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During the fin de siecle period in which Oscar Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, the British tended to consider French novels somewhat risqué, or more sexually explicit than English ones. Many of the inexpensive editions of racy French novels imported into England had yellow covers, and thus describing someone as reading a book with yellow covers in a Victorian novel would be similar to suggesting now that they are watching X-rated movies.
Also, importantly, the Aesthetic or Decadent movement with which Wilde was associated greatly admired experimental French literature. John Lane, a well-known publisher, started a magazine called The Yellow Book in England in 1894 that published many of the better known decadent writers, and had a bright yellow cover, with illustrations (often shocking for the period) by Aubrey Beardsley.
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