Criticism of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
The novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, written by Oscar Wilde originally appeared in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890. It was then published in 1891, in book form, containing six additional chapters with revisions. The first reviews of Dorian Gray were mostly unfavorable. It was condemned for its speculative treatment of immoral or at least uncomfortable subjects. A review in the St. James’s Gazette by Samuel Henry Jeyes, journalist and biographer was titled "‘A Study in Puppydom." Jeyes refers to Wilde’s idle, “effeminate” characters in the book and writes: “The puppies appear to fill up the intervals of talk by plucking daisies and playing with them, and sometimes drinking ‘something with strawberry in it" (Beckson 69).
An unsigned review in Athenaeum, called the book “unmanly, sickening, vicious (although not exactly what is called ‘improper’), and tedious.” (Beckson 82) Charles Whibley, journalist and writer for the Scots Observer, wrote that "Mr. Oscar Wilde has again been writing stuff that were better unwritten" and went on with "...it is false to human nature-for its hero is a devil; it is false to morality-for it is not made sufficiently clear that the writer does not prefer a course of unnatural iniquity to a life of cleanliness, health, and sanity." He ends the article by saying ‘...he can write for none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys, the sooner he takes to tailoring (or some other decent trade) the better for his own reputation and the public morals" (Beckson 75).
Wilde replied to these damaging attacks and told an acquaintance after these first reviews that the story would be "...ultimately recognized as a real work of art with a strong ethical lesson inherent in it" He, also, wrote to a friend saying that, "I cannot understand how they can treat Dorian Gray as immoral." With rumors of Wilde’s homosexuality beginning to surface, it was not surprising that many of the reviewers used terms such as “perverted”, “effeminate” and "unnatural." Critics believed that Wilde was representing himself in the novel.
Wilde’s lifestyle may have caused him to be snubbed in certain social situations. It maybe that he drew on his own experiences to create the atmosphere of scandal in the last chapters, even though, other than murder, the protagonist’s “sins” are never named and only briefly alluded to.
Wilde was obviously upset by the public controversy concerning moral issues that occurred after the appearance
in Lippincott's. The reason he added the six additional chapters was to take on more of a conventional Victorian nature
and to tone down the passages which may have been described as homo-erotic in spirit.
The prejudice against Wilde is best demonstrated in the reviews of his previous short stories and prose fiction as