Notes on The Picture of Dorian Gray

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					Notes on The Picture
  of Dorian Gray
      Oscar Wilde
• In the period when he
  published Dorian Gray he was
  at the top of his career, but
  always remained an outsider
An Anglo-Irish
An eccentric man
A homosexual
Born in Dublin in 1854
Trinity College, Oxford. Degree in Classics
A disciple of Walter Pater (Aestheticism)
Moved to London
A fashionable dandy
In America for lectures on the pre-
1883 returned to Europe
       married Constance Lloyd (2 children)
   The Picture of Dorian Gray
published in 1891 (in the same year as The
  Soul of Man under Socialism)
from 1891 to 1894 he wrote the four plays
  which were stage triumphs

brilliant dialogue
gift for characterization
caricatures of upper-class values
1891  met Lord Alfred Douglas
trial convicted of homosexual
sentenced to two-year labour
De Profundis
The Ballad of Reading Gaol
released from prison, moved to
died of meningitis in Paris in 1900
           The Preface
• The artist is the creator of beautiful
• To reveal art and conceal the artist
  is art’s aim.
• The critic is he who can translate into
  another manner or a new material his
  impression of beautiful things.
• The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a
  mode of autobiography.
• Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things
  are corrupt without being charming. This is a
•     Those who find beautiful meanings in
  beautiful things are the cultivated. For these
  there is hope.
• They are the elect to whom beautiful things can
  mean only Beauty.
   There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral
•     Books are well written, or badly written. That
  is all.
• All art is at once surface and symbol.
• Those who go beneath the surface do so at their
•      Those who read the symbol do so at their
• It is the spectator, and not life, that art really
• Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows
  that the work is new, complex, and vital.
•      When critics disagree the artist is in accord
  with himself.

•       All art is quite useless.
            A Gothic Tale?
• plot → a simple but powerful Gothic tale,
  with an obvious moral: sin corrupts, the
  truth will come out in the end, you can’t
  eliminate your bad conscience

• But how is that explained in the light of
  what Wilde says in the Preface?
• The ending could be a necessary
  pretence in Victorian England

• In some way, the omniscient
  narrator takes up the role of the
  preacher and parodies the tales
  19th–century readers were used
• But also Wilde’s aestheticism
  was not absolute and

• A Victorian trying to free
  himself from the qualities of his

                                A trace of
           A way of getting    the Victorian
A parody
           past censorship    deeply rooted
                                 in Wilde
“Basil Hallward is what I think I
  am; Lord Henry is what the
  world thinks of me; Dorian is
    what I would like to be”
 Central role of Lord Henry Wotton

• The devil?
“Old Harry”→a familiar name for the
Pointed brown beard→Mephistopheles
Scene in which he influences
  Dorian→takes place in a garden,
  elements similar to the Serpent’s
  temptation of Eve in Paradise Lost
• Not necessarily a negative

Lucifer: a revolutionary figure, a
 rebel against authority
(Romantic view of Milton’s
• Rich, ornate, a lot of references to the

• Things in the real world are constantly
  compared to products of artists (esp.
  jewellers)→life imitating art
Symmetrical narrative structure
     20 chapters

                   Chapter 1: a preamble/introduction

                        Chapters 2 – 10 } nine
                         (cover one month)

                              Chapter 11
                           (covers 18 years)

                        Chapters 12 – 20 } nine
                         (cover a few weeks)
First half of the    Second half of the
  novel:              novel:

Dorian’s rejection   Basil’s murder
 of Sybil and her
Sybil→structurally opposed to
 Lord Henry

Dorian’s good and bad angels
            Significant names
• Dorian→from Doria        • Sybil→ancient female
(ancient Greece;             prophet = voice of
  classical beauty,          truth
  philosophy of
                           • Vane→something
                             that turns with the
• Gray→neither black         slightest wind (weak,
  nor white; potential       vulnerable)
  for both good and evil     →“in vain”
• The tale starts with a Cinderella plot,
  which is soon rejected
• Dorian→Prince Charming for Sybil
• He is called like that also by the
  drunken woman in the opium den, but
  the name acquires different overtones
• The devil→Prince of Darkness,
  “charming” in the sense that he
  “charms” people, fascinates them to
  damn them
Basil’s role→different in the
first part   and in the second part

• Contributes to    • Replaces Sybil
  corrupting Dorian   as the voice
  by idolising and    calling Dorian
  flattering him      back from Lord
                      Henry’s path
               Chapter 11
• Descriptive, not dramatic
• Deals with Dorian’s interest in all sorts of
  sensations (perfume, music, jewels,
• Evokes the life of the senses in a way
  acceptable to Victorian readers
• Stands for other unmentionable pleasures
          “The yellow book”
Joris-Karl Houysmans, A rebours

A novel focussing on its protagonist, Jean
  Des Esseintes, an eccentric, an aesthete ,
  a rebel against bourgeois society

An example of Decadent literature

Against Naturalism, a Symbolist novel
• Characterized by rich, musical
• Unfamiliar words even to
  English native speakers, but
  which sound beautiful
• Hypnotic effect of listing the
  names of beautiful things
• Two dominant female figures, but
  quite stereotyped; both opposing Lord
  Henry in different ways, but not well
  characterized as individuals
• By contrast, the brief glimpses of
  young men ruined by their friendship
  with Dorian are original, vivid,
   Great strength of the untold
• Man-woman        • Man-man
  relationship:      relationship:
  already much       forbidden as a
  represented in     subject of
  literature         literature and
                     conversation, so
                     free to develop
       Central love story→
Between Dorian and Lord Henry

Fascinating because it’s denied us

Only hinted at (scent of lilacs)
• Art in which absence is more
  important than presence

• Raising questions is more
  important than providing
• Was Dorian’s life pre-determined?
• By what?
The book
Lord Henry’s influence
His own nature
Destiny (=a malevolent, omnipotent
  supernatural force)
Dorian’s unhappy childhood
• The novel appeared just before Freud’s
  theories developed
• Dorian hides the portrait in the attic (→his
  schoolroom in childhood and adolescence,
  never opened since his grandfather’s death)
• Highly symbolic value of that choice
• Houses in Victorian novels were often
  symbolic of their owners’ personalities
• Attic (topmost, secret room)→used by C.
  Brontë and G. Eliot as a symbol of the
Dorian’s childhood was lonely and painful
 due to his grandfather’s cruelty

Opening of the room = opening of Dorian’s
 painful memories
The portrait undergoes its changes
 there→Dorian’s sins= a result of his
 grandfather’s sins, in the sense that the
 unhappiness he gave him warped his
Biblical idea that the sins of
one generation are passed on
to the next (original sin) → the
same idea which is central to
psychoanalysis, even if in
different terms

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