April 27th, 2011


Wilde and Wingrove Reworked Editions (One Is Dead, One Is Alive)

I've spent most of the last few hours trolling around the net. It started with the discovery that an edition of Oscar Wilde's original version of the Picture of Dorian Gray is being released. I must admit, I had no idea that it had been edited, and maybe on that score, I have simply been an ignorant sort. I can admit that, really.

Here's a explanation of what was edited out:

More than a century after its publication, Oscar Wilde's novella The Picture of Dorian Gray is recognized as one of the classics of English literature, a masterpiece of fin-de-siècle Aestheticism and in many respects a harbinger of the Modernist movement. Its current iconic status could not have been foreseen in 1890 when the story first appeared—simultaneously in Britain and the United States—in the pages of Lippincott's Magazine. This review from London's Daily Chronicle voiced the outrage of many:

Dulness and dirt are the chief features of Lippincott's this month: The element that is unclean, though undeniably amusing, is furnished by Mr. Oscar Wilde's story of The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French decadents—a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction—a gloating study of the mental and physical corruption of a fresh, fair and golden youth, which might be fascinating but for its effeminate frivolity, its studied insincerity, its theatrical cynicism, its tawdry mysticism, its flippant philosophizings…. Mr. Wilde says the book has "a moral." The "moral," so far as we can collect it, is that man's chief end is to develop his nature to the fullest by "always searching for new sensations," that when the soul gets sick the way to cure it is to deny the senses nothing.

"Unclean," "corruption," "leprous," "putrefaction," and "French decadents" were of course all coded terms for "homosexuality"—a word that would not enter the English language until two years later, and a concept that could not be openly discussed in a respectable newspaper of the time, nor mentioned in polite company; when Dorian Gray was revised for publication in book form a good portion of the material deemed unclean and leprous had to be removed. In fact, there had already been substantial cuts made in the Lippincott's version by its editor, J. M. Stoddart, a process over which the author, in accordance with magazine protocol of the era, was given no control whatever. And Wilde and his subsequent editor would make further changes for the publication of Dorian Gray in book form a year later, in 1891.

I have to admit, I don't hold Wilde's book in any special place, but I liked it, and I liked it enough that I'm going to pick up this new, annotated version and then read the original one that I have (which is a cheap, six dollar hard cover I picked up years ago) and then read this new version.

After I found that, I began sort of trolling through Amazon, reading various things, looking at this and that, sampling first pages. I'm quite fond of Amazon for the ability to read first pages. I had a flip through Mark Twain books--I have a particular itch to read the Tom Sawyer books he wrote after Huckleberry Finn. I discovered the sheer flood of steam punk books that exist, including the books that are really objects of design, which I quite like, though I'm not entirely sure I'd drop cash on them. Haruki Murakami has a new novel coming out, soon, which I could have already read if I spoke Japanese. I have many faults, not speaking Japanese is one of them.

Then, I discovered that David Wingrove is back in print with a new Chung Kuo novel, Son of Heaven. It is a prequel to the first eight books, which, strange as it may seem, are being reprinted in a twenty volume sequence which includes a new, radically rewritten end. It sounds like madness, really, but a part of me is kind of behind this madness--the Chung Kuo series was a strange hybrid of political science fiction mixed with a futuristic China dominated world that bordered of being one large racial cliché. Yet, Wingrove's ambition rises it above that, and while he loses control of it in the final pair of books, perhaps understandable, given that he would not be paid for the last, I really did enjoy the whole, sprawling thing. How it would hold up now with the rise of a larger, more multicultural science fiction audience, and with the whiteness of Western SF being slowly worn away, I have no idea, but I'm gonna go and read that new Chung Kuo novel and see how it shakes out.

Besides, that final book really did tank.