Last November saw the publication of my sexually explicit Gothic novel The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray, a sequel to Oscar Wilde’s classic work about a man whose fateful wish to remain forever young and beautiful yields a bit more than he bargained for. The story moves through time from Victorian London on up to the present day, taking Dorian on a rollercoaster ride of unrepressed hedonism that’s not only sexual in the extreme, but fatal to many whose lives intersect with his.
Now it seems as if we’re seeing Dorian everywhere we turn – from actor/director Samuel Orange’s audience-friendly 2013 London stage performance set in Dorian’s “townhouse” (in reality Orange’s residence) to Britain’s royal family of thespians the Redgraves and the Foxes joining forces in a 2014 stage interpretation replete with all the sordidness Wilde could only hint at. And just this week we have the debut of the Showtime TV series Penny Dreadful, which features our dear decadent Dorian in a starring role courtesy of actor Reeve Carney, along with several other famous Victorian-era literary characters woven into the Gothic plotlines.
Do I sense a trend or perhaps more so the simple desire by creative artists to take inspiration from one of literature’s most fascinating and iconic characters, creating something new from the old?
Judging from the unmistakably adult content in these various works, it appears that I’m not the only one to have picked up on the cloaked sexuality and homoeroticism in Oscar Wilde’s novel, which he was forced to revise and censor in order to even make it “publishable.” Indeed, I stirred up a fair bit of controversy for interpreting Wilde’s character as a man driven almost exclusively by the desire to sexually corrupt others (with all the sordid details included) – a modus operandi that should be obvious to anyone who’s read with any semblance of care the original novel, which portrays Dorian as a sexual profligate who dallied with both men and women. Having been granted the freedom to work without fear of censorship (or a prison term), contemporary writers such as myself have finally been able to portray Dorian Gray as Oscar Wilde no doubt intended.
Yet even before the advent of The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray and Penny Dreadful Dorian was already being given new life. Director and choreographer Matthew Bourne‘s passionate and gender-swapping 2008 London dance production Dorian Gray is still making its way around the world, giving audiences further insight into the Dorian Gray of Wilde’s wicked imagination. Bourne’s version even goes so far as to change the gender of Sibyl Vane to that of a male, thereby throwing open the door to a full-on homosexual liaison. And the 2009 film version starring Colin Firth as Dorian’s mentor Lord Henry Wotton takes things well over the top when it comes to Dorian’s extravagant sexual behaviour, which descends into a degeneracy that proves as shocking as it does titillating.
These stage and film productions are no shrinking violets when it comes to dishing out some steam, and it appears that Penny Dreadful isn’t doing much blushing either. Intense sexual situations and nudity with Dorian at their core abound – and series’ creator John Logan makes no apologies. And why should he? Dorian Gray is the ultimate bad boy – a bad boy who’s irresistible to everyone he meets. When you’ve been granted eternal life and beauty, you have the freedom to do anything you want and have nothing to lose. Perhaps this is the key to Dorian Gray’s perpetual appeal, particularly in contemporary times. He dares to do what most of us would hardly dare to imagine!
Which only goes to prove that great literature will always inspire writers and other creative artists. And if it arrives with a delicious helping of the Gothic, so much the better!
(Shameless plug since this is my blog and I’m allowed to do these things: If you can’t get enough Gothic – and let’s face it, none of us can! – my new anthology Darker Edge of Desire: Gothic Tales of Romance is now available for pre-order worldwide from Amazon and other major booksellers. So get a jump on the neighbours! After all, you wouldn’t want to be left behind, would you?)