Oscar Wilde "The picture of Dorian Gray"
Oscar Wilde "The picture of Dorian Gray"
LINGUISTIC UNIVERSITY AFTER V. BRUSOV
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30
November 1900) was an Irish
playwright, poet and author of numerous short stories and one
novel. Known for his biting wit, he became one of the most successful
playwrights of the late Victorian
era in London, and one of the greatest «celebrities» of his day.
Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest. As the result of a widely
covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned
for two years' hard labour
after being convicted of homosexual
relationships, described as «gross indecency» with other men. After Wilde was
released from prison he set sail for Dieppe
by the night ferry, never to return to Ireland or Britain.
Oscar Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin. Oscar Wilde was educated at home
until he was nine. He then attended Portora
Royal School in Enniskillen,
Fermanagh, spending the
summer months with his family in rural Waterford, Wexford and at his father's
family home in Mayo.
Wilde had a disappointing relationship with the prestigious Oxford Union. On
matriculating in 1874, he had applied to join the Union, but failed to be
elected. Nevertheless, when the Union's librarian requested a presentation copy
of Poems (1881), Wilde complied. After a debate called by Oliver Elton, the book was
condemned for alleged plagiarism
and returned to Wilde.
While at Magdalen, Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his
poem Ravenna, which he read at Encaenia;
he failed to win the Chancellor's English Essay Prize with an essay that would
be published posthumously as The Rise of Historical Criticism (1909). In
November 1878, he graduated with a double first in classical moderations and Literae
Humaniores, or «Greats».
At Oxford University, Wilde petitioned a Masonic Lodge and was
later raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason retaining his membership in
the Craft until his death.
Legends persist that his behaviour cost him a dunking in the River Cherwell in addition
to having his rooms trashed, but the cult spread among certain segments of
society to such an extent that languishing attitudes, «too-too» costumes and aestheticism generally
became a recognized pose. Publications such as the Springfield Republican commented on Wilde's behavior during
his visit to Boston in order to give
lectures on aestheticism, suggesting that Wilde's conduct was more of a bid for
notoriety rather than a devotion to beauty and the aesthetic. Wilde's mode of
dress also came under attack by critics such as Higginson, who wrote in his paper Unmanly Manhood, of his
general concern that Wilde's effeminacy would influence the behaviour of men
and women, arguing that his poetry «eclipses masculine ideals under such influence
men would become effeminate dandies». He also scrutinized the links between
Oscar Wilde's writing, personal image and homosexuality, calling his
work and way of life «immoral».
Wilde was deeply impressed by the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater, who argued
for the central importance of art in life. Wilde later commented ironically when he wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray that «All art is quite useless».
orientation has variously been considered bisexual or gay. He had significant
sexual relationships with Frank Miles,
Constance Lloyd (Wilde's
wife), Robbie Ross, and Lord
Alfred Douglas. Wilde also had numerous sexual encounters with young
working-class men, who were often male prostitutes. Wilde
became one of the most prominent personalities of his day. Though he was
sometimes ridiculed for them, his paradoxes
and witty sayings were quoted on all sides.
The picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as
the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890. Wilde later
revised this edition, making several alterations, and adding new chapters; the
amended version was published by Ward, Lock, and Company in
April 1891. The story is often mistitled The Portrait of Dorian Gray.
The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a
painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and
becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode
in his art. Talking in Basil's garden, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend
of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry
suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of
the senses. Realising that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian cries out,
expressing his desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted
would age rather than himself. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, plunging him into
debauched acts. The portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has
upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form,
or through a sign of aging. The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered a work of
horror fiction with a strong Faustian theme.
The novel begins with Lord Henry Wotton, observing the artist
Basil Hallward painting the portrait of a handsome young man named Dorian Gray.
Dorian arrives later, meeting Wotton. After hearing Lord Henry's world view,
Dorian begins to think beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life, the only
thing left to pursue. He wishes that the portrait of himself which Basil is
painting would grow old in his place. Under the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian
begins to explore his senses. He discovers an actress, Sibyl Vane, who performs
Shakespeare in a dingy
theatre. Dorian approaches her and soon proposes marriage. Sibyl, who refers to
him as «Prince Charming,» rushes home to tell her skeptical mother and brother.
Her protective brother, James, tells her that if «Prince Charming» harms her,
he will kill him.
Dorian invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet. Sibyl,
whose only knowledge of love was love of theatre, loses her acting abilities
through the experience of true love with Dorian. Dorian rejects her, saying her
beauty was in her art, and he is no longer interested in her if she can no
longer act. When he returns home he notices that Basil's portrait of him has
changed. Dorian realizes his wish has come true – the portrait now bears a
subtle sneer and will age with each sin he commits, whilst his own appearance
remains unchanged. He decides to reconcile with Sibyl, but Lord Henry arrives
in the morning to say Sibyl has killed herself by swallowing prussic acid. With the
persuasion and encouragement of Lord Henry, Dorian realizes that lust and looks
are where his life is headed and he needs nothing else. That marked the end of
Dorian's last and only true love affair. Over the next 18 years, Dorian
experiments with every vice, mostly under the influence of a «poisonous» French
novel, a present from Lord Henry. Wilde never reveals the title but his
inspiration was possibly drawn from Joris-Karl
rebours (Against Nature) due to the likenesses that exist between
the two novels.
One night, before he leaves for Paris, Basil arrives to question
Dorian about rumours of his indulgences. Dorian does not deny his debauchery.
He takes Basil to the portrait, which is as hideous as Dorian's sins. In anger,
Dorian blames the artist for his fate and stabs Basil to death. He then
blackmails an old friend named Alan Campbell, who is a chemist, into destroying
Basil's body. Wishing to escape his crime, Dorian travels to an opium den. James Vane is
nearby and hears someone refer to Dorian as «Prince Charming.» He follows
Dorian outside and attempts to shoot him, but he is deceived when Dorian asks
James to look at him in the light, saying he is too young to have been involved
with Sibyl 18 years earlier. James releases Dorian but is approached by a woman
from the opium den who chastises him for not killing Dorian and tells him Dorian
has not aged for 18 years.
While at dinner, Dorian sees Sibyl Vane's brother stalking the
grounds and fears for his life. However, during a game-shooting party a few
days later, a lurking James is accidentally shot and killed by one of the
hunters. After returning to London, Dorian informs Lord Henry that he will be
good from now on, and has started by not breaking the heart of his latest
innocent conquest, a vicar's daughter in a country town, named Hetty Merton. At
his apartment, Dorian wonders if the portrait has begun to change back, losing
its senile, sinful appearance, now he has changed his immoral ways. He unveils
the portrait to find it has become worse. Seeing this, he questions the motives
behind his «mercy,» whether it was merely vanity, curiosity, or the quest for
new emotional excess. Deciding that only full confession will absolve him, but lacking
feelings of guilt and fearing the consequences, he decides to destroy the last
vestige of his conscience. In a rage, he picks up the knife that killed Basil
Hallward and plunges it into the painting. His servants hear a cry from inside
the locked room and send for the police. They find Dorian's body, stabbed in
the heart and suddenly aged, withered and horrible. It is only through the
rings on his hand that the corpse can be identified. Beside him, however, the
portrait has reverted to its original form.
In a letter, Wilde said the main characters are reflections of
himself: «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».
The main characters are:
Dorian Gray – a handsome young man who becomes enthralled
with Lord Henry's idea of a new hedonism.
He begins to indulge in every kind of pleasure, moral and immoral.
Basil Hallward – an artist who becomes infatuated with Dorian's
beauty. Dorian helps Basil to realise his artistic potential, as Basil's portrait of
Dorian proves to be his finest work.
Lord Henry «Harry» Wotton – a nobleman who is a friend to
Basil initially, but later becomes more intrigued with Dorian's beauty and
naivete. Extremely witty, Lord Henry is seen as a critique of Victorian culture at the end of the century,
espousing a view of indulgent hedonism.
He conveys to Dorian his world view, and Dorian becomes corrupted as he
attempts to emulate him.
The other characters are:
Sibyl Vane – An exceptionally talented and beautiful
(though extremely poor) actress with whom Dorian falls in love. Her love for
Dorian destroys her acting ability, as she no longer finds pleasure in
portraying fictional love when she is experiencing love in reality.
James Vane – Sibyl's brother who is to become a sailor and leave for Australia. He is extremely
protective of his sister, especially as his mother is useless and concerned
only with Dorian's money. He is hesitant to leave his sister, believing Dorian
will harm her and promises to be vengeful if any harm should come to her.
Alan Campbell – a chemist and once a good friend of Dorian; he
ended their friendship when Dorian's reputation began to come into question.
Lord Fermor – Lord Henry's uncle. He informs Lord Henry
about Dorian's lineage.
Victoria, Lady Henry Wotton – Lord Henry's wife, who
only appears once in the novel while Dorian waits for Lord Henry; she later
divorces Lord Henry in exchange for a pianist.
In his preface, Wilde writes about Caliban,
a character from Shakespeare's play The
Tempest. When Dorian is telling Lord Henry Wotton about his new
'love', Sibyl Vane, he refers to all of the Shakespearean plays she has been
in, referring to her as the heroine of each play. At a later time, he speaks of
his life by quoting Hamlet, who has similarly
driven his girlfriend to suicide and her brother to swear revenge.
The Picture of Dorian Gray began as a short novel
submitted to Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. In 1889, J.M. Stoddart, a
proprietor for Lippincott, was in London to solicit short novels for the
magazine. Wilde submitted the first version of The Picture of Dorian Gray,
which was published on 20 June 1890 in the July edition of Lippincott's. There
was a delay in getting Wilde's work to press while numerous changes were made
to the novel. Some of these changes were made at Wilde's instigation, and some
at Stoddart's. Wilde removed all references to the fictitious book «Le Secret
de Raoul», and to its fictitious author, Catulle Sarrazin. The book and its
author are still referred to in the published versions of the novel, but are
Wilde also attempted to moderate some of the more homoerotic instances in the
book or instances whereby the intentions of the characters may be misconstrued.
In the 1890 edition, Basil tells Henry how he «worships» Dorian, and begs him
not to «take away the one person that makes my life absolutely lovely to me.» The
focus for Basil in the 1890 edition seems to be more towards love, whereas the
Basil of the 1891 edition cares more for his art, saying «the one person who
gives my art whatever charm it may possess: my life as an artist depends on
him.» The book was also extended greatly: the original thirteen chapters became
twenty, and the final chapter was divided into two new chapters. The additions
involved the «fleshing out of Dorian as a character» and also provided details
about his ancestry, which helped to make his «psychological collapse more
prolonged and more convincing.» The character of James Vane was also
introduced, which helped to elaborate upon Sibyl Vane's character and
background; the addition of the character helped to emphasise and foreshadow
Dorian's selfish ways, as James sees through Dorian's character, and guesses
upon his future dishonourable actions. Another notable change is that in the
latter half of the novel events were specified as taking place around Dorian
Gray's 32nd birthday, on 7 November. After the changes, they were specified as
taking place around Dorian Gray's 38th birthday, on 9 November, thereby
extending the period of time over which the story occurs. The former date is
also significant in that it coincides with the year in Wilde's life during
which he was introduced to homosexual practices.
The preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray was added, along
with other amendments, after the edition published in Lippincott's was criticised. Wilde used it to address the
criticism and defend the novel's reputation. It consists of a collection of
statements about the role of the artist, art itself, the value of beauty, and
serves as an indicator of the way in which Wilde intends the novel to be read,
as well as traces of Wilde's exposure to Daoism and the writings of the Chinese
Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi.
Shortly before writing the preface, Wilde reviewed Herbert A. Giles's
translation of the writings of Zhuangzi. In it he writes:
honest ratepayer and his healthy family have no doubt often mocked at the
dome-like forehead of the philosopher, and laughed over the strange perspective
of the landscape that lies beneath him. If they really knew who he was, they
would tremble. For Chuang Tsǔ spent his life in preaching the great creed
of Inaction, and in pointing out the uselessness of all things.