The Coming Out of Dorian Gray

This year, the original `The picture of Dorian Gray’ has been published as an `annotated, uncensored version’.  So, it turns out that the book that so many have admired had actually been censured!

Uncensored version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray published by Harvard University Press in 2011 (photo source: Guardian.co.uk))

Uncensored version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray was finally published by Harvard University Press in 2011 (photo source: Guardian.co.uk)

I am not sure I will return to it, just to trail the text to dig out the amended expressions. Perhaps I will just amend them in my memory (dear colleagues-psychologists, is such a thing as patching your own memory possible?). However heartily I may disapprove of book censorship, in this case I can say that the version available to me back in 1996 was still powerful enough, despite the lack of blatantly overt references to male or female mistresses; and I don’t believe that rereading the full version fifteen years on would make too much of a difference.

What I find genuinely interesting is how this year’s uncensored publication reveals from the distance of time how much change has occurred in what is socially acceptable.  To a large extent, our attitudes to sexuality have become more relaxed.  However, much of the change seems superficial: sexuality continues to be medicalised (only now it is not only `abnormal’ sexuality, but all of it, and even more so – asexuality).  The ready availability of `uncensored versions’ of adulthood (mainly on the Internet, but also on television and other media) also strongly determines the development of children’s minds.  As someone said in a recent radio debate, the really worrying problem is not the sexualisation of children per se, but the fact that an adult view of sexuality is being superimposed too fast, and with too much detail, on the children’s own developing views, and this is harmful (part of the Moral Maze programme from 18 May 2011 is available on Youtube here ).

* * *

Look at Dorian Gray’s image above. Today, that image of a young man would most definitely not be universally considered `vulgar’ and `unclean’. Yet, this is exactly how it appeared back in 1890.

This is why I love images: just like mathematical formulae, they may not `speak’ directly at you, but if you crack their code, they will convey in an instant more rich interlinked information than a text ever can.

(which is not to say that text is redundant. It isn’t! The article in the Guardian has provides vital context: read it here ).


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