Is "The Picture of Dorian Gray" a gay love story?

In reading this first section of the book it reads kind of like a gay love story. How did audiences of the time interpret this artist’s near obsession with this beautiful young man?

Probably not as a gay love story. People of the time never considered such things. Purely heterosexual men were able to appreaciate male beauty without any sexuality being involved.

Whether Wilde put a gay subtext in there is a matter for analysis.

I read that bit of the story more as the artist’s obsession than any sort of sexual interest. The painter (sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve read the book, and my copy’s all the way in the next room) is so compelled to know and understand Dorian because he wants to paint Dorian as beautifully as possible. It’s just his art.

Images of male beauty can be found in myth and art going back to the Greeks. Educated readers would know the Greek myths that featured luscious young males and be aware of images of saints and martyrs as beautiful young men. (Do a Google image search on St. Sebastian, e.g.) It was a popular theme in art, in literature, in sculpture, and even in music derived from these works. Audiences of the day would have been extremely familiar with many such obsessions in culture. It would have been about as controversial as a story about a rock star today, and contain the same likelihood of having subtexts that the author may have intended or could be read into the work despite the author’s intentions.

I’ve read that Wilde actually had to take out a lot of the homoeroticism that was originally in it to get it published.

It certainly reads a lot like a gay love story today, and I’m sure Basil (the painter) did love Dorian–both as a work of art, partly his own creation, and as a friend. It’s arguable that there are overtones of the Pygmalion-Galatea myth in Basil and Dorian’s relationship.

But as far as a full-blown romantic relationship goes… eh, not really. Basil’s love for Dorian is probably more platonic than anything else.

Au contraire; the book received a very hostile reception upon publication in 1890, and much of the hostility was centered upon its clearly homosexual themes: one critic noted that “…he can write for none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys”, an unambiguous reference to a notorious homosexual scandal of 1889, in which a disgraced peer was forced to flee England.

“Why is your friendship so fatal to young men? There was that wretched boy in the Guards who committed suicide. You were his great friend. There was Sir Henry Ashton, who had to leave England with a tarnished name. You and he were inseperable. What about Adrian Singleton and his dreadful end?”

Homosexuality might have been illegal at the time, but homosexual scandals were hardly unknown, and Wilde’s references to them in Dorian Gray are almost dangerously specific.

From the biography Oscar Wilde by John Sloan:

Dude, it’s Oscar Wilde. :smiley:

To be fair, Wilde’s trial was not until 1895 - he didn’t meet Bosie until 1891, after Dorian Gray was published. However, prior to its publication in 1890, there was already gossip about Wilde’s sexual proclivities, which was doubtless spurred by the publication in 1889 of The Portrait Of Mr W. H., an essay about Shakepeare’s supposed infatuation with a young male actor, met critical hostility for its homosexual theme.

More contemporary criticism of Dorian Gray, this time from the Daily Chronicle:

“…a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction.”*

To claim, as an earlier poster did, that Wilde’s audience “never considered such things” is an absurd statement in the light of Wilde’s already dubious reputation and earlier, well-publicised homosexual scandals. Moreover, the late Victorians may have been unenlightened and hypocritical about homosexuality, but they certainly weren’t purblind as to its existence.

*Mind you, Conan Doyle thought that it was “upon a high moral plain”: in an odd twist, Wilde and Doyle were both lunched by an American publisher who commissioned them each to write a magazine story. Wilde wrote Dorian Gray; Doyle wrote The Sign Of Four. Lunches aren’t what they used to be.

Whose infamy faded with the advent of the obscene phone call.

Reviewers, then as now, are not the same as audiences. Reviewers are far more likely to know (in person or by reputation) the author and have axes to grind than the general reading public.





Oh, my!

slaps Case Sensitive


I dunno, but it’s significant that when the book was first sold in the U.S., the cover price was three dollars…

Since I see no reason to make an almost duplicate thread, I will ask my similar question here, if the OP doesn’t object: is there an intentional gay subtext to Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde?

I was wondering about that myself. How did telegraph boys get a reputation as a bunch of deves? Was telegraph operation considered unmanly, like the 19th Century equivalent of a guy who wants to become a figure skater, or what?

I’m guessing it was the teeny little pillbox hats. I mean, c’MON!

“In July 1886 one Henry Newlove, a Post Office clerk was caught seducing seventeen-year-old telegraph delivery boys… He would make love to them in the office, then recommend them to a gay brothel… The clients at Cleveland Street included Lord Arthur Somerset {a member of the Marlborough Club and an associate of the Prince of Wales} who fled, when when the press got hold of the story, to a happy expatriate life among the homosexuals of Monaco and later Florence. Hence ‘outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys’. {The critic} was making himself quite clear; he must have been sure that his readers remembered the headlines of four years before, that his allusions would be comprehensible.”

Neal Bartlett, Who Was That Man?

So much for the theory that the reference was some sub rosa literary feud.