Today we shall discuss Oscar Wilde’s classic work of literature “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” This 1891 novel is full of many themes, allusions and some allegory and stuff. But what we will be talking about is the cover.
I read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” as an undergraduate for a class in what we at Sarah Lawrence knew as Queer Studies. The class, if I recall correctly, was titled “The Invention of Homosexuality,” a name baldly stolen from the title of Jonathan Ned Katz’s book “The Invention of Heterosexuality.” (What, you didn’t know it was invented? Well, you learn something new every day, no?)
But I digress. We were reading “The Picture of Dorian Gray” for class–an enjoyable read, I found; both aesthetically pleasing and slightly gothic and dark in its imagery towards the end, there. (Though not nearly as gothic as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which you will doubtless recall from last week’s discussion.) But the most remarkable thing about “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was that I’d borrowed a copy belonging to my roommate, while everyone else in class had run out and bought whatever Penguin Classics edition was current that year. That one had a subtly sinister feel, a close-up image of a painting of a beautiful male face marred by tiny flecks of paint peeling away, distorting him. My roommate’s copy, on the other hand, was a 1964 Airmont Publishing edition and it clearly featured a drawing of Dick van Dyke on the cover. Like so:
There are many portentious, poigniant, and even ironic cover images of Dorian Gray, but this one definitely takes the cake on the “ruining the author’s lyrical intentions” front. We could never get through class without somebody snickering about Dorian Gray tripping over an ottoman. Even now when I look at this, I hear the Dick van Dyke theme music in my head. (You can hear it now too, can’t you? I know you can!) As bizarre as this particular cover is, though, having seen other Airmont images from the same era I do not believe they were providing intentionally subversive hilarity. Rather, it appears to be merely a quirk of their design department that they were all quite clearly mad as hatters.
However, they compare as nothing to the quirky genius of this person writing a blog under the name Alien Spouse, who decided to knit a tiny Dorian Gray and make a little portrait for him! That should definitely be made into the cover of the next Penguin Classics edition, because it is exquisite. I mean, a knitted Dorian Gray! What can beat that?
This concludes our reading of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which I hope you have found informative and elucidative. I thank you.