From Longman's new Cultural Editions Series, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, edited by Andrew Elfenbein, includes the novel and contextual materials from the era of Oscar Wilde.
This edition of Oscar Wilde's classic work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, highlights the novel's modernity in both its form and its revolutionary content, and traces its links to modernist literature and the culture of modernity alike.
Previous editions of the novel have only seen it in a late Victorian context, or as an extension of the aesthetic theories of Walter Pater and the “art for art's sake” movement. As presented in this new edition, however, the freshness and originality of the book emerges, along with its strong social messages. The book is a pastiche of genres that propels nineteenth-century realism into twentieth-century modernism ahead of its own time. Wilde's novel offers a myth for modernity whose hold on the cultural imagination has only strengthened over time-Dorian Gray's uncanny bond with his own portrait underscores the loss of selfhood everyone experiences in a world of images and copies, paves the way for the discourses of homosexuality and the understanding of lifestyle as identity so current today, and provides clues to the mysteries of modern ethics and politics. The edition also emphasizes the role of gender and the rise of female emancipation underlying the Sybil Vane subplot, a focus on women that intensifies the book's relevance to modern transformations of men and women alike.
As Hallward tries to make sense of his creation, his epigram-happy friend Lord Henry Wotton encourages Dorian in his sensual quest with any number of Wildean paradoxes, including the delightful "When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy." But despite its many languorous pleasures, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an imperfect work. Compared to the two (voyeuristic) older men, Dorian is a bore, and his search for ever new sensations far less fun than the novel's drawing-room discussions. Even more oddly, the moral message of the novel contradicts many of Wilde's supposed aims, not least "no artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style." Nonetheless, the glamour boy gets his just deserts. And Wilde, defending Dorian Gray, had it both ways: "All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment."