That Time Oscar Wilde Got It Wrong

I’ve just been re-reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It’s a brilliant book, and full of the wit that made Wilde famous before he gained fame for less savory reasons. However, there is one passage that Wilde, who once said that he spent a morning taking out a comma and the afternoon putting it back in, didn’t take enough time to edit. Here Lord Henry Wotton’s uncle is being described:

In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories were in office, during which period he roundly abused them for being a pack of Radicals. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a terror to most of his relations, who he bullied in turn. Only England could have produced him, and he always said the country was going to the dogs. His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his prejudices. 

I think Wilde suffered a bit here from having too many witty phrases at hand. He wanted to get them all down, and he did, but the passage as a whole ends lamely and sounds like, well, a bunch of quotes strung together. Here is a better version, and please note that no punctuation was harmed in making this edit:

In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories were in office, during which period he roundly abused them for being a pack of Radicals. His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his prejudices. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a terror to most of his relations, who he bullied in turn. Only England could have produced him, and he always said the country was going to the dogs. 

There, Oscar, wherever you may be (and the presence of a strong autobiographical element in Dorian Gray gives us a pretty shrewd idea)–fixed it for you!

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