The Picture of Dorian Gray
.. by Oscar Wilde
OSCAR FINGAL O'FLAHERTIE WILLS WILDE was born in Dublin in 1854 as the son of an
eminent eye-surgeon and a nationalist poetess who wrote under the pseudonym of "Speranza".
He went to the Trinty College in Dublin and then to Magdalen College in Oxford, where he began
to propagandise the new Aesthetic Movement. Despite winning the ´Newdigate Prize for Poetry´,
Wilde failed to obtain an Oxford fellowship1 and was forced to earn his living by lecturing and
writing for periodicals2. He published a largely unsuccessful volume of poems in 1881, the next
year he undertook a lecture tour through the United States. After his marriage to Constance Lloyd
1884, he tried to establish himself as a writer, but with little initial success. However, with his three
volumes of short fiction, The Happy Prince (1888), Lord Arthur Seville's Crime (1891) and A House
of Pomegranates (1891), together with his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), he
gradually achieved reputation as a modern writer. Furthermore this reputation was confirmed and
enhanced by the phenomenal success of his Society Comedies as Lady Windermere's Fan, A
Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest which were all
performed on the West End stage between 1892 and 1895.
But his success was, however, short-lived. In 1891 Wilde had met and fallen in love with Lord
Alfred Douglas. !n 1895, when his success as a dramatist was at its height, Wilde brought an
unsuccessful libel3 against Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry. Wilde lost this case
and was later sentenced to two years´ imprisonment for acts of gross indecency . He was
released from prison in 1897 at the age of 43 and went into an immediate self-imposed5 exile on
the continent. He died in Paris in ignominy in 1900.
The novel starts with describing a scene in the studio of the painter Basil Hallward, who has a chat
with his old Oxford friend Lord Henry Wotton. They talk about a young man Basil met some time
ago and whose name is Dorian Gray, Basil describes this young man's extraordinary personal
beauty which he is absolutely fascinated of. At present he works at a life size portrait of Dorian
Gray which is almost finished.
The same day some hours later this young man comes to Basil's studio to sit for his portrait, so he
gets to know Lord Henry whom he quickly makes friends with. Lord Henry is at least as fascinated
by him as Basil, but Dorian seems to be absolutely unconscious about his good looks and other
gifts. Unlike Basil, who worships Dorian just the way he met him the first time, Lord Henry wants
him to develop his own personality and especially to be aware of himself and his abilities. While
Dorian sits for his portrait they talk a lot about youth and beauty, and these discussions with Lord
Henry manage to wake up Dorians interest in himself. Yet he had not recognised what a life he
could live, Lord Henry had shown him how to enjoy his life and how to experience the gifts it was
about to give him.
After his portrait is completed Dorian perceives his own beauty and charisma for the fist time with
real consciousness. The picture turned out very well, so he almost becomes proud of his good
fellowship = (auch) Stipendium
periodicals = Zeitschriften
libel = Verleumdung, Beleidigung, Nachrede
indecency = Unanständigkeit, Anstößigkeit
self-imposed = "selbstauferlegt"
ignominy = Schmach, Schande, Schändlichkeit
looks, which he would not have realised the day before. But at the same time he starts to envy this
wonderful masterpiece of Basil, because now he knew what he would loose when growing old.
The picture would always posses his charming and handsome appearance. In this situation he
utters the wish
"If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old ... I would give my
soul for that"
In this moment he never thought that this wish would ever come true.
Some weeks later Dorian falls in love with an actress. For he is engaged to be married to her he
one evening invites his two friends Basil Hallward and Lord Henry to come with him to one of her
appearances. But this very day Sibyl Vane acts very bad, she plays the part of Juliet so insensitive
that Dorian becomes really puzzled and anxious. He gets so angry that after the play they have a
quarrel in which Dorian tells her in a insulting way he never wants to see her again. This causes
the suicide Sibyl Vane commits some hours later.
Since this incident Basil's portrait of him seems different, but the changes are not really visible, so
Dorian does not take any interest in the alteration of his portrait. Nevertheless, by the time he
notices that his wish becomes reality, he does not grow old but the picture gets wrinkled and old.
But those changes do not only show the real age of Dorian Gray, the picture presents some kind
of an evil touch in Dorians face. So the portrait has become a mirror of the whole personality of
Dorian Gray. He even refuses Basil to have a look at the picture and because he does not want
anyone to get sight of his portrait, he locks it away into an unoccupied room.
By the time this picture becomes more and more dreadful . Sometimes when he looks at the
picture he thinks of the obvious ruin he has brought to his soul, but then he wants to know how
horrible he can make the picture. He gloats that he can make whatever he wants and would never
grow old and the picture has to bear the burden of his spoilt personality and his age. Although
there gradually arise rumours and bad stories about Dorian Gray's lifestyle nobody can believe
one of this stories when he sees him and his almost innocent face. Basil Hallward also approaches
him9 on this topic, so Dorian shows him the picture. Basil is really confused and ruined when he
looks at the evil and horrible face, that is sure to be his own work. For he is a honourable and
religious man he starts to inquire why Dorian's let his soul become so wicked, but this causes a
sudden hate Dorian feels against his former friend Basil, so he murders him by stabbing a knife
into Basil's neck. He blackmails10 another former friend who knows a lot about chemistry to make
Basil's dead body disappear. But Dorian becomes more and more desperate, he even tries to take
opium and has to escape an attempted murder of the brother of Sibyl Vane. One day he decides
to destroy his portrait which he pins the blame on for11 all his troubles. So he stabs the picture with
the same knife he murdered Basil Hallward, but as soon as he cuts the linen of the painting he kills
himself. When the butler one day enters this room searching for his master he finds a dreadful and
evil looking old man lying on the ground in front of an outstanding portrait of the young Dorian
Often Dorian Gray himself might be accused of his irresponsible dealing with the degeneracy of
his character. And sure he could have had an influence upon the altering of his personality, but I
dreadful = scheußlich, widerlich
gloat = sich (diebisch) freuen, weiden an
to approach sb. on sth. = jemanden auf eine Sache ansprechen
blackmail = erpressen
to pin the blame on sth./sb. for sth. = "jemandem die Schuld zuschieben"
do not think Dorian is really such a bad person that does not care about his own character. I think
he only seems to be so evil because he is the victim of a unlucky development of his situation.
First of all Lord Henry Wotton woke up his sense for beauty and abilities to experience his life.
Only because he had been discussing with Lord Henry for a few hours he could value his own
beauty and furthermore utter this Faust-like wish. When this wish turned out to become reality, he
realised the chances he only had to seize, so he lead a satisfying life of sensual pleasure. Oscar
Wilde does not mention his criminal acts distinctly, sometimes he mentions he associates with
dubious people. When Basil Hallward accuses him of having behaved very immoral, he murders
him in a sudden affection and this murder paves the way for the following misbehaviour. I only
wanted to say that this had not had to be Dorians destiny, if Lord Henry had not influenced Dorian
with his philosophical nature. I guess him to be the real reason of Dorians development.