Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ed. Andrew Elfenbein. New York: Longman, 2007: ISBN: 0-321-42713-0. Price: US$8.40Robert Louis Stevenson. Joseph Conrad and Mary Shelley Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Secret Sharers, and Transformation: Three Tales of Doubles. Eds. Susan J. Wolfson and Barry V. Qualls. New York: Longman, 2009. ISBN: 0-321-41561-2: Price: US$8.40[Record]

  • Dennis Denisoff

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  • Dennis Denisoff
    Ryerson University

The creation of a literary edition for teaching purposes has been something of a science for many years. As a perusal of the course texts at my university’s bookstore confirmed, there are specific functions that most reputable presses wish to see addressed, as well as particular requirements for appealing to instructors considering the texts for different types of courses. Editions are expected to have a table of relevant dates, an introduction, annotations to the primary text and a list of suggested further readings. As scholars working on the nineteenth century know, however, many sciences have also proved to be highly experimental, indeed creative. Similarly, the key questions that presses ask those who wish to edit a work is why a new edition of a particular work or set of works is needed and what innovations the prospective editor might have with regard to their envisioned product. These questions are especially important with regard to popular canonical texts. Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, for example, can already be found in both scholarly and mainstream editions, on its own and combined with other writings by Wilde. It exists as a play, a film, an illustrated novel, a graphic novel, an e-text and an audio text. At the moment, I can get a copy for the price of a medium latte or pay around $85,000 for Will Rothenstein’s signed, gilt-edge, first-impression first edition, still in its green morocco solander box. With Andrew Elfenbein’s 2007 edition of Wilde’s novella for the Longman Cultural Edition series, the key question then is whether it stands out in any way among all the options. Most scholarly editions intended for the classroom are, like Elfenbein’s, well edited and annotated, and more than satisfactory for standard post-secondary teaching purposes. The Longman edition, like many others, contains a list of key historical dates, complemented by brief explanations of the relevance of some of the more important ones. While the edition includes some less obviously relevant and unexplained items–such as the years in which Adolph Hitler and Eleanor Roosevelt were born–Elfenbein has done a better job than most in keeping the intended audience of students in mind not only in selecting occasions to note but also in situating them in relation to Wilde. Elfenbein’s introduction offers readers unfamiliar with the author and his era sufficient biographical information and no more, which is appropriate in light of the fact that so much is readily available elsewhere. Students would be well energized by the subjects addressed in the introduction, as well as the contextual materials that make up over a quarter of the book and are divided into the categories of “Textual Issues,” “Victorian Reactions to The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “Aestheticism,” “Science” and “Love between Men.” The consideration of time and aging in the introduction is original, while the familiar topics of genre and publishing history are particularly well explored. Elfenbein includes, for example, segments of Wilde’s revisions for the 1891 edition, as well as an illustration of the original title page for Dorian Gray, along with the advertising of corsets, “medicinal food” and other items that appeared on the accompanying page of the first publication. These advertisements are tantalizingly crammed with small print, but are partially illegible in this edition, which is especially unfortunate as Elfenbein does a fine job of placing Dorian Gray within the context of consumerism. Elfenbein makes a particularly thorough effort at situating Wilde’s novella within a gay context. The homoerotic culture in which Wilde participated is highlighted by the illustrations, which include Charles Rickett’s depiction of a sleeping faun for Swinburne’s “A …