The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray is about influence, youth, beauty, upper class society, and art. The story begins with a portrait. The portrait is by an artist named Basil Hallward, and depicts Dorian Gray. Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wotton is introduced to Dorian, and sets out to influence his young, unformed mind. Lord Henry convinces Dorian that the painting will only remind him of his peak in beauty when his is older and seemingly less attractive. Dorian soon falls in love with Sybil Vane, but breaks off the engagement. Since the, now conceded, Dorian felt guilt he noticed the portrait of himself by Basil had changed. It showed the sins he was committing. Sybil Vane kills herself over the loss of Dorian, and Lord Henry convinces him that the suicide was artistic. Lord Henry also gives Dorian the book of a sinful Frenchman at that time. Dorian begins to live a very troubling life, full of sin and pays many visits to his local opium den. The influence of Lord Henry weighs heavy on his life. As his life takes a downward spiral, the painting changes. He takes it down and hides it in his closet, so only he could watch as the painting transforms from a youthful, handsome young man to a wrinkly old man.
Many rumors fly out of the mouths of the upper class members of society in London about Dorian, yet none of them bother him because he is still accepted by everyone due to his youthfulness. Dorian relied solely on his beauty in his superficial society. Basil, who was truly concerned about Dorian’s lifestyle stopped by to tell him the rumors he had heard. The anger over his inability to mature and his learning of sinful acts causes him to act with disrespect and disregard for human rights and dignity. How he reacts to Basil and the now hideous painting is truly spectacular.
Oscar Wilde was an Irish born playwright, novelist, poet, and the author of many short stories. He is most commonly known for being, what many have called a bisexual, a homosexual, and a paederastic, writer in the 1800’s when homosexuality was almost universally known to be “immoral.” Wilde now is a figure that many people may associate themselves with simply because of his willingness to become independent. If one were to talk about banned books, they would be doing themselves a disservice not to mention Oscar Wilde, simply because of his controversial stances on societal issues in his time period. Wilde was one of the most successful playwrights in London, and the biggest celebrity in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Also, he was one of the most famous defendants in 1895 when he was convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years of hard labor. Oscar Wilde made The Picture of Dorian Gray and autobiography in many ways, and there is no question why this novel was his most famous work. While many may still disagree on the lifestyle of Oscar Wilde, there is no doubt that he has made a tremendous impact on the western world just by giving masses of people the opportunity to glimpse inside his mind. The reason this is such a great book to read is because Oscar Wilde is now a popular culture icon. He is an author that is not only well known but very respected. Even with the hot button issues over homosexuality, anyone can find enjoyment whilst reading The Picture of Dorian Gray. This book can connect with a lot of people even after over one hundred years since it was written, because it deals with the struggles within ourselves between beauty and moral obligations. Not only is this a riveting story, it teaches you how to conduct or not conduct yourself in a world of dependence.
Why is this book “dangerous?”:
The Picture of Dorian Gray was considered homoerotic and suggestive. Many critics, including the Daily Chronicle on June 30, 1890 said that there is, “one element which will taint every young mind that comes in contact with it. The first edition was more suggestive to the readers, and Wilde quickly responded by adding chapter to give more background to the characters. While much of the uproar was directed at the homosexuality of not only themes in the novel but Oscar Wilde himself, there was also a stir over the immoral influences. Many attempted to argue that the acts encouraged by Lord Henry were damaging to those who read the horrifying story of young Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde’s response to those who saw “corrupting influences” in The Picture of Dorian Gray was that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” The aesthetic movement that Wilde led and its clash with living a “moral life” shown in the novel haunted Oscar Wilde for years. After the release of this story in 1890, Wilde was brought to trial in 1895. This specific work of his was used against him in court. The moral dilemmas there were written were in direct conflict with societal rules. Wilde used The Picture of Dorian Gray as his autobiography claiming, “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.” Not only was this book banned because of the sexual undertones, it eventually helped send Wilde to a couple of years of imprisonment.