The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I want to be good. I can’t bear the idea of my soul being hideous.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a Gothic novel by Oscar Wilde which was originally published in 1890. This book was widely condemned for its speculative treatment of immoral subjects. This book projects a horrible vision of power and frailty of human self-delusion. Aestheticism, hedonism, immorality of purely aesthetic lives and the values of art runs wild in the novel. There is explicit proclamation of the uselessness of living live in accordance with aesthetic values. Dark desires and forbidden pleasures hovering around art and morality acts as the base to the story. The terrible pleasure of double life is eminent in the character of Dorian Gray. Lord Henry comes of as a terrible influence for Dorian Gray where he sets a particular standard of dandy-ism for Dorian. Dorian is unable to live up to Lord Henry’s ideals due to his inability to escape his conscience as depicted in the portrait ⁠—a portrait of Dorian created by his painter friend Basil Hallward. The portrait of Dorian Gray becomes the best masterpiece of Basil. Dorian challenges himself to outlive his own portrait and wishes to remain youthful forever. But beauty and vanity is such that, they poison the mind. Hence unable to cope up with his power and influence and his decadence lifestyle, Dorian destroyed himself. By attempting to destroy the painting, and thus free himself from the constant reminder of his own guilt he, ultimately, manages only to destroy himself.  Dorian Gray personifies the aesthetic lifestyle in action, pursuing personal gratification with abandon. Yet, while he enjoys these indulgences, his behaviour ultimately kills him and others, and he dies unhappier than ever. Rather than an advocate for pure aestheticism, then, Dorian Gray is a cautionary tale in which Wilde illustrates the dangers of the aesthetic philosophy when not practiced with prudence.

‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all’.

Set in the Victorian Age, The Picture of Dorian Gray centers on Dorian Gray, a beautiful yet vulnerable young man who has recently inherited a fortune. He arrives in London and meets Basil Howard, a painter who becomes fixated on capturing the beauty of Dorian Gray through painting. The painting of Dorian Gray becomes the masterpiece of Basil Hallward. One afternoon, in his elaborated country home, Basil and his sardonic friend Lord Henry are talking about Basil’s masterpiece— The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian Gray is absolutely the most beautiful man Basil has ever seen. Lord Henry insist that he meets this mystery man but Basil is hesitant to introduce Dorian to Lord Henry as he fears that Lord Henry would corrupt Dorian.

because to influence a person is to give one’s own soul

One day Lord Henry finds Basil and Dorian in Basil’s home. Lord Henry introduces himself and Dorian, being incredibly impressionable is easily influenced by the Lord Henry’s cynical views of the world, especially about youth and beauty. After all the talk between the two of them, Dorian’s views seem to parallel Lord Henry’s views about the only thing important in life are pleasure and youthfulness. Lord Henry is completely transfixed on pleasure seeking and practises it or mocking those who attempt to alleviate human suffering. Lord Henry is a twisted person. He tells Dorian to enjoy his youth and seek out all the pleasures that he can. Lord Henry remarks to Dorian that although he is beautiful now it’ll all fade through time. When Basil finishes his portrait of Dorian, it immediately began to serve as a reminder ot Dorian that even though the paiting of Dorian will remain beautiful, he himself will grow old and lose his youthful beauty. Having been influenced by Lord Henry, Dorian makes a wish that he would remain young and the painting would carry the weight of time for him. However Basil’s view is the opposite of Lord Henry. Basil embraces the outlook that beauty is so breathtking because it doesn’t lasts. It’s not something to cling to.

An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them.”

Dorian meets Sibyl Vane and develops an obsession with her. Due to his new found love Dorian rejects Lord Henry’s philosophy of hedonism and pleasure seeking. Sibyl is an actress who does Shakespeare plays at the local theatre. After the two of them meets and fall in love, she becomes a terrible actor because she’s in love. Because of her real love for Dorian she decides to quit acting. Dorian promptly rejects her believing that he has not fallen in love with her but with her acting. Dorian abandones Sibyl Vane, who shortly after kills herself. Dorian denies that it’s his fault at all that Sibyl killed herself even though no one was prosecuting him.

The sadistic Lord Henry twists the meaning of Sibyl’s death. He convinces Dorian to view her suicide as an artistic expression of love and not to be sad about it. To cheer up Dorian, Lord Henry suggests that Dorian reads a certain yellow book which reaffirms Dorian’s new lifestyle of sensual pleasures. The yellow book is about a young Parisian who spends his life seeking out pleasure. He begins to indulge himself in pleasures like drugs, sex and alcohol. At this Dorian figures out that his wish has come true. His portrait has changed to reveal the darkness inside of him and his body has remain beautiful and youthful. The painting becomes more grotesque with every sin that Dorian commits which motivates him to hide the painting. All this time, the only person who knows about the change in the painting is Dorian because he keeps it locked up in an old closet in his home. As he continues to see the painting age, he became worried about someone breaking in and stealing his painting. As he has been living his scandalous lifestyle, he has acquired a lot of enemies who would like to expose Dorian, if only they knew the truth. Dorian’s adult life is filled evil indulgences and pleasures that ruined his soul, and also his portrait. The painting has turned into a hideous looking thing with barely any resemblance of Dorian himself.

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

Years have passed when Basil sees Dorian on the street. Basil tries to bring him back to the proverbial lifestyle. He begs Dorian to use his power and influence for good as opposed to the evil he’s been using it for. Dorian leads Basil to the room where he keeps his portrait locked up. Shocked, Basil sees the disgusting and festering version of Dorian in the painting. Stricken with rage from the painting Dorian murders Basil and asks help from his scientist friend Alan Campbell in disposing off the body.

I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me … Every moment that passes takes something from me and gives something to it. Oh, if it were only the other way! If the picture could change, and I could be always what I am now!

Dorian attends a party which he finds rather boring. He decides to go to an opium den where he encounters a man who tried to kill him. The man is James Vane, the brother of Sibyl Vane. He is seeking revenge upon Dorian for his sister’s death. However, Dorian tricks James into believing that he is not Dorian as he has the face of a twenty year old, and roughly eighteen years have passed since Dorian and Sibyl’s relationship. But later James learns from a lady in the opium den that it was infact Dorian and that he simply doesn’t age. 

For the second time, James tried to kill Dorian. This time it’s in a party in Dorian’s country house. But unfortunately James got killed by accident and Dorian is relieved. Dorian encounters Lord Henry and reveals that he had killed Basil. Dorian wonders if he can be changed. Dorian returns back to check his painting but it is even worse. Now it has grown into the look of a hypocrite. Frustrated, he stabs the heart of the painting. Dorian Gray becomes the grotesque and festering man from the painting. While the painting reverts to its original beauty. Dorian Gray lies death on the floor with a sword in his heart.

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