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Nunokawa, J. (1992). Homosexual Desire and the Effacement of the Self in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Am. Imago, 49(3):311-321.

(1992). American Imago, 49(3):311-321

Homosexual Desire and the Effacement of the Self in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Jeff Nunokawa

The love that dares not speak its name has never been less at a loss for a words than it is in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), whose sybaritic expanses form a virtual theme park for passions “such … as Michael Angelo had known … and Winklemann, and Shakespeare himself” (149). Iconography as infamous as the text where it is ensconced gilds Wilde's novel from wall to wall. Processions of homoerotic idols parade through the text, “crowned with heavy lotus-blossoms on the prow of Adrian's barge” (144), or costumed as uppercrust clones of Wilde's own age, “the type often dreamed of in Eton … days” (160); so do Paterian sentiments, ecclesiastical vestiments, anthems to Hellenism, the extremities of Aestheticism, a passion for interior decoration, glimpses of cross dressing, dubious meetings on the waterfront, “the terrible pleasure of a double life” (154), and the threat of blackmail that never ceased to darken it—in short, all the usual suspects make an appearance here.

More than that, though: homosexual desire is brazen enough in The Picture of Dorian Gray to venture past the avenues of intimation where its conduct is generally confined under the rule of canonical standards or family values, out of what one of its recent cartographers has called “the shadow kingdom of connotation” (Miller 1991, 125). Not content with congesting the byways of metonymic aside that comprise its traditional ghetto, homosexual desire spills out into the wider boulevards of the novel's plot, taking the prouder place of explicit topic.

An artist (Basil Hallward) falls head over heels for Dorian Gray the first time he sees him, and is subsequently so “absorbed” (28) by his “idolatr[ous]” (145) passion that he offers up his “whole soul” (28) to the beautiful boy.

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