WILDE “COULD NOT POSSIBLY HAVE DRAWN HIS PORTRAIT FROM ME”: A FASCINATING 1933 AUTOGRAPH LETTER FROM LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS, DENYING WILDE’S PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY WAS BASED ON HIM
(WILDE, Oscar) DOUGLAS, Lord Alfred. Autograph letter signed. Sussex, England: March 20, 1933. Single sheet of printed letterhead (8 by 10 inches) written in manuscript on recto and verso; single envelope (4 by 5 inches) postmarked, corner with stamp excised, written in manuscript on recto.
Exceptional 1933 autograph letter by Lord Alfred Douglas explaining why the figure of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray was not based on him. The explosive romantic relationship between Wilde and Douglas triggered accusations from Douglas’ father that ended in Wilde’s ruinous imprisonment.
When Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray was published in 1891, some booksellers “refused to carry it on the grounds that it was ‘filthy.” But the handsome son of the Marquess of Queensberry was “passionately absorbed” by it and and soon accompanied a friend “to meet Wilde in Tite Street. This was the first meeting of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.” Though Douglas was “totally spoiled, reckless, insolent… and fiercely vindictive. Wilde could see only his beauty [and] delighted in Douglas’ praise of Dorian Gray… Wilde wanted a consuming passion” and by 1892, the two were inseparable (Ellman, 323-4, 384). But as Wilde became drawn into a long-standing feud between Douglas and his father, Wilde charged the Marquess of Queensberry with libel. The 1895 trial led to second one in which the financially ruined Wilde was found guilty and imprisoned for “committing indecent acts” (Ellman, 456). This letter from Douglas, written 33 years after Wilde’s death, denies any association between himself and Wilde’s Dorian Gray.
Douglas’ letter, written on his letterhead printed “Hove 1363. 35, Fourth Avenue, Hove, Sussex,” reads, “March 20, 1933. Dear Miss Barbara Cassel. In reply to your letter, Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, was written about a year before I first met him, consequently he could not possibly have drawn his portrait from me. The photograph of myself in the American edition of my Autobiography, to which you refer as “a photograph of yourself when you were a boy of nineteen,” was as a matter of fact taken when I was twenty three, as you will see if you look at it again. My personal appearance did not change appreciably from the time I was 18 till I was well over 30. In that respect perhaps I resembled Dorian Gray. I hope I did not resemble him in any other way! My book The True History of Shakespeare’s Sonnets was published about 10 days ago. My publisher is Martin Secker 5 John Street Adelphi London (price eight shillings 2 sixpence). Yours sincerely, Alfred Douglas.” Accompanied by an envelope addressed in Douglas’ same cursive to “Miss Barbara Cassel, 365 Crown Street, Brooklyn, New York. U.S.A.,” with a Brighton & Hove postmark dated “March 20, 1933.”
Letter fine, small loss to upper right edge of envelope with stamp excised, not affecting postmark or text. An exceptional document.