The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published vel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890, printed as the July 1890 issue of this magazine. The magazine's editors feared the story was indecent as submitted, so they censored roughly 500 words, without Wilde's kwledge, before publication. But even with that, the story was still greeted with outrage by British reviewers, some of whom suggested that Wilde should be prosecuted on moral grounds, leading Wilde to defend the vel aggressively in letters to the British press. Wilde later revised the story for book publication, making substantial alterations, deleting controversial passages, adding new chapters and including an aphoristic Preface which has since become famous in its own right. The amended version was published by Ward, Lock and Company in April 1891. Some scholars believe that Wilde would today have wanted us to read the version he originally submitted to Lippincott's. The vel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, and when he subsequently pursues a life of debauchery, the portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging. The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered a work of classic Gothic fiction with a strong Faustian theme. The vel begins on a beautiful summer day with Lord Henry Wotton, a strongly-opinionated man, observing the sensitive artist Basil Hallward painting the portrait of a handsome young man named Dorian Gray, who is Basil's ultimate muse. After hearing Lord Henry's world view, Dorian begins to think beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life. He wishes that the portrait Basil painted would grow old in his place. Under the influence of Lord Henry (who relishes the hedonic lifestyle and is a major exponent thereof), Dorian begins to explore his senses. He discovers amazing actress Sibyl Vane, who performs Shakespeare plays in a dingy theatre. Dorian approaches her and soon proposes marriage. Sibyl, who refers to him as Prince Charming, swoons with happiness, but her protective brother James tells her that if Prince Charming harms her, he will certainly kill him. The preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray was added, along with other amendments, after the edition published in Lippincott's was criticised. Wilde used it to address the criticism and defend the vel's reputation. It consists of a collection of statements about the role of the artist, art itself, and the value of beauty, and serves as an indicator of the way in which Wilde intends the vel to be read, as well as traces of Wilde's exposure to Taoism and the writings of the Chinese Taoist philosopher Chuang Tsu. Shortly before writing the preface, Wilde reviewed Herbert A. Giles's translation of the writings of Chuang Tsu. In it he writes: The honest ratepayer and his healthy family have doubt often mocked at the dome-like forehead of the philosopher, and laughed over the strange perspective of the landscape that lies beneath him. If they really knew who he was, they would tremble. For Chuang Tsu spent his life in preaching the great creed of Inaction, and in pointing out the uselessness of all things.
Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford where, a disciple of Pater, he founded an aesthetic cult. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, and his two sons were born in 1885 and 1886. His novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), and social comedies Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), established his reputation. In 1895, following his libel action against the Marquess of Queesberry, Wilde was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for homosexual conduct, as a result of which he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), and his confessional letter De Profundis (1905). On his release from prison in 1897 he lived in obscurity in Europe, and died in Paris in 1900.