Wednesday, November 30, 2016

279. Illustrated Editions of The Picture of Dorian Gray

A recent book by Xavier Giudicelli discusses the illustrated editions of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Interestingly, the first illustrated edition appeared in 1906, six years after Wilde had died. (Giudicelli states that the first illustrated edition was published in 1908, see note below).

Xavier Giudicelli, Portraits de Dorian Gray (2016)
In the novel the portrait of the hero plays an important role, as it changes while the hero himself does not seem to change at all (except of course for his malignant character). It may seem surprising that illustrated editions were not considered during Wilde's lifetime. However, the novel only had three impressions. The first one was in magazine form, and the last one was suppressed, as the Wilde trials went the wrong way. Illustrating a novel by a convicted author could have ruined an artist's reputation. 

Giudicelli's study, Portraits de Dorian Gray. Le texte, le livre, l'image (2016), looks promising, although on first perusal I found some disturbing and odd mistakes. For example, on page 18 Wilde's The Sphinx is mentioned in a footnote, and the author seems to think that the book was illustrated by 'Charles Ricketts et Charles Shannon'. Of course, Shannon had nothing to do with it. The author confuses both artists in a paragraph on page 58, writing about A House of Pomegranates

les décorations sont de Shannon, tandis que les gravures placées avant chaque conte sont de Ricketts.

Obviously, it is the other way around, as every bibliography duly notes.

I haven't been able to read the whole book carefully yet, but these errors and the illustration of A House of Pomegranates disturbed me. A full page colour image of the binding, designed by Charles Ricketts, is on page 59. This copy is in such a worn state that the inclusion of the image does not do credit to the designer nor to the author. There are many better copies around. 

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates: a worn copy

Another curious mistake is the illustration on page 30, that is meant to depict the 'couverture de l'édition originale de The Picture of Dorian Gray'. 

The illustration shows a full leather binding, with raised bands, gilded and decorated with red dots on the spine (Ricketts's original spine design has been discarded). The front of the binding seems to be some sort of reproduction of Ricketts's original design, but it isn't. It is based on a badly redrawn image. See for example the star after Gray: it should have been a group of seven dots representing a flower. See the circle between Dorian and Gray: in the original there is a circled dot. The binding depicted must be a private binding, a modern one probably, and certainly a rebound copy.

Has the author of this new study on Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray ever seen the original edition?

Decoration by Charles Ricketts 
Binding with a badly drawn decoration after the design by Charles Ricketts
Both images are from a private collection. A better choice of illustrations would have made this a better, and more correct, book.

Note, 1 December 2016:
Michael Seeney was so kind to point out that the author of the book believes that the first illustrated edition dates from 1908, but Stuart Mason, in Art and Morality, lists an earlier one: an illustrated Russian translations from 1906. These illustrations are by Modest Durnov (1868-1928), who has been described as 'a dandy in the English style'.