‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is about Dorian Gray. He is a beautiful yet evil man. A portrait painted by Basil Hallward becomes the bearer of the signs of ageing and sins. Dorian is influenced by Lord Henry. The portrait will eventually cause his downfall.
Gray’ in 1890. An edition was published in 1890 and the following year, 1891, Wilde added 6 chapters and a preface to handle the criticism the book received. In that year Wilde, who was married, also started an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ was Wilde’s only published novel, but Wilde had already written multiple plays, poetry and he would continue to write poetry.1
After reading the book, I was curious to see how much of Wilde himself was to be found within the characters. I was curious because I found the characters interesting. The themes surrounding art and society among other things caught my interest too. I wanted to see if Wilde’s views were directly translated into the story.
Wilde in the characters
Wilde himself is in a way related to all the characters in the book. Dorian Gray becomes more homosexual throughout the book.2 Wilde himself was married, but he was also homosexual. Though, I think this can already be seen earlier in the book when Dorian stands in front of his portrait. He admires it and feels like this admiration is new and it feels like a revelation.
Wilde is not only to be seen in Dorian, but also in Henry Wotton and Basil Hallward. Henry Wotton is a friend of the painter Basil Hallward. Lord Henry plays a vital role as his philosophy, collecting experiences that stimulate the senses without regard for conventional morality, is a great influence on Dorian1. Basil Hallward is a painter who admires Dorian, he paints the beautiful portrait of Dorian. Lord Henry is as Wilde himself said ‘what the world thinks of him’.1 Basil is also a part of Wilde, he is who ‘Wilde himself thinks he is’. Wilde has split himself up in various characters in the book and thus has written conflicts in from his life down in a book.2
An important theme in the book is art. At the centre of the book is the portrait of Dorian Gray that is influenced by age and sins. What is important about this portrait though, is what it reveals about the artist. Basil Hallward states in the book, that the portrait reveals “too much about himself” with which he refers to his admiration for Dorian. This shows that the portrait is too close to Basil.
Oscar Wilde was a member of the Aesthetic movement, a movement that said art should exist for its own sake.4 This view comes forward multiple times in the book. I think it also can be found in Basil refusing to exhibit the painting because it reveals too much of the painter himself and the portrait doesn’t exist for its own sake.
The book nowadays is described as “as controversial and alluring as Wilde himself”. Wilde has led a turbulent life and his view upon things come through in this book. What Wilde also did with this book, was challenge the English society in the Victorian time. In the ‘Introduction to the First Penguin Classics Edition by Peter Ackroyd’, Ackroyd writes that English readers were not used to this view on the society and that Wilde ‘put a mirror up to his oppressors’ and the society was not used to this. There were also positive comments on the book though. Ackroyd tells that the ones who didn’t agree with the Victorian ethic thought of the book fascinating. Wilde himself thought of the book as a classic.5
‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is a fascinating book. The characters in it each represent a part of Wilde. Wilde’s own views on art and other subjects are visible in the book in different ways. It can be said that Wilde definitely put a lot of himself in the book. I loved reading the novel and I hope you will read and enjoy it too.
Comment to let me know what you think of the book and of this article!