The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

This is the review given that was found on Goodreads:

Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me:  Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps (Goodreads).

Characters
Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton, Sibyl Vane, James Vane, Lady Victoria Wotton, Alan Campbell, Henry Ashton, Adrian Singleton, Lord Staveley, Lady Gwendolen, Lady Narborough, Duchess of Monmouth, Dorian Gray.
Setting
England, 1890

The novel opens by introducing the reader to Lord Henry and Basil Howard. The difference between two of the main characters was well put by shmoop.com, saying that the difference between Basil and Henry is that,

Basil believes that people are innately (perhaps secretly) good, and that his friend’s cynicism is just a front. Henry, on the other hand, is more suspicious – especially of people who pretend to be totally upfront all the time.

( Shmoop)

The two friends are in Basil’s art studio discussing the portrait of Dorian Gray which has garnered particular interest by Lord Henry. Exclaiming to Basil, “It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done” (The Picture of Dorian Gray, 2). Lord Henry insists that the portrait should be exhibited but the artist refuses and upon much persuasiveness from Lord Henry, Basil tells him about his first encounter with the enigmatic Dorian Gray. Explaining what made him come to the decision of not wanting to exhibit the painting.

Basil meeting Dorian at a crush at Lady Brandon

After telling Harry why Dorian is so important to him and his art, also confessing that he idolizes and admires the young mans beauty, Harry insists on meeting Dorian. According to Basil, Dorian has a “simple and a beautiful nature” (The Picture of Dorian Gray, 13) that could easily be spoiled by Lord Henry’s cynicism (Sparknotes). therefore the artist reluctantly agrees to Lord Henry extending his visit at the studio in order to meet Dorian Gray. But he implores Harry not to spoil him by his bad influence, adding that Harry should not take away the one person from him who gives his art whatever charm it possesses (The Picture of Dorian Gray, 13).

Dorian begs Lord Henry to stay and talk to him while he sits for Basil. Basil warns Dorian that Lord Henry is a bad influence, and Dorian seems intrigued by this idea (Sparknotes). I feel this where we first get an understanding of what is meant by the “bad influence” that Basil associates with his friend. When asked by Dorian whether he really is a bad influence, Harry has a very interesting reply, which I am inclined to agree with. This is Lord Henry’s philosophy on the topic of influence:

“There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral – immoral from the scientific point of view.”

“Why?”

“Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thought or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sin, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly – that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self.”

(The Picture of Dorian Gray, 16 – 17)

Although I don’t agree at all with Lord Henry’s conclusion on the aim of life being self-development. It’s the first part of his philosophy about influence that struck me as really profound. I suppose I should rather credit Wilde for that, seeing as he is the writer and Lord Henry is only fictional!

“Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thought or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him.”

(The Picture of Dorian Gray, 16)

This meeting also starts Dorian’s attraction to youth, beauty and in essence, aesthetics. As Sparknotes informs us, the Aesthetic movement was founded in Europe and was associated with the early nineteenth century. This movement proposed “that art need not serve moral, political, or otherwise didactic ends” (Sparknotes). Followers of this movement believed that art need not be an instructive force in order to be valuable.

Definition from Wikipedia

When reflecting on the concepts and ideals (especially Lord Henry’s), I can see that this movement was portrayed in the novel and how much of an influence it had on the writing by Wilde. The focus of this movement is noted throughout the novel by the ideals and philosophies expressed by Lord Henry and also by the objects of furnishings and art that Dorian surrounds himself with.

(British Literature Wiki)

According to British Literature Wiki, the Aesthetes were fueled by the desire to shock the middle class conservative mind, which led to many bad habits being formed. Aesthetes were generally seen as heavy consumers of alcohol, particularly absinthe, and were fascinated with drugs like opium and hashish, all of which granted them a greater intensity of sensation (British Literature Wiki). This element of their lifestyle is portrayed in the story by Dorian’s use of drugs.

I think that even though this is movement was prominent in the 19th century, elements of it can still be found in the current century. Not with the extravagant and decorative art and objects but rather in the way we define beauty and revere youth. I know there is also a lot of emphasis placed now on loving one self and that true beauty comes in all shapes and sizes but this “acceptance” by society of all types of beauty, doesn’t stop the individual from having negative thoughts about their beauty.

As I am writing this I realize that I am spending way too much time dissecting the Aesthetic Movement! I just can’t help myself though, I find it so fascinating – the lifestyle of the people, the type of activities that interested them and the parallels between the reality of the movement in England and the fiction of Dorian Gray’s character – just realizing how influential Wilde was in this movement and how deeply it is portrayed in his novel is so riveting!

To some degree, every character in the novel is seduced by Lord Henry’s philosophies, Dorian Gray more so than anyone else (Sparknotes). I can fully attest to this statement as I have witnessed it throughout my reading the novel. While admiring the portrait of himself done by Basil and after listening to Harry’s beliefs for the first time, Dorian proclaims,

“How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young..If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that – for that – I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”

(The Picture of Dorian Gray, 24)

And with those words Dorian Gray sealed his fate and the dissent of his morality and the loss of his virtue and goodness. At the risk of giving the complete story of The Picture of Dorian Gray, I will state my final thoughts on this novel: It is an absolute must read classic! – not only are the characters lives an interesting story, but what was also interesting was the life of Oscar Wilde. How his lifestyle (the Aesthetic Movement) influenced his writing.

Works-Cited List
“The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Jeffrey Eugenides (Introduction)”. Goodreads.17 February 2021. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5297.The_Picture_of_Dorian_Gray?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=0W3mYDtjEM&rank=1
“The Picture of Dorian Gray Morality and Ethics”. Shmoop. Shmoop University Inc. 17 February 2021. http://www.shmoop.com/study-guides/literature/picture-dorian-gray/quotes/morality-and-ethics
SparkNotes Editors. “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. SparkNotes.com, SparkNotes LLC, 2005. 01 March 2021. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/doriangray/section1/
“Aestheticism”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 1 March 2021. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aestheticism
“The Aesthetic Movement”. Aestheticism. British Literature Wiki. 03 March 2021. sites.udel.edu/britlitwiki/aestheticism/
Powell, Celeste. Book Review: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. Digital Image. AggieCentral. Cameron University. 03 March 2021.
100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library. Digital Image. The Art of Manliness. 03 March 2021.

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