On Masking and Unmasking: The Paradox of Censorship in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray Open Access

Lin, Allison (Spring 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/4t64gn212?locale=en


This project aims to explicate the ways in which notable Victorian author and playwright Oscar Wilde encoded a critique of the practice of censorship into his seminal novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. This process is seemingly at odds with abundant evidence that, contrary to his anti-censorship sentiments, Wilde actually actively and independently participated in the censoring of his own novel. Therefore, the goal of this project is to explore the various sources of censorship to which Wilde’s novel was subjected, as well as to conduct a textual analysis to demonstrate the extent to which Wilde thematized censorship and literary oppression within the book.

A multifaceted approach was required to meet these two objectives. Research for this project depended heavily on primary source material, including an early handwritten manuscript of the text, an obscure version of the story that appeared in a literary magazine in 1890, and Wilde’s personal correspondence with editors, journalists, and close confidants. A comparative exploration of various versions of the text as it evolved over time reveals how drastically the story changed and at what point in time these changes were imposed, exposing the nature of Wilde’s extensive revision process. In concert with these primary sources, literary reviews of the novel and letters exchanged between Wilde and his editors were examined to determine the magnitude of backlash and social pressure exerted against the author to make his story more palatable to public opinion. A more general investigation into Victorian censorship and obscenity law, publication processes, and cultural trends was also conducted in order to foreground Wilde’s experience in a historical context.

Ultimately, the thesis concludes that the paradox of censorship that exists within The Picture of Dorian Gray—the fact that it thematizes censorship at the same time that it is censored—offers a productive way to think about the practice of literary regulation. A Foucauldian approach is employed to show that censorship, ironically, has the productive capacity to incite the very discourse that it suppresses, encouraging authors to confront and challenge the limitations that censorship proposes.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction......1

II. Defining Censorship: A History......11

III. Self-Censorship......28

IV. Thematizing Censorship......53

V.  Conclusion......73

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