it isn't just a printer's error — it also appears in Wilde's manuscript; see p. 318, l. 25).

Basil's feelings towards Dorian

One particularly interesting thing one sees from the textual notes is the evolution of Basil's attitude towards Dorian. In the manuscript of the 1890 text there are many hints that Basil felt a homosexual attraction towards Dorian. Many of these passages were removed or toned down in the 1890 printed edition by the editor of Lippincott's magazine; see e.g. 91.4, 93.19. Then, when preparing the 1891 edition, Wilde didn't restore any of these passages, but rather toned down the remaining ones even further (see 217.24, 261.31, 264.10, 264.12–14, 264.17, 266.2), so that for example I, as a naive reader who has until now always read only the 1891 text, had never before even thought that Basil might have had homosexual feelings towards Dorian. (See also the discussion of this in the editor's introduction, p. liii.)

Another change between the 1890 manuscript and the printed edition (as well as the 1891 edition) is about the book that Lord Henry gives as a present to Dorian, and which fascinates him so much (ch. 9 in the 1890 text, ch. 11 in the 1891 text). In the manuscript, Wilde provides a fictitious name of the author of the book (Catulle Sarrazin), as well as of its hero (Raoul, the title being ‘The Secret of Raoul’), but in the printed version these are all removed. See the editor's notes, pp. 392–3, for an interesting discussion of how Wilde came to select those names in the first place. Anyway, it is well known that the book that Wilde really had in mind here was Huysmans' À rebours.

[To be continued in a few days.]

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