Danielle S on Dorian Gray

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time I’ve read the Picture of Dorian Gray, nor do I suspect that it will be the last. I still remember the first time I read this book: I was in junior high, I had such a love of the classics (despite all of my classmates’ protestations that it was ‘weird’) and I would quite literally inhale anything literary. Of course, the first copy of Dorian Gray that I read was a greatly abridged version, but it no less decreased my fascination with the characters of Dorian Gray, Sibyl Vane and Basil Hallward. I remember that all of these vivid characters – they practically jumped off the page and right into my imagination – and I remember absolutely adoring the way the novel was written and how strange and creepy Dorian Gray’s character was. I loved the vapidity and the shallowness that Dorian Gray encompassed, the innocence that Sibyl Vane was and the shock value that was elicited by Dorian Gray’s death, which was something I had forgotten over the years. Rereading this book as an English major has definitely changed the way I view the book, especially in regards to the finer details that I’d missed as a pre-teen. Prior to beginning my rereading of the novel, I had certain preconceived notions that it was going to be an easy read, particularly because I’d read an abridged version of Dorian Gray as a pre-teen. As I began to make my way through the novel once again, I found that the language had greatly changed from what I had remembered it to be, something I did not expect, and that the so called language change made it much more difficult to read and then I slowly realised that the version I’d read in junior high was abridged. As a child that adored to read and would inhale literally anything in terms of literature, my parents consistently gifted me with Classics, particularly a series called the Great Illustrated Classics that adapted storylines by authors from the Victorian period onwards. One of these books that I’d received in junior was the Picture of Dorian Gray and while planning out this blog post, I’d initially wanted to include an excerpt from both the abridged and unabridged versions of the book, but while I was hunting through my many, many books, I couldn’t find the GIC copy of Dorian Gray. Instead, I discovered two different versions of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and while Montgomery’s novel is not within the time period we’re discussing in class, I want to include the first paragraph, or so, of each novel just so you can see how heavily abridged the GIC books are.

Mrs. Rachel Lynde was a busybody who lived in Avonlea, a town on beautiful Prince Edward Island off Canada’s Atlantic coast. Now Avonlea occupied a little peninsula that was jutted out, with water on both sides. It was impossible for any traveler on the hill road to pass in and out of town without Mrs. Rachel noticing. And notice she did! (Great Illustrated Classics.)

Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum. (Unabridged).

While both of these excerpts have the same general sense of what begins Anne of Green Gables, they are both fundamentally very different, which is the same thing that occurs with the abridged version of the Picture of Dorian Gray. Because of the massive difference between these two novels, before I started rereading Dorian Gray I had very specific expectations for the book. I distinctly remember the Great Illustrated Classics version straying very specifically away from any indication of sexuality at all, besides the obvious heterosexual relationships. After finishing the novel (this next portion may contain spoilers for those of you that have not finished this book), I texted my best friend after Campbell’s visit to Dorian Gray asking her if Gray was gay, to which she responded “Yeeeeeeeeeeeees.” In hindsight, I feel as if I shouldn’t have been so surprised in regards to Dorian’s sexuality, but because I had no inclination of homosexuality in the Great Illustrated Classics version, I didn’t expect this revelation, not that there’s anything wrong with it. I feel as if I had romanticised Dorian Gray, twisted the novel into something that it wasn’t, but despite the differences of the novel and the Great Illustrated Classics version, I absolutely loved it. I have always been a fan of the macabre and the dark and the dark themes that are present within Dorian Gray’s text had me completely wrapped around their little fingers. As I’ve said in class, the concept of happy endings and endings wrapped up and tied neatly with a bow have become some of my least favourite and, despite the fact that Dorian Gray ends up with him killing himself (albeit accidentally), I found myself satisfied with the ending because it isn’t a happy ending. None of the endings that any of the characters succumb to are happy: Dorian Gray commits (unintentional) suicide, Sibyl Vane commits suicide, Basil Hallward is murdered by Dorian, and James Vane is shot by Dorian Gray.

5 thoughts on “Danielle S on Dorian Gray

  1. Danielle,

    I’m intrigued by the abridged copy that you read as a child and would like to hear your thoughts as to why Wilde’s work was so heavily, well, so heavily censored. If your memory serves you well and the (implicit or explicit) homosexual content was cut from the novel, whereas the heterosexual relationships remained, then the novel was, indeed, censored. Do you feel that this was a deliberate move in favor of a heteronormative agenda? And, if we consider the novel as censored, rather than abridged, is it possible that the publishing house behind Great Illustrated Classics was the entity responsible for “twisting the novel into something it wasn’t”?

    S.

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    • Stacey,
      I would be unsurprised if the homosexual content within Wilde’s work wasn’t cut from the novel, particularly if it were a novel for children. In publishing, from what I recall from my Children’s Literature course from the last fall semester, editors and publishers frequently cut content from books (i.e. The Coral Island by Ballantyne) in order to make more ‘kid friendly.’ There was one incident in particular from Dr. Thompson’s 389 course that we discussed where the three young boys are on the island. Dependent on which published edition a student had, there was one scene that was: a) cut or b) un-cut. Dr. Thompson theorised that it was, in fact, something that publishers either removed in order to maintain heteronormativity or did not remove in order to stay true to Ballantyne’s writing and this already was a children’s book. With a novel like Dorian Gray, it really wouldn’t surprise me if it was the publisher’s choice to either trim down or rewrite Basil and Dorian’s relationship in favour of a more heteronormative one, such as Sybil and Dorian. If my memory serves correctly, I don’t even remember seeing Campbell within the Great Illustrated Classics edition, but that could also be due to fuzzy memories. I would have to find my GIC copy and reread it to provide a more thorough answer, but with what I know now, I do think that it is possible that the Waldman Publishing Corporation (the publishing house behind the GIC novels) did ‘twist the novel into something it is not.’ In fact, quite a lot of the books that Waldman publishes under the banner of GIC cut down on a fair bit of content to make it more child ‘appropriate.’
      D.

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  2. I think it’s so neat that abridged/edited/censored/otherwise interpreted versions of media exist.

    This is a conversation that comes up in fannish communities quite a bit with regards to interpretive works. In all cases it’s obvious that there is a source object from which structures are drawn, but ultimately there comes a point where the new object is so far removed from the old that it may stand on its own as “authentic.” Here I’m defining authenticity as something which provides a singular, unique experience: “[…] both [are] fundamentally very different” (You, Now).

    To perhaps aid in my description of “wrap-around-authenticity” I present the best Beyoncé cover in existence: https://youtu.be/w4aiwTkDwCY. There’s no way a person’s reaction to the Snuggie version can be the same as the original, yet the Snuggie version is obviously an interpretation. Does the Snuggie version give a sense of in-authenticity? Or is it able to stand on its own as something beautiful and hilarious? (For myself it’s obviously the latter.)

    None of this is to say that interpretive works exist in a vacuum—all interpretations are bound by the social understandings of the person/s doing the interpretation (ie. Stacey’s comment regarding the heteronormative agenda). It’s kind of nice to think, however, that for every version of Dorian Gray where everyone is super-ultra-het-forever there’s a Beyoncé dance cover where everyone’s in a Snuggie.

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  3. I find the suggestions of a heteronormative agenda compelling but I’d like to point out that the authors of GIC may have just been oblivious to much of the homosexual elements. There has been discussion on these elements for a long time but the new author may have just chosen not to believe them. It’s consistent with many cases of homophobia to pretend it’s not there. Danielle, you mentioned you were not a hundred percent sure about Dorian’s sexuality during your reading. It is not inconceivable to suggest the GIC author simply failed to read between the lines. People see what they want to literary works. This argument is not my official stance on the debate but I feel it needed to be said.

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  4. I wasn’t sure either about his sexuality, in fact its actually debated online, people are still on a fence about what Dorian’s sexuality really is. Which begs to question if that was why the abridged version omitted it out. Its quite a controversial, delicate matter because at the end of the day no one wants to poorly or wrongfully insinuate anything about an author’s agenda especially in regards to sexuality. Arguably though, it could have been left out (in the abridged version) as a stance to show that his sexuality (homosexual or otherwise) doesn’t matter. Who really knows? I’m still on the fence about what I think about his sexuality and I read the original version.

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