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The Man Who Was Dorian Gray

Jesse Monteagudo's Book Nook

The Man Who Was Dorian Gray by Jerusha Hull McCormack; St. Martin's Press; 353 pages; $24.95

John Gray (1866-1934) was a minor English poet who for as time was part of Oscar Wilde's literary circle. Wilde's "passionate friendship" with "Dorian" Gray inspired him to write his most notorious work, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Grey himself did his part for the "decadent" movement by writing a series of poems that have not withstood the test of time.

Later, after Wilde took up with Lord Alfred Douglas, Grey broke with Wilde, converted to Catholicism, and eventually became a priest. This did not keep Canon Grey from enjoying a passionate, though sexless, liaison with the Russian-Jewish poet Andre Raffalovich, who also converted to Catholicism. Later in life Gray, now the parish priest of St. Peter's in Edinburgh, repudiated his early "decadent" works.

The life of John Gray interests us as a case study of the historic link between repressed homosexuality and the priesthood. Other than that, the only thing that makes Gray worthy of our attention is his liaison with Oscar Wilde.

Why, then, a biography of John Gray? 2000 was the centennial year of Wilde's death, and therefore a banner year for Wilde studies. In addition to books about Wilde himself, 2000 brought us biographies of several of Wilde's friends and lovers, including Douglas and Robbie Ross.

So why not "Dorian" Gray, who after all was Wilde's early lover and the model for his most controversial character? Jerusha Hall McCormack, a leading Wilde scholar, wrote the scholarly John Gray: Poet, Dandy, and Priest in 1991. In The Man Who Was Dorian Gray McCormack revisits this now-familiar ground for a more popular audience.

We might argue that McCormack went too far to make her latest book appealing to the masses. Not having enough factual material about Gray to fill a book, she incorporated the facts available within a "fictive" background.

Though this combination of fact and fiction might improve the narrative, it is sure to lift a few scholarly eyebrows. Unfortunately for the author, her unorthodox methods do not make her subject any more interesting or important. Gray was just a cute boy with limited talents, whom Wilde loved and dropped before Gray's own conflicting emotions drove him to the religious life. Is that worth buying and reading a 350+ page book? I don't think so.

Related Stories from the GayToday Archive:

Review:Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas

Book of the Year: Revolutionary Voices

Review: The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso in Paris

Related Sites:
The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde


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Fans of Oscar Wilde--and there are many of them out there--will disagree with me of course. To them, any new book about Wilde or his friends is worth celebrating. The Man Who Was Dorian Gray would have been a better book had there been more in it about the fascinating Irishman who, after all, outshone anyone who stood around him. The fact that Wilde's shadow continued to haunt Gray long after the older man's death speaks volumes about the impact--positive or negative--that Wilde had on his friends and enemies, even—especially--"Dorian" Gray.
LAMBDA LITERARY AWARDS: The Lambda Literary Foundation will give out the 13th annual Lambda Literary Awards in Chicago on May 31st. Among this year's standouts are a mother and son, who are fortunately running in different categories: Anne Rice in Horror/Science Fiction/Fantasy for Merrick and Christopher Rice in Gay Men's Mystery for A Density of Souls. The finalists for the prestigious and popular "Lesbian Fiction" and "Gay Fiction" categories are as follows:

blackgirlinparis.jpg - 18.31 K LESBIAN FICTION: Affinity by Sarah Waters; Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood; The Powerbook by Jeannette Winterson; Tea by Stacey D'Erasmo; Valencia by Michelle Tea.

GAY FICTION: Between Dances by Erasmo Guerra; Guess Again by Bernard Cooper; The Married Man by Edmund White; The Notorious Dr. August by Christopher Bram; The World of Normal Boys by K. M. Soehnlein.

And what about this column's "Book of the Year"? Revolutionary Voices, Amy Sonnie's anthology of writings by LGBT youth, was nominated in two categories: "Non-fiction Anthology" and "Children/Young Adults". I hope it takes home the prize.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer who lives in South Florida with his domestic partner. He may be reached at jessemonteagudo@aol.com


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