Research Paper - Acts of Gross Indecency in The Picture of Dorian Gray A Love Whose Name the Text Dare Not Speak Brittain Gilliland In the Preface to

Research Paper - Acts of Gross Indecency in The Picture of...

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Acts of Gross Indecency in The Picture of Dorian Gray: A Love Whose Name the Text Dare Not SpeakBrittain GillilandIn the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Graythere is an epigram that refutes the commonplace notion that art mirrors life. “It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors,” and it is certainly true that literature takes its form through the reader’s interpretation of the text itself. My analysis, though, seeks to show that this novel does indeed mirror life.It may be argued that the proper mode for analysis of the work of an author may be to “isolate the text as the locus of meaning”, but The Picture of Dorian Gray begs a different sort of reading. (Behrendt 3) I believe it is only appropriate to introduce obliquely biographical information about Wilde. The scandal surrounding Wilde shortly after the Picture of Dorian Gray’s publication should not obscure the reading of the novel, but neither should its importance be ignored. Wilde was put on trial as a homosexual shortly after the novel was published, and the shadow this scandal cast over his life, and indeed over that epoch in England, recommends a reading of the homoerotic aspects of the novel, and its relation to the real-life gay community of London. In spite of the fact that Wilde was “sophisticated and self-conscious enough to manipulate subtextual homosexual themes with ‘impeccable discretion’”, the novel reflects much of Wilde’s personal experience of his contemporary London. (Behrendt 26)The novel has “widely been considered a testament to the cult of male homosexuality, [but] no one has addressed the issue of exactly how the novel ‘encodes traces of male homoerotic desire.’”(Behrendt 106) This is precisely my intention in 1
writing this paper. I want to examine locations, characters, language, and relationships that bear parallels to their counterparts in Wilde’s London at the time of the writing of this novel. For example, contemporaneous writings, such as John Addington Symmonds A Problem in Modern Ethics, with its ideas of inheritance of sexual inversion, and J.K. Huysmans A Rebours (as the “poisonous” book which Dorian takes as Gospel) are present in the novel.Though the passages dealing with Dorian Gray’s trips to sordid neighborhoods don’t specify homosexual encounters in brothels, there are clearly homoerotic relationships present. Physical acts need not be detailed. After all, in Wilde’s court case letters were given as evidence. Wilde was indicted without actually being caught in the act of sodomy. Love letters were evidence enough; letters whose florid language and Greek allusions are remarkably similar to passages describing Dorian’s relationships with Lord Henry Wotton and Basil Hallward:It is a marvel that those rose-leaf lips of yours should have been made no less for the music of song than for madness of kisses. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days. (“Letters” 277)

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