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Oscar Wilde: Dorian Gray

In 1887 Wilde was hired to run Women's World, a failing magazine whose owners hoped Wilde could turn it around. In the two years he headed the magazine, Wilde transformed it into a much better publication, thanks to his understanding of the things women wanted to read and learn about. "'It seems to me that, at present, it is too feminine, and not sufficiently womanly," he said. "We should take a wider range, as well as a high standpoint, and deal not merely with what women wear, but with what they think, and what they feel."7

In 1888 Wilde published The Happy Prince and Other Tales, a collection of fairy tales. Two years later, he serialized a story in Lippincott's Magazine entitled "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (not Portrait, as it is often mistakenly called). The story was a chilling cautionary tale about a vain young man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal beauty. Meanwhile, a mysterious portrait painted of the young man ages for him, growing more ravaged and hideous as the man's evil acts multiply.

When the story was published in an expanded form as the book The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1891, Wilde attached a preface outlining his philosophies on art, in order to answer criticisms that the book was immoral (readers had picked up on homoerotic tones in some of the male characters in the serialized version). An artist, he argued, did not traffic in discussions of good or bad, moral or immoral, but only presented what was best for his art. Wilde repeated his views in a letter to a newspaper answering his critics. "An artist, sir, has no ethical sympathies at all . . . Virtue and wickedness are to him simply what the colors on his palette are to the painter."8 These arguments would come back to haunt him in later years.

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