Welcome to the Library!!!

Hello All! Welcome to the Library! My name is Lydia Willoughby and I am a research and education librarian at the Sojourner Truth Library at SUNY New Paltz.

First off, there’s a few basics about using the library to remember. You can book a group study room; we also have individual study rooms.

Beautiful New Windows!

Also, you can schedule a research consultation, you can fill out this form online and I will set up a time to meet with you. 

President Christian using the new group study rooms

Pro Tip: beat procrastination by making a clear plan of what you need to do. This assignment calculator can help you use your time efficiently.


Today’s Learning Goals:

  1. Identify literary criticism about the Victorian era that you can use to enhance your comprehension and analysis of literature, gender and sexuality
  2. Find 19th Century essays and newspaper articles pertaining to gender and sexuality that provide contemporary context to history and culture
  3. “Research”
    1. How to search: choosing and modifying search terms
    2. How to find articles
    3. How to use one article to find other sources


Think Before You Act

  • Open this document: ENG451SwaffordSpring16LibraryWorksheet – .docx
  • Let’s start with a discussion and brainstorm. Write down some search term ideas that you have about your topic. Put these in the brainstorm areas, the first table on the worksheet.
  • Turn to your neighbor and talk about what you both wrote. Listen to them, and tell them what you think that their topic is about.
  • Then, after discussing with your neighbor, write down one question or hypothesis that you have about your topic. Read this back to your neighbor and see if they agree. Listen to your neighbor.

Topic Exploration

  • Take your text or literary criticism and scan the text for keywords that you can use to generate search terms.

Where to Find Articles on Victorian Literary Criticism

Where to Find Victorian Newspapers

Cited Reference Searching AKA “How do I find more good stuff”?

Even More!

Research Activities:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Topic Exploration
  3. Find Articles
  4. Find Newspapers
  5. Cited Reference Searching

ENG451SwaffordSpring16LibraryWorksheet – .docx

ENG451SwaffordSpring16LibraryWorksheet – .pdf

Thank you!!! Please take the last few moments of class to write a comment on this blog post about something that you found useful that you learned today.  You might also write a question that you have about research or finding sources and using databases.

Feel free to email me with research questions directly at willougl at newpaltz dot edu. You can ALWAYS ask a librarian, too! Thanks!


Purity of Face does not mean Purity of Spirit

Havelock Ellis’ Sexual Inversion was written long after, and obviously makes reference to, The Picture of Dorian Gray, but the imagery that Wilde uses is reflected in Ellis’ description of the sexually inverted boy. There are moments when the resonance in ideas and language is practically uncanny. The third paragraph in Chapter IX of Dorian Gray describes Dorian’s rising infamy in London as well as how that infamy is undermined by his beauty. In the excerpt from Ellis, he is interviewing H.C., a young male sex worker who goes by the name Dorian Gray. Ellis’ description of H.C. is eerily similar to how we read Dorian described early in the novel. The more encompassing connection however, is that for both of them, their outward beauty is a tool and a mask that allows them to commit many sins with seemingly little reproach. Despite his profession in the sex work industry, which even to this day is considered “sinful” and morally corrupt, H.C. is described by Ellis as having the “beauty of an angel” and his voice the “purity of a clarinet.” These kinds of descriptions are commonly reserved for people — particularly women, which connects this to some of the other readings about Urnings having a feminine spirit — who are considered morally and spiritually pure. Similarly, on page 91, Dorian is described as having “the look of one who kept himself unspotted from the world.” His beauty is so pure in fact, that “his mere presence seemed to recall to them the innocence they had tarnished.” These two young men are able to operate, somewhat, successfully as “sinners” because their outward “purity” makes their critics doubt themselves rather than doubt the beauty of the boys.

Dorian’s Sexual Awakening

There is a significant turning point in Dorian’s disposition after he sees Sybil Vane, the girl he is madly in love with for her beautiful acting skills, put on an embarrassingly poor performance as Juliet in front of Basil and Lord Henry. He began to show signs of a change in him after a discussion with Lord Henry about the fleetingness of youth, when his powerful desire to stay young forever emerges. Dorian, who had once professed his love for Sybil and her ability to emulate a beautiful work of art through acting, is aghast at Sybil’s dismal performance as Juliet.

Sybil explains to Dorian that his love has freed her, that her acting was only an “empty pageant” and now she truly knows what love is. (Wilde 72). In a dramatic fury, Dorian tells Sybil, ““you have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity. … I loved you because you were wonderful, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away” (Wilde 73).

Heartbroken, Sybil kills herself. Basil is bewildered by Dorian’s indifference to the news, to which Dorian replies, “she lived her finest tragedy.” He goes on: “… she died, as Juliet might have died. She passed again into the sphere of art. There is something of the martyr about her. Her death has all the pathetic uselessness of martyrdom, all its wasted beauty. (Wilde 93). Dorian has no interest in Sybil if she cannot embody the artistic beauty he seeks. He tells Basil that he, Dorian, has grown, matured and developed into a new man with new passions. Basil finds himself moved by Dorian’s speech: “rugged and straightforward as he was, there was something in his nature that was purely feminine in its tenderness (Wilde 94)”.

In A Problem in Modern Ethics, John Addington Symonds contends that gay men posses a feminine soul, and are instinctually emotional and full of desire (1896). Dorian’s sexual awakening begins with Lord Henry’s speech, which has altered his view of the world entirely, and is catalyzed by Sybil’s butchered Juliet performance. Dorian himself is dramatic and emotional, aching with desire to blur the lines between life and art.

Symonds, Wilde, and feminine appearance

John Addington Symonds said, in his A Problem in Modern Ethics, that “the body of an Unrning is masculine, his soul feminine, so far as sex is concerned” (Symonds).  This meant that Urnings (homosexuals) were thought to have a masculine outer appearance, but have a feminine spirit and soul, which meant carrying out many of the features a female would have personality wise or spiritually.  He said that “the body of a male is visible to the eyes, is measurable, and ponderable, is clearly marked in its specific organs”, so that upon first glance one would recognize a male figure standing before them, “but what we call his soul … eludes the observation of the senses” (Symonds).  What Symonds means by this is that the soul would not be recognized as that of a male, but rather something unrecognizable at first, and perhaps even feminine.  He continues to say that “when I find that soul…had been directed in its sexual appetite from earliest boyhood towards persons of the male sex, I have the right to qualify it with the attribute of femininity” (Symonds).

Much like this passage, the attributes of the homosexual male talked about in the beginning of chapter 9 of Dorian Gray represent the feminine spirituality that is talked about in Symonds piece.  “The boyish beauty that had so fascinated Basil Hallward, and many others besides him, seemed to never leave him.  Even those who had heard the most evil things against him” (Wilde 91).  A beauty like this is normally not depicted unless a female is being talked about or described within a passage.  However, this time, the words were used to describe a homosexual male.  The passage goes on, saying “he had always the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world…there was something in the purity of his face that rebuked them” (Wilde 92).  Again, the beauty and purity used to describe Dorian Gray in this passage was language used to represent females.   Finally the passage ends saying, “They wondered how one so charming and graceful as he was could have escaped the stain of an age that was once sordid and sensuous” (Wilde 92).  The words “charming” and “graceful” are two strong words often used to describe something feminine.  It is through the specific words Wilde uses to describe the homosexual boy that we can see the similarities to Symonds article.

Heroism in Dorian Gray

After the death of Sibyl Vane, Lord Henry sends Dorian Gray a book that so rapidly consumes him that he begins to blur the lines between fiction and reality. About the book and Dorian’s perception of it, Wilde writes, “The hero, the wonderful young Parisian, in whom the romantic temperament and the scientific temperament were so strangely blended, became to him a kind of prefiguring type of himself. And, indeed, the whole book seemed to him to contain the story of his own life, written before he had lived it” (Wilde 91). Through Lord Henry’s book, Dorian finds a connection between the beautiful hero’s story and his own. He begins to act like the hero in the book, but with the caveat that unlike the hero, Dorian’s own looks go untarnished. Without fully realizing it, Lord Henry, who is often so quick to advise Dorian, teaches him how to behave through his book. In a similar vein, John Addington Symonds in his work “A Problem in Greek Ethics” writes about the Dorians, an ancient Greek peoples, “… The lover taught, the hearer learned; and so from man to man was handed down the tradition of heroism, the peculiar tone and temper of the state to which, in particular among the Greeks, the Dorians clung with obstinate pertinacity” (Symonds). Lord Henry, who loves Dorian, provides him with a role-model, the hero of the book, and Dorian latches onto it unceasingly.

Through Dorian’s name, Oscar Wilde creates a connection between the character and the ancient Greeks, and this connection is only strengthened with the addition of Lord Henry’s teachings. Dorian looks upon the book Lord Henry gives him as a document of his own life. He takes Symonds’ idea about the Dorians and brings it a step further, to the point that instead of merely learning from it, Dorian lives his life as art. This imitation comes directly after Sibyl’s death, a scene that Dorian relates as “her finest tragedy” (Wilde 75), which already shows his inability to distinguish between reality and art. He becomes a character in his own life, and as he becomes more and more engrossed in his own story he alienates those around him.


The Feelings of an Urning

Wilde argues with Symonds description of an Urning (a homosexual) in the scene when Hallward describes his infatuation with Dorian Gray. Symonds describes Urnings as having a feminine soul. Basil Hallward is admiting in this scene that he has feelings that transcend male friendship. But nothing so far in the text would support that Basil has a feminine soul–as he is an excellent artist, which we have learned is not allowed for women in the Victorian Era. Basil explains his feelings about Dorian as “I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man usually gives a friend. Somehow, I had never loved a woman…I quite admit that I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly.” (Wilde 79) He just simply never saw a woman who made him fall over with desire, then he sees Dorian and feels emotions that he has never felt before and obsesses over him to an extreme degree that he dominates his thoughts when he is with him and when they are separated. His soul is not feminine–he just has not been moved by an individual to this extent in his life and as a man, he likes other men.

The sexuality of Basil

While in class we talked mostly about how the descriptions of Dorian and Lord Henry point to their homosexual desires, we did not speak as much about the descriptions of Basil who, is the mostly clearly homosexual character out of all the others.  He openly reveals his romantic desire when he tells Dorian in chapter 7: “I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling that a man usually gives to a friend. Somehow I have never loved a woman. I suppose I never had time” (70).  Dorian’s physical features as a boyish, his musical talent, characterize him as an invert, what men with same-sex attraction were called by sexologists, as well as his relationship to Lord Henry.  The relationship between Lord Henry and Dorian, older man as mentor and younger man as mentee, reflect the homosexual relationships of the Greek Dorians. Lord Henry Wotton’s voice is described as musical as well. They never reveal outright their feelings towards each other or towards other men, Basil is the only one that does so. Subtle hints are not needed to inform the reader of his sexuality.   It is in this passage on page 70 that Basil’s innermost thoughts and feelings are revealed to the reader and by John Addington Symonds standards he would be considered an “urning,” not just a man with same-sex desire, but a very feminine individual. Symonds writes,

The body of a male is visible to the eyes, is mensurable and ponderable, is clearly marked in its specific organs. But what we call his soul–his passions, inclinations, sensibilities, emotional characteristics, sexual desires–eludes the observation of the senses. . . . And when I find that the soul, this element of instinct and emotion and desire existing in a male, had been directed in its sexual appetite from earliest boyhood towards persons of the male sex, I have the right to qualify it with the attribute of femininity.”

The fact that Basil has such feelings for Dorian is enough to qualify him as a feminine man, or as having a feminine soul.


Symonds, John Addington. A Problem in Modern Ethics. 1896

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. 1890. Ed. Michael Wilson. Watersgreen House Classics. 2015.


The Problem of the Dorians

It is in chapter 9 of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that we can see connections to statements from John Addington Symonds. As Dorian, the main character, grows older he becomes a kind of idol to some of those in his society. Dorian becomes “the lover” that Symonds talks about in his essay “A problem in Greek Ethics.” The “young exquisites” of society who adopt Dorian’s “mode of dressing, and the particular styles that he affected from time to time” (Wilde 93) are “The Dorians” that Symonds states are the problem. These Dorians “copied everything [Dorian] did and tried to reproduce the accidental charm of his graceful…fopperies” (Wilde 93). The problem that Symonds has with this is the “encouragement of Greek love” which, in modern terms, is the encouragement of being gay. Dorian is everything the young boys in his society wish to be. He is wealthy, has Lord Henry by his side, and very handsome (being that he no longer ages). He has the opportunity to study things such as religion, the study of perfumes, music, the study of jewels, and embroideries. Dorian, on the outside, looks to be sure of himself, which is something that other young boys can look up to.

Lord Henry’s Grecian Mentoring Influence on Dorian

Lord Henry serves as a mentor to Dorian in the ways of life, so far, in The Picture of Dorian Gray” that is very similar to the Greeks, with older men serving as mentors to the confused youth. When Dorian believes Sibyl is the love of his life, he attempts to reject Lord Henry, his new found love fulfilling his need to be taught about life by actually living it until her love for Dorian destroys her acting and then he rejects her as easily as he had rejected Lord Henry and Basil. I chose a passage from chapter 6 after Dorian finds out that Sibyl has killed herself and Lord Henry is consoling the young Dorian, once again attempting to allure the beautiful young man. I argue that Lord Henry advises Dorian in a similar fashion as what John Addington Symonds talks about in “A Problem in Greek Ethics”. In this he is discussing the ways of the Greek and their teachings from one man to another as “the lover taught, (and) the hearer learned”; a dynamic Lord Henry practically forces onto Dorian the moment life throws him an unexpected turn with Sibyl’s suicide. In his attempt to help Dorian, he blatantly tells him the truth of what his life would have been like had they actually ended up together, that in marrying “this girl you would have been wretched” (65). He then continues on to tell Dorian an even more intrusively honest fact that “she would have soon found out that you were absolutely indifferent to her”, addressing Dorian’s sexual disinterest he himself hasn’t discovered yet (66). In this moment you can see Lord Henry’s influence on Dorian return, the obstacle of Sibyl no longer pulling Dorian interest away from him. In the next chapter, when Basil attends to Dorian expecting to find him in grief, it becomes clear how much Lord Henry has truly impacted him with his blasé dismal of Sibyl’s death, telling Basil “what is done is done” though the incident was only the day before (74). It becomes clear the true impact Lord Henry has on Dorian in his Grecian-like mentoring, stemming from this passage in chapter 6 in which Lord Henry pushes aside Dorian’s grief and makes him react entirely different to Sibyl’s death, reclaiming his influence on Dorian he had lost partially when Sibyl had his attention.

John Addington Symonds and a Description of Dorian Gray

There is a passage at the beginning of chapter nine of The Picture of Dorian Gray that reminded me of the description of the homosexual male from John Addington Symonds’s A Problem in Modern Ethics. The passage from Dorian Gray reads: “The boyish beauty that had so fascinated Basil Hallward, and many other besides him, seemed never to leave him…Men who talked grossly became silent when he Dorian Gray entered the room. There was something in the purity of his face that rebuked them. His mere presence seemed to recall to them the innocence they had tarnished. They wondered how one so charming and graceful as he was could have escaped the stain of an age that was at once sordid and sensuous.” (Wilde 91-92)
Symonds wrote in his description that the male “Urning” basically has the body of a man, but the soul of a woman. He says that “his passions, inclinations, sensibilities, emotional characteristics, sexual desires–eludes the observation of the senses.” In the above description of Dorain Gray, Wilde wrote of Dorian’s “boyish beauty,” which leaves the impression that Dorian has an effeminate look about him, in spite of his male body. Wilde also writes about how he catches the attention of the other men in the room, who wonder at his state of innocence that they no longer have, and this also relates to Symonds’s claim about characteristics eluded by the soul. Dorain’s look of purity in his face could also allude to an effeminate nature of him, as purity was something more-so socially expected of women at this period, than men. The description of Dorian as charming and graceful also mark that his presence gave off an air of what would be considered as femininity, and noticeable by others. This would also connect with Symonds’s claim of the homosexual male seeming to have a feminine soul.