The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde
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Curator’s note

Oscar Wilde did more than just write one of the most scandalous novels of his time. His words would dance around in your mind, teasing you with its mesmerising twirls, inviting you to drown in a world of extravagant flamboyance, till you reach the end gasping for breath and gasping for more. The Picture of Dorian Gray isn’t just charming — it’s seductive.

Yet Wilde’s personal story is one that’s sobering: he was convicted of “gross indecency” in 1895, sent to 2 years of hard labour, and died 3 years after release. The law that was used to convict Wilde (the Labouchere Amendment) heavily influenced the creation of S377A in Singapore’s Penal Code, which continues to criminalise “gross indecency” between men till date.


Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.”

Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am; Lord Henry what the world thinks me; Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.” 

About the author

Oscar Wilde was an Irish playwright, poet, and author of numerous short stories and one novel. Known for his biting wit, and a plentitude of aphorisms, he became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day. Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest.

As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned for two years of hard labour after being convicted of "gross indecency" with other men. After Wilde was released from prison, he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry. He never returned to Ireland or Britain, and died in poverty 3 years later at the age of 46.


Fiction Gay

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