Wilde: “Dorian Gray” Annotation Instructions

Our text of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is the shorter, 1890 magazine version, as edited by James Gifford.  Why the magazine version? For starters, it’s shorter!  And it’s still much less well known: none of you, I suspect, will have read this text in high school.  And, finally, some scholars and writers have argued that it’s a ”better” version of the book: better, because it’s closer to what Wilde originally wanted to write.

For more discussion, see A Textual History of The Picture of Dorian Gray, a blog entry by another editor of Wilde’s 1890 version (the linked edition was published as a print volume by Harvard University Press, less than a year after the pdf edition we are using.)

Here are your annotation instructions.

1) Why annotate?

First, we are working on building up ideas for longer assignments; you may find yourselves citing conversations that take place “within the pages” of Wilde’s novel in your next essay assignment!

Second, we are trying to read as a community: to have a “discussion” that is grounded in specific textual details.

In a way, every famous book draws much of its meaning from the historical “conversation” about that book: if we could read, say, Shakespeare’s Hamlet with 500 years worth of “annotations” in its margins….well, that “book” would be unreadably long. An editor of a text with a long history considers that text’s potential audience, and their needs, and then draws some small portion of the historical discussion of that text into their own edition. (Consider the notes I’ve given you to Wilde’s “Helas”, a single 14-line poem—I provide everything the editors provide, and add one very small thing I discovered myself…)

Reading as a community will also answer the question “WHO are we annotating FOR?” Some of you have more experience with late 19th-century literature than other; but all of you are readers born around the turn of the millenium. Think of these notes as being written for each other and to help other readers of a similar background to yourselves.

2) How to annotate?

Start by thinking of annotations (your commentary in the margins of the text) as existing on a spectrum! I will illustrate with a fancy diagram:


At the left end of the spectrum, purely INFormational; at the right, entirely INTerpretive.  “INF” have to do with providing facts or context that aid in reading the text; “INT” have to do with the question of what the text means. Potentially, a single annotation could do both these things… Like a claim, an annotation can seem either too obvious (we know where London is) or too obscure (a response that seems unlinked to the text).  These marks the ends of the spectrum:  your annotations should be somewhere in between.

Please note:   Gifford has provided 155 footnotes for the text. If you choose to annotate a passage that is footnoted, you are telling your readers “this footnote is controversial/inadequate/intriguing”—you are supplementing that footnotes. And this can be interesting: so if one of the footnotes you check surprises you, you should feel free comment and tell the rest of us why!

If your annotation is research-based, leave a link/ links in your comments / anotations; you can also provide an image. An image alone, at the right moment, might be an effective annotation!

(The “link” and “image” buttons in Hypothes.is take a little practice: to use them, first copy the link text/image location text to your clipboard, then paste that text into the space the annotation button automatically highlights for you when you click it. Then, click preview: if you have it right, your image/link will appear correctly!)

3)  How will I grade your annotations?

The Wilde text will be open for notations starting [fill in blank].  The book has thirteen chapters.  Each of you are required to make one annotation per chapter; you may do more!  (These posts will be part of your overall grade for the online discussion forums.)  Two other small rules to encourage liveliness:  at least once, you must reply to someone else’s annotation; at least once, you must annotate with an image!


Here’s our text of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: