Criticism of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray

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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 " 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 "......

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...ver reached, which supersedes that earlier didactic purpose, and makes the quite sufficing interest of an excellent story."’

He concludes by saying "We need only emphasize, once more, the skill, the real subtlety of art, the ease and fluidity withal of one telling a story by word of mouth, with which the consciousness of the supernatural is introduced into, and maintained amid, the elaborately conventional, sophisticated, disabused world Mr. Wilde depicts so cleverly, so mercilessly"(Beckson 83-6).

In conclusion, it became apparent with reading the reviews of The Picture of Dorian Gray that the critics seemed to be reviewing the author instead of the book.


Beckson, Karl. Oscar Wilde. New York, Barnes & Noble, 1970.

Gagnier, Regenia. Idylls of the Marketplace. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1986.
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