‘The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.’
-Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, p.8.
The Labouchere Amendment (1865) meant that ‘any man committing acts of sodomy would be sentenced to life imprisonment’. 1 In Victorian English society, therefore, homosexuality became synonymous with secrecy; fear of societal ruin arrest led to a repression of unbridled sexuality.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, public opinion is of great significance to the characters, framing and ultimately shaping their respective identities. In Dorian Gray, when informed of Sybil Vane’s suicide, Harry tells Dorian that ‘one should never make one’s debut with a scandal’. 2 This fear of public perception not only results in the repression of sexuality, but clearly informs Victorian Gothic’s preoccupation with the ‘doubled’ self. It is this fear of public condemnation that provides the purpose for Dorian’s doubling; it is only through his doubled ‘Other’ that Dorian’s repressed sexuality can successfully be expressed. This distinctly echoes the anxieties of the period. Public knowledge of homoeroticism was feared as it was punishable by law. In this way, the doubled figure comes to physically manifest the excess of the protagonist’s sexuality. In Dorian Gray, Basil’s painting of Dorian comes to act as Basil’s double; it is in Dorian’s portrait that his secret desire for Dorian is implicitly hidden from the public sphere. Clearly, Basil has created his own double in Dorian Gray as he informs Harry that he has put ‘too much’ of himself into the picture and therefore cannot be exhibited for this reason. Again, by failing to exhibit the picture Basil reinforces the fear of public judgement as he worries that exhibiting the picture will allow people to discover his secret. Additionally, Basil explains:
[…] every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.’
Here, Basil alleges that the painting itself says more about the artist than the sitter; this indicates that the picture is more of a reflection of Basil than Dorian. Therefore, Basil has created an image of Dorian so that he can express his sexuality secretly; the picture consequently acts as Basil’s double, physically manifesting his desire for Dorian. When confessing his feelings to Dorian, Basil notes that ‘When you were away from me you were still present in my art’; this corresponds with the argument that the picture is a way in which Basil can express his desire for Dorian without doing it directly (p.97-98).In relation to this, Ed Cohen states that ‘Dorian is an image – a space for the constitution of male desire’ and that he ‘provides a surface on which the characters project their self-representation’. 3 Therefore, the ‘projection of self-representation’ results in the doubling of characters in the text. The painting allows both Basil and Dorian to convey their homoerotic desires without public judgement.
However, the picture also serves as Dorian’s double, mirroring his deteriorating moral conscious. When first noticing the change in the picture after Sybil’s death, Dorian states that the picture ‘was to bear the burden of his shame’ from ‘wild joys and wilder sins’ (p. 90). Dorian, doubled with the picture, allows it to be punished rather than himself as he explores deviant sins and homoerotic desires. Before being murdered, Basil asks Dorian ‘Why is your friendship so fatal to young men?’ (p. 127). The fatality of the relationships between Dorian and other men can, once again, be related to public opinion and perception. As we see with Alan Campbell, Dorian holds many secrets that these other young men fear being made public (p. 144). In the same conversation with Basil, Dorian informs him that all humans have ‘Heaven and Hell in him’ (p. 132). Presented in the picture of himself, Dorian’s ‘Hell’ is able to be kept hidden from the outside world. Philip K. Cohen writes:
‘[…] the deliberate fragmentation of self through split consciousness. In order to avoid responsibility for participation in life, the self divides into contemplative and active halves, becoming distributed between participation in life and observation of that involvement as though it were art.’ 4
Here, Cohen indicates that the gothic double in Dorian Gray allows the protagonist to avoid responsibility for their sexuality. Both Basil and Dorian can freely explore their sexuality without facing their problems directly or taking responsibility for themselves, suggesting that the author views this expression of sexuality as both necessary and yet sinful. Supporting this, Cohen writes that the ‘fatal issue of these two works suggests the cul-de-sac Wilde faced. While he considered homosexuality a sin, he saw that an existence of repression and hypocrisy was also damnable.’ 5 Therefore, the doubling in these texts, especially Dorian Gray, can be seen as reflecting the contrasting opinions in relation to homosexuality. In order to avoid repression but also avoid directly expressing homoerotic desires, the double represents a way in which sexuality can be expressed indirectly. In this way, the double life of the characters is openly commenting on the hidden lives of the homosexuals in the Victorian era.
Featured Painting: Ivan Albright, Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943, Oil on Canvas (85 x 42in), The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.
 Kathryn Simpson, ‘Duality and homoeroticism in Dr. Jekyll and Hyde’, Gothic Blog (2017) <http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/ll625sampleblog/2017/12/24/duality-and-homoeroticism-in-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/> [accessed on 3rd April 2018].
 Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 84. All further references to this edition.
 Ed Cohen, ‘Writing Gone Wild: Homoerotic Desire in the Closet of Representation’, PMLA, 102.5 (1987), 801-813 (p. 806).
 Philip K. Cohen, The Moral Vision of Oscar Wilde (New Jersey: Associated University Press, 1976), p. 138. All further references to this edition.
 Cohen, The Moral Vision of Oscar Wilde, p. 107.
Written by Dionne Rowe.
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