I have only read three chapters in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the homosexual and homosocial undertones are impossible to ignore as a 21st Century reader. During the first few chapters, there are many moments where we can read Basil’s intrigue with Dorian as romantic. Basil talks about Dorian in ways that makes me think he has feelings towards Dorian that are not simply of a “friendly” nature. While explaining the first time he sees Dorian, Basil says he came “face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself” (Wilde 8). While one can certainly find a friend’s personality to be fascinating, the fact that Dorian could have such a strong effect on Basil’s nature, soul, and art is what makes me think that Basil sees Dorian as more than a friend. Basil goes on to explain the first time he interacts with Dorian, stating, “I found myself face to face with the young man whose personality had so strangely stirred me” (Wilde 9). It is not unusual for a friend to enjoy the personality of another friend, but Dorian’s personality stirred Basil, which is something that normally does not happen by someone who is just a friend. It is not unusual to meet someone and have his or her personality stir feelings of anger or annoyance, but this does not seem to be the feelings that are being stirred in Basil. Basil’s statement that Dorian and he “were quite close, almost touching” (Wilde 9) shows that Dorian and Basil must be comfortable around each other, as you do not stand close to someone you are not comfortable around (unless you are angry with them, which is not what is happening here). It also suggests that the men are experiencing a moment that is more than “friendly”, as words like “close” and “touching” evoke images of romance or sex, rather than friendship. Basil also appears to be quite possessive of Dorian, not wanting to introduce him to Lord Henry. He gets jealous when Dorian and Lord Henry appear to be fond of each other, and tries to get Lord Henry to leave. While it is not unusual for friends to be possessive of each other and get jealous when people are bonding without you, it is also highly possible that Basil is feeling romantic jealousy.
While there is evidence in the text that suggests Basil has romantic feelings towards Dorian, it is also possible to read this evidence as them simply being friends. I believe Wilde did this intentionally, as during the fin de siècle, “acts of gross indecency between men were criminalized” (Ledger and Luckhurst xviii). By writing a story in which homosexual ideas or actions could be seen just as homosocial, it allows Wilde to talk about ideas that were taboo at the time. After all, if anyone tried to make a fuss about this book having homosexual ideas, Wilde could just claim that he wrote the book to be strictly about friends, so it must in fact be that person who has the homosexual ideas.