A friend of mine recently reposted a FB article celebrating the 130 year anniversary of the publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Her post reminded me of the extraordinary story of how the book came to be.
An American, Joseph Marshall Stoddart (managing editor of the American publication Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine), met with Oscar Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, at the Langham Hotel in London on 30 August 1889. Their dinner was described as a “golden evening” by Doyle.
Doyle in particular was thrilled to have his historical novel, Micah Clarke, praised by Wilde – who Doyle held in very high regard. I can only imagine the conversation that was had that evening and would love to have been a fly on the wall overhearing it. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki talks about great moments in science, well this was definitely a great moment in literature. So, what was the purpose of the dinner?
Stoddart wanted to produce an English version of Lippincott’s Magazine with British contributors. Stoddart must have had some incredible powers of persuasion and / or made some form of Godfather offer to the authors since they both agreed to write new novels for the magazine. Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray – his only novel – and Doyle wrote The Sign of Four – the second Sherlock Holmes Novel. Wilde hadn’t written a novel before and Doyle didn’t want to write Sherlock novels – he felt his historical fiction was more worthy of his time, so it really was quite a feat to get both authors to agree to their stories.
The meeting is commemorated by a plaque, and Doyle went on to feature the Langham in several Sherlock stories. But might the dinner have been even greater? This was meant to be a British magazine with British authors; at the dinner was a Scotsman (Doyle) and an Irishman (Wilde). There was a third writer who was invited to attend but couldn’t make it – an Englishman. I’ve spent some time imagining an alternative universe where they were able to attend the dinner.
Thanks to Tale Publishing, a prize of paperback copies of my Sherlock influenced Detective Thomas stories (Colours of Death & Incite Insight) was offered to the first person who could name that Englishman. The prize was won by Anna Z. who correctly identified that the missing man was Rudyard Kipling. The night would already have been a sublime evening. The addition of Kipling would have made it even more so.
This is the inaugural post in my Great Moments in Literature series. So you never miss a new Great Moment, please subscribe to my list: