What relationship exists between Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and Will Self’s recent adaptation, and to what extent is Self’s transformation of the original a response to the new social context within which he is writing?
The introduction will outline how Wilde’s original version could be read as a story with a moral, drawing on the myth of Narcissus and Goethe’s Faust, and that on a basic level, Self’s text operates in the same way. Referencing Houston A. Baker Junior’s essay “A tragedy of the Artist: The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
Self’s changing of certain characters does not alter what they represent, for example Sybil Vane becoming Herman. The two characters are very different on the face of it but they both represent the continuing existence of a class structure (and provide a target for Dorian’s love.) This point highlights the similarities between the author’s respective versions that are less obvious than the plot and names.
The differences will be outlined next, the main focus of which will be the ambiguity with which homosexuality and the homosexual lifestyle is treated in Wilde’s version in contrast with Self’s explicit, open treatment of the same issue; the way in which Self has chosen to place more emphasis than Wilde on the 16 year time-frame in which the narrative takes place and Self’s addition of an epilogue.
I will reference Koen Van Cauwenberge (The Ambivalence in Oscar Wilde's ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and its relation to Postmodernism), picking out his point about the gay stereotype only really coming into existence after Wilde’s writing. If this is true, there could be less implied meaning than we think in the original novel, and Self’s adaptation could be seen as merely a response to his position as a modern reader of Wilde. I will use Self’s epilogue to argue against this point, however as it could be suggested as a comment on the need for Wilde to use the supernatural in his novel to retain the ambiguity.
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