More than a century after its publication, Oscar Wilde's novella “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is recognized as one of the classics of English literature, a masterpiece of fin-de-siècle aestheticism and in many respects a harbinger of the modernist movement. Its current iconic status could not have been foreseen in 1890 when the story first appeared — simultaneously in Britain and the United States — in the pages of Lippincott's Magazine. This review from London's Daily Chronicle voiced the outrage of many:
Dulness and dirt are the chief features of Lippincott's this month: The element that is unclean, though undeniably amusing, is furnished by Mr. Oscar Wilde's story of “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” It is a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French decadents — a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction — a gloating study of the mental and physical corruption of a fresh, fair and golden youth, which might be fascinating but for its effeminate frivolity, its studied insincerity, its theatrical cynicism, its tawdry mysticism, its flippant philosophizings…. Mr. Wilde says the book has “a moral.” The “moral,” so far as we can collect it, is that man's chief end is to develop his nature to the fullest by “always searching for new sensations,” that when the soul gets sick the way to cure it is to deny the senses nothing.
“Unclean,” “corruption,” “leprous,” “putrefaction,” and “French decadents” were of course all coded terms for “homosexuality” — a word that would not enter the English language until two years later, and a concept that could not be openly discussed in a respectable newspaper of the time, nor mentioned in polite company; when “Dorian Gray” was revised for publication in book form a good portion of the material deemed unclean and leprous had to be removed.