Denis Meikle

Born: 1947 | Birthplace: Glasgow | Educated: Alleyn's School | Spouse: Jane | Children: Sarah, James | Resident: East Sussex

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The Fantasy Films of Albert Lewin

RKO B-movie producer Val Lewton is the man whose output in the 1940s is invariably singled out as representing the horror film as art-form, as opposed to the populist productions of the likes of Universal Studios. Lewton drew on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for the plot of 1943’s I Walked With a Zombie, and he turned to the engravings of Hogarth to provide the stimulus for Bedlam (1946); 1942’s The Body Snatcher was based on a lesser-known story from Robert Louis Stevenson, while The Seventh Victim (1945) made its melancholic point in a quotation from John Donne. But Val Lewton was not the only filmmaker among his Hollywood peers to adopt an artistic approach to horror as a result of cultural sensibility. Having achieved success with its star-studded 1941 adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, M-G-M was sympathetic to ex-Metro producer Albert Lewin’s suggestion that it should mount another in the same vein, and the subject that Lewin had in mind was Irish playwright Oscar Wilde’s notorious novel on the Jekyll-and-Hyde theme, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
      Wilde’s only novel was published in 1891, some four years before the Old Bailey trials for libel and indecency which cost him his liberty and brought a premature end to his career, and whose controversial homoerotic undertone featured prominently in the prosecution. (A more explicit version of the novel had been submitted for serialisation in Lippincott’s magazine the previous July.) In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde, typically makes no acknowledgement of his debt to Stevenson, but no one living in London in the autumn of 1888 (Wilde was living at Tite Street in Chelsea) could have been unaware of the stir caused by the Lyceum production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - especially in its relation to the concurrent ‘Whitechapel Murders’ - let alone failed to attend a performance of the play.
      The Picture of Dorian Gray is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde through the lens of Faust. Though Wilde credited only Huysmans’s A rebours as having had an influence on the work, the latter had been a regular feature of the Lyceum bill and publication of the former was of only a few years vintage. The novel centres on a hyper-sensitive society gadabout who offers his soul to the Devil in exchange for eternal youth. The pact becomes signified by changes in the portrait of Gray which has been painted by his friend Basil Hallward; it starts to show the ravages of the sins into which Gray’s newfound immortality inevitably plunges him, and it is consigned to attic obscurity to keep it from prying eyes. When, late in the day, an act of penitence fails to produce any reversion of the image, Gray stabs it with a knife but inadvertently kills himself in the process.  
      Oscar Wilde wrote several celebrated plays, volumes of short stories and a vast number of poems and letters, but every bit as much creative endeavour was ploughed into the conduct of his life and the self-immolating tragedy that followed the flowering of his genius was a result of vanity and licentious abandon - traits shared by his novel’s titular protagonist. He may have foreseen it thus and the temptation to defy the Gods was encapsulated in Dorian Gray: ‘There had been a madness of murder in the air. Some red star had come too close to the earth,’ Gray reflects, after slaying the artist who has contributed to his metaphysical plight. The legend of Faust had long since become part of folk tradition, its source lost to antiquity, but the ghastly portrait in the attic, the figurative representation of Gray’s dark soul, is pure Hyde.
      Gray may have ‘sold’ his soul rather than find it in a potion, but in The Picture of Dorian Gray, it is the urbane and epicene Lord Henry Wotton who inspires him to do so. Lord Henry is Mephistopheles to Gray’s Faust and in this clever ploy drawn from the life, Wilde added a layer of psychology to the tale that Stevenson had omitted which characterised Gray as both a victimiser and a victim. Wilde was 35 when he wrote the novel and the loss of his gilded youth was weighing heavily upon him; he was a large man, a recurrent syphilitic with bad teeth, and he had already embarked on a priapic pursuit of ‘rough trade’. Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde as he once was; Lord Henry is Wilde at time of writing: ‘There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence,’ he muses to himself on the page - but the ‘influence’ to which his creator was in thrall brought him an audience of rent-boys and blackmailers. It is Lord Henry, with his silken tongue and subversive epigrams, who is the personification of the corruption that awaits Gray when the Faustian bargain is struck; Stevenson’s theme of ‘duality’ was thus revisited by Wilde in more biographical guise and with the phantom frights of the Gothic as its tapestried backdrop.
Dorian Gray was a Hyde who only appeared to be Jekyll. If Stevenson’s tale had warned of the need to keep the beast in check, Wilde’s regaled its startled readers with the unedifying proposition that not only was the beast uncaged, it had already adapted with proto-Darwinian efficiency to the codes and conduct of Mayfair high society while disporting itself among the chicken doxies and MaryAnns of Wapping’s Bluegate Fields. This was closer to home than the tactful reticence of the novella which had inspired it, and Wilde’s protagonist foolishly rushed in where Stevenson’s villain had wisely feared to tread. Passages from the book were quoted at Wilde’s first trial and were instrumental in costing him his liberty; London’s most celebrated dramatist was eventually sentenced to two years hard in Reading Gaol for daring to raise an unambiguous mirror to England.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
      An exclamation of horror broke from the painter’s lips as he saw in the dim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning at him.
      There was something in its expression that filled him with disgust and loathing. Good heavens! It was Dorian’s own face that he
      was looking at… He seized the lighted candle, and held it to the picture. In the left-hand corner was his own name, traced in long
      letters of bright vermillion.
                                                —Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
      Brooklyn-born Albert Parsons Lewin had left Harvard University with a Masters Degree in English and the intention of becoming a professor, but a sideways move at the age of thirty had led him instead to write, supervise scripts and eventually produce for Irving Thalberg at M-G-M. In 1941, while Metro was mounting its version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and British author William Somerset Maugham was himself resident in Hollywood penning screenplays, Lewin had gone independent to direct his own adaptation of Maugham’s 1919 novel The Moon and Sixpence, which was modelled on the life of French painter Paul Gauguin. The film was a sophisticated muse on the egocentricity of art, peppered with witty repartee but striking in its unbridled misogyny. The ever-watchful Legion of Decency found it morally objectionable, but it turned a tidy profit for distributor United Artists despite the highbrow subject-matter and Lewin’s occasional hesitancy at the helm. Enough, in any event, for Metro to agree to a more lavish adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray with Lewin again directing, which promised to consolidate his particular preoccupations with art, literature, and the overturning of social and sexual convention. The near-psychotic disdain for societal mores that George Sanders (as painter Charles Strickland) exhibits in The Moon and Sixpence had mostly eluded the censors - a rolling disclaimer at the end of the film was thought sufficient to counter it - but adapting Oscar Wilde was to present Lewin with a whole different problem.
      One solution, which came about by chance, was to alter the sex of the leading character. M-G-M art director Cedric Gibbons, who was a friend of Greta Garbo, had confided to Lewin that the legendary retiree was prepared to return to the screen in the role of Dorian Gray. The director could barely believe his luck and he tried everything that he could to persuade Metro to the cause - but in vain. Deprived of the opportunity to show Wilde’s protagonist in his true effeminate colours, Lewin reverted to subterfuge and while Gray’s prey in the film (and novel) are only of the fair sex, and Wilde’s Gray was an idealised blond, blue-eyed and bushy-tailed, Lewin’s casting of effete 26-year-old screen newcomer (William) Hurd Hatfield in the role left the requisite room for doubt. Lewin was aware that to do justice to Wilde’s Romantic notions about male beauty and same-sex love, much of The Picture of Dorian Gray had to be written between the lines.
      There’s only one thing worth having, and that is youth.
        —Sir Henry Wotton (George Sanders), The Picture of Dorian Gray
      Lewin’s film follows the novel in all its key particulars, but with a couple of early addenda. His penchant for hyper-literacy encouraged him to include a philosophical quatrain from the Edward Fitzgerald translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as a means of underlining the moral, and a title-card spells out the meaning of the piece for anyone unfamiliar with the text: ‘I sent my Soul through the Invisible/Some letter of that After-life to spell:/And by and by my Soul return’d to me,/And answer’d ‘I Myself am Heav’n and Hell’. The other change was in the modus of Dorian’s bargain: Wilde has him say aloud, ‘I would give my soul..’ (if the picture were to age rather than he) but censorship restrictions prohibited a satanic pact and Lewin had instead to furnish the statue of an Egyptian cat-god as a stand-in for Old Nick and the conduit for the careless wish. Ancient Egyptian deities, feline or otherwise, are not known for their ability to grant wishes, let alone catch souls, and the film’s obsession with the statue only serves to emphasise the anomalous nature of the pretext. (Lewin might have pleaded that Wilde liked cats, however.)
      With the bargain set inexorably in train, Gray falls for music-hall chanteuse Sybil Vane (a winsome Angela Lansbury with Murder She Wrote far in the distance) but is encouraged by Lord Henry to seduce, rather than marry, her. This he does in a resonant scene unique to the film, and Lewin - having romanced her at the piano with a rendering of Chopin’s Prelude, he inquires of Sybil, about to take her leave of him, ‘What would you do, Sybil, if I should say to you: don’t leave me now - don’t go home?’ Lansbury’s plaintive version of turn-of-the-century Murphy and Hargreave vaudeville hit ‘Little Yellow Bird’ is a historical hiccup in an otherwise faithful period reconstruction, but it adds greatly to Sybil’s vulnerability (as does Lansbury’s poignant turn) and compounds the age-old dilemma that she faces when her love is put cynically to the test: if Gray betrays her after their night of passion, she becomes a ‘fallen’ woman and fated to a life on the streets; so, of course, it transpires, and the scene that follows shows Gray’s bed, a framed photo of Sybil, and Gray himself, all in the same shot - which is as a good an example as any of how clever directors got get around the censoring of sexually suggestive elements in a script. Sybil kills herself in consequence, and Gray’s painted image is subject to the first (and only) perceptible change: the ‘scarlet’ lips are defiled by a faint sneer of contempt.
      An uncredited narration by Cedric Hardwicke pastes over the eighteen-year interregnum in which the story moves from First Act to Second, with Gray’s decadence now an established fact. In the novel, his implied depravities go only as far as mention in retrospect (‘Why is your friendship so fatal to young men?’ painter Basil Hallward asks of him). With the Breen Office breathing down its neck, the film was incapable of addressing this sub-text directly and Gray’s nocturnal visits to Bluegate Fields are singularly devoid of offence: a squalid dockside tavern, vacant save for a couple of drabs, their seafaring companions and a forlorn pianist, is hardly indicative of the sins intimated by the picture now secreted in Gray’s attic under lock and key. But Lewin still managed to capture the homoerotic air with which the novel is unmistakeably imbued - to the surprise of the censors when complaints on that score were received when the film was in release.
      Hurd Hatfield was gay, and while there is no record of Lewin’s own sexual preference, or that of Hallward actor Lowell Gilmore, both men remained lifelong bachelors. Lewin’s script is guarded but unequivocal in its conviction as to the nature of Gray’s proclivities: Hallward is given a niece for female company, but his affection for Gray clearly goes beyond the bounds of artist and sitter; it is the aftermath of Hallward’s murder that confirms the reason for Gray’s reputation as a degenerate, however. Gray asks Allen Campbell (Douglas Walton) to dispose of the body in an acid-bath and when Campbell refuses, Gray blackmails him into complying. In the novel, Wilde alludes to the more mundane crime of student body-snatching to persuade the unwilling medico, but the film makes no such concession: ‘It will kill her,’ Campbell says of the note that Gray proposes to send to his mother should he continue to resist. Lewin had nurtured this project for years; his direction of the film, and its actors, was painstaking in its detail; the exchange between Gray and Campbell is orchestrated to be read only one way, as was a later exchange between Gray and another former associate in Bluegate Fields - both of which plainly hint at sexual activity which was still illegal in Britain fifty years after Wilde was incarcerated for it.         
      Basil Hallward: This is monstrous - beyond nature, beyond reason. What does it mean? You told me you had destroyed my painting...
      Dorian Gray: I was wrong. It has destroyed me.
        —Lowell Gilmore and Hurd Hatfield, The Picture of Dorian Gray
      The portrait itself - or, at least, sight of it in the full flood of its subject’s corruption - is the Wildean equivalent to Stevenson’s climactic transformation of Jekyll into Hyde. It is a coup de théâtre, a horror-high in the manner of the unmasking of Erik in The Phantom of the Opera. There is no gradual dissolution of its original beauty; that takes place in the eighteen-year gap that Wilde conveniently provided to mask Gray’s descent into a life of debauchery. When next it is revealed for Basil Hallward to look upon, it is in shock-cut - its terrible visage a symbolic reflection of the depths of degradation to which Gray has sunk in the interim.
      For the climax of The Moon and Sixpence, Lewin switched the film’s monochrome palette to Technicolor stock to show the primitive splendour of Strickland’s Gauguin-like paintings of Polynesian islanders; he employs the same trick again in Dorian Gray, each time the picture takes centre-stage. Ivan Le Lorraine Albright’s mighty canvas took a year to complete in his meticulous ‘magic realist’ style (it hangs today in Albright’s native Chicago Art Institute) and it is indeed a wonder to behold, though it was never as frightening as was originally intended. Wilde’s image was ‘satyr’-like, too insidiously hideous even for its owner to face without effort, but Albright’s is too well-crafted, too carefully contrived to produce the kind of instant frisson that an unnamed artist managed all-too convincingly in an ITV ‘Armchair Theatre’ adaptation of the novel in 1961. Lewin’s pursuit of art for art’s sake (the M-G-M motto) trumped the need for horrific extreme, though it could be said that the work of a less accomplished talent might have baited the censors more.
      Wilde laboured under the prevalent Victorian conceit that the sun would never set on the British Empire and that things would continue forever unchanged, and he made no attempt to illustrate the passage of time in the novel. Lewin had to take more account of this disjunction and he set its period back a few years, so that it could end only just within the Edwardian era. The film’s ‘modern’ sequences - in Scotland Yard; on the grouse-moors of Yorkshire - are well integrated with the hansom cab days of the portrait’s creation, but the opium den in Bluegate Fields remains as anachronistically unchanged as Gray. Just as jarring are the final two reels. Lewin had to furnish a ‘happy ending’, as well as onlookers who would discover Gray’s secret in time-honoured tradition, and the characters of Hallward’s niece Gladys (Donna Reed) and her beau David Stone (Peter Lawford) are introduced to sniff out the clues. Their entrée into the narrative has the unfortunate effect of altering the character of Lord Henry, who connives with them to weed out the truth about Gray’s longevity. They arrive in the attic just as Gray, in a fit of conscience, has stabbed the offending portrait and assumed its likeness in death, and are left to gaze in dawning comprehension at the ghastly scene before them. ‘Heaven forgive me...’ Lord Henry mutters - a redemptive stroke that would have mollified Breen but is wholly alien to the spirit of what has gone before.
      It is impossible to read The Picture of Dorian Gray nowadays and not see George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton, dry, cultured, and perfidious - so consummate is his wry portrayal of its Mephistophelean villain. Universal star Basil Rathbone had lobbied hard for the role, but he was too closely identified with Sherlock Holmes by then and Lewin preferred his The Moon and Sixpence anti-hero, whom he would feature again two years later in the similarly-themed and equally misogynistic The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami, from a novel by Guy De Maupassant. Hurd Hatfield is allowed to show little more than a smirk throughout, but his transition from naive youth to worldly adult is better executed than he was given credit for at the time and his immobile expression and ‘dead’ eyes were intended by Lewin to signify their owner’s soulless and jaded existence.
      Lewin’s cultural pretensions are littered throughout the film. Omar Khayyam to one side, Lord Henry is introduced to the viewer reading Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, Hallward tries to persuade Gray to the path of enlightenment by offering him a copy of The Light of Asia, Sir Edwin Arnold’s life of Buddha, and Gray’s grandiose Mayfair mansion is a veritable museum of objets d’art; he gifts Gladys with a copy of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley. That they sometimes strain the credibility of the piece is evident in the scene where Gray comes upon a tavern pianist in Bluegate Fields who is playing Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’; this is an allusion to Brahms, who played the piano in Hamburg brothels in his youth but whose inclusion here is almost one Symbolist gesture too far.
      The intellectual mise-en-scène of The Picture of Dorian Gray is like no horror film before or since. The bulk of the dialogue comes straight from Wilde - who even gets a name-check for his poem ‘The Sphinx’, in a censor-cheating couplet to arousal that codifies Gray’s intentions towards Sybil Vane: ‘..You wake foul dreams of sensual life’ - and while it eventually irritates in the unrelenting condescension of Lord Henry and the often-extraneous narration of Cedric  Hardwicke, it strikes an appropriately sombre tone in the film’s more intense confrontations. But when it comes to highbrow art meeting lowbrow expectations, the approach is altogether too restrained to do justice to the horrors which are readily apparent between the florid lines of Wilde’s cultivated prose. Only in the staging of the set-piece murder of Basil Hallward - an effect that Lewin was to repeat in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman - and Gray’s soliciting of Campbell to dispose of Hallward in acid does a tangible aura of evil surface in an adaptation whose rarified air of refinement ultimately works against its own ultimate good. The proof of the pudding lies with Albright’s dissolute portrait, which was soon on view as an example of modern American art instead of being consigned to the M-G-M vaults as too shocking a sight for those of a nervous disposition.     
      The Picture of Dorian Gray was a stately 110 minutes in release, which was still 7 minutes shorter than Metro’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and its literary pedigree gained it the regulation ‘A’ certificate in the UK (as opposed to a wartime ‘H’). Cinematographer Harry Stradling won an Academy Award for his crisp lensing but lukewarm reviews and budgetary and scheduling overruns resulted in it losing money for the studio. Albert Lewin returned to producing as an independent, along with partner David L Loew, but his taste for the culturally exotic remained undimmed by relative commercial failure and by the turn of the decade, he had paired two of Hollywood’s most bankable stars to a highbrow surrealist fantasy where the whole film was in radiant Technicolor, not just the canvas elements of it.      
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)
      Five years after producing and directing The Picture of Dorian Gray, the chance arose for Lewin to mount a variation on the theme and simulate the film that he might have made with a resurgent Greta Garbo. His singular taste for sociopathic characters largely devoid of normal human empathy was given renewed vent in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, whose quasi-mystical plot centred around a modern-day ‘siren’ who lures lovers to their doom. To play the pleasure-seeking Pandora Reynolds, Lewin turned to free-living, free-loving, rising screen sex goddess Ava (Lavinia) Gardner, a statuesque 27-year-old Carolina farm girl who already was a veteran of two marriages (to bandleader Artie Shaw and actor Mickey Rooney) and was about to embark on a third to singer Frank Sinatra. Her habit of going barefoot and predilection for profanities had led Roddy McDowell to classify her as ‘a queen with the soul of a peasant’ but by the early 1950s, she was the undisputed queen of the screen - at least until Marilyn Monroe came onto the scene.  
      It is 1930, and a group of friends is spending a decadent summer in the fictitious Spanish coastal town of Esperanza (which is both the Spanish word for ‘hope’ and also the pet-name of Oscar Wilde’s mother). Pandora (Gardner) epitomes the ‘live fast, die young’ philosophy that would become a feature of the ‘Beat’ generation, and she pays short shrift to a queue of ardent admirers until a strange schooner arrives in the bay and with it, the eponymous ‘Dutchman’ of legend (and Wagner’s opera) on a centuries-old quest to find a woman who will give her life so that the curse of immortality might be lifted from him. Compared to the agony of an existence without meaning, Pandora concludes that suicide is painless - as would George Sanders in the end, as well as Gardner intimate, writer Ernest Hemingway.
      The measure of love is what one is prepared to give up for it.
                                       —Geoffrey Fielding (Harold Warrender), Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
      On this occasion, Lewin was also responsible for the story, and many of the key elements from The Picture of Dorian Gray are grafted wholesale onto the new text: a brooding James Mason is Dutch sea captain Hendrik van der Zee, whose Luciferian defiance of the Almighty has cursed him to an eternity of wandering the oceans in search of salvation (‘Let the divinity that I reject make what sport he will of my immortal soul!’); Pandora is the distaff side of his conundrum, restive in pursuit of a love that forever eludes her; antiquarian Geoffrey Fielding (Harold Warrender) is the Lord Henry figure, though of more benevolent leaning; bullfighter Juan Montalvo (Mario Cabré) is an inversion of Basil Hallward, his jealousy-inspired ‘murder’ of van der Zee aping the design of Gray’s fatal assault on the painter. In addition, there are the various nods to academia: another quatrain from The Rubaiyat figures heavily (‘The Moving Finger writes and, having writ,/Moves on’), van der Zee quotes from Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’, and ex-patriot American Surrealist Man Ray is called upon to provide the Dutchman’s ‘picture’ of Pandora, as well as an elaborate chess set. Even lines of dialogue call to mind the earlier film: Pandora’s urging of Stephen Cameron (Nigel Patrick) to destroy his racing car to prove his devotion to her - ‘What would you do for me, Stephen..?’ - echoes of Gray’s entreaty to Sybil Vane, while Fielding’s astonishment when confronted by the truth about van der Zee is a straight lift - ‘It’s beyond nature, beyond reason.. What does it mean?’
      A heady Pandorian brew, then, which in concert with Fielding’s Poesque narration weaves a hypnotic spell and reorders the elements that were in play in The Picture of Dorian Gray to reclaim the artistic high ground for Wilde. The message of the film is an existential one, moral, social and artistic freedom, and it would chime with that of Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg in the new age that was dawning in the wake of World War 2. If Lewin had a model for Pandora and the Flying Dutchman beside that of its screen precursor, it would have been the quatrain from The Rubaiyat that somehow failed to feature in either film: ‘Ah love! could thou and I with Fate conspire/to grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire/Would we not shatter it to bits - and then/Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!’       
      Lewin’s Pandora Reynolds was the fictional harbinger of a mood-shift among the young that in a few short years would be exemplified in art and life by Jackson Pollock, James Dean, Jack Kerouac and Elvis Aaron Presley, all of whom would also die before their time. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman was maligned on release but has since undergone something of a renaissance, with Martin Scorsese among its modern-day champions. Ava Gardner lacks the intellectual depth that the role really requires but she was never so ethereally beautiful as she is here and Jack Cardiff’s lucid cinematography turns in one of the finest-looking of all screen fantasies. Cardiff was an Oscar-winner for Black Narcissus (1947), perhaps the most sensuous Technicolor film of all time, and his exquisite palette positively drips with gorgeous imagery - but the visuals are too often seconded to the spoken word. Lewin’s script strives for literary purity - and very nearly succeeds - but its verbosity is inclined to leave the actors struggling to emote while the camera lingers at sufficient length to accommodate the various narrations. At an indulgent 122 minutes, Pandora’s fateful submission to the Dutchman could not come soon enough for some contemporary reviewers but for many more sensitive souls who saw the film in the ‘one-and-nines’, it would prove an unforgettable experience.
      The final scene between the star-crossed lovers offers no uplift. The attempt to ameliorate the downbeat ending by a crash-course in philosophical presentism verges on the saccharine, and the Romantic ethos to which the tale yields was in any event one of tragedy and morbidity. But in creating a film in which both title characters are plagued by postmodern angst and end in a watery grave, Lewin showed an admirable grasp of the changing sensibility. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is a genuine auteur work. Albert Lewin had conceived, written, directed and co-produced a majestic slice of post-war escapism which tapped into a spirit of unrest in society, then as now. Like Dorian Gray, Pandora is afflicted with what Isaiah Berlin called an ‘unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals’; finding life wanting, she opts to sacrifice it on the Wildean altar of Romantic love. As the 1950s took the world further from the distraction of conflict, an entire generation would come to feel exactly the same way.
      Oscar Wilde was the Romantic hero made flesh, but his value went beyond that: he was a martyr to the Romantic movement, carrying his own cross to Golgotha, and suffering so that the sins of those who came after him could be lightened by his example. Despite his status as an icon of the gay community, Wilde fathered two boys by his wife Constance and, before her, had loved, platonically, Florence Balcombe, who chose instead to wed Bram Stoker. He was, by his own admission to confidant Frank Harris and others, a practising homosexual, but he had loved his wife and children; he simply loved the company of young men, and hedonistic homosexual adventuring, more. What began as a sop to ego, the seeking out of working-class boys over whom he could hold court, ended in bed and bawd, shame and ridicule.
      In the case of Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, life imitated art. He had predicted the abyss into which he would inevitably fall in The Picture of Dorian Gray. The painting in the metaphorical attic was mere literary device - a constant reminder of the guilt that he wilfully accumulated, and which his detractors eventually used to destroy him.