During the 19th century, the critical reception of The Picture of Dorian Gray was not acclaimed to the height that it is today. The book critic of The Irish Times said it was “first published to some scandal.” This book review described it as a “certain notoriety for being ‘mawkish and nauseous’, ‘unclean’, ‘effeminate’ and ‘contaminating’.” Homoeroticism can be described as a phenomena where one obtains sexual attractions to those of the same sex. Wilde’s twist on this theme is in his use of the magical contrivance of the portrait. When first published in July of 1880, the novel was edited and many passages were taken out by the British magazine, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. During the 1880’s, the subject matter of the book was not acceptable to society’s standards. At the time, only men and women married and even the thought of the same sex marrying was detestable. Not only was this behavior frowned upon, but it was illegal and could get you arrested. Because of this, most homosexuals kept quiet and hid their true feelings. Being that Oscar Wilde is assumed to be one of these men that hid their feelings, expressing himself through writing may have been his only resort to making him feel better. Through creating the two characters, Basil and Dorian, he was able to alleviate some of his homosexual feelings.
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During the period of the Victorian Era, Victorians believed that art could be used as a tool for social education and moral enlightenment. The Picture of Dorian Gray,by Oscar Wilde is a novel first published complete in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly magazine. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, utilizes epigrams and motifs to develop a theme of art. Throughout literature an author may develop a theme about art utilizing forms of epigrams that describe the purpose of art, and motifs pertaining to attributions of art and artist. These literary devices create a theme about art by describing the concept of the artist and art as a theme which can be illustrated as a transfiguration where the artist leaves a piece of his soul in his work.
An exploration of Wilde’s ideas about art and art’s relation to culture suggests that Wilde’s aesthetic touches depths for which both aestheticism and Wilde are often not given credit. To be sure, several critics have observed a pronounced moral dimension in many of Wilde’s works: Holbrook Jackson, Edouard Roditi, George Woodcock, and Epifanio San Juan cite this dimension; Philip K. Cohen traces the “themes” of sin and salvation in Wilde’s canon and studies “moral conflicts” as they develop throughout Wilde’s career. Cohen has effectively enlarged upon Woodcock’s thesis by examining paradoxes in Wilde throughout the artist’s career, as Wilde is both attracted to and repelled by a life-style and an aesthetic that continue, in one way or another, to be against the Victorian grain. I have attempted to give some definition to Wilde’s moral nature using his fairy tales as a touchstone. But since the appearance of two excellent collections of Wilde’s criticism edited by Stanley Weintraub and Richard Ellmann, very little has been done to make sense of Wilde’s aesthetic posture and its moral vibrations. A closer look at Wilde’s criticism demonstrates that the function of art and of art criticism in Wilde’s view enjoys an important position in the history of aesthetic humanism, a position which is arguably, despite Wilde’s flippancy and intellectual carelessness, moral. The implications of Wilde’s aesthetic differ from Ruskin’s and Arnold’s, but the difference is not adequately reduced to distinctions regarding what is moral and what is not. To pursue this point I propose to look at some of Wilde’s major critical utterances, beginning with the famous preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). The preface must be addressed because it is so well entrenched in people’s minds and because it raises important questions about art and morality.
Cohen has effectively enlarged upon Woodcock’s thesis by examining paradoxes in Wilde throughout the artist’s career. But since the appearance of two excellent collections of Wilde’s criticism edited by Stanley Weintraub and Richard Ellmann, not much has been accomplished to make sense of Wilde’s aesthetic posture and its moral vibrations. The implications of Wilde’s aesthetic differ from Ruskin’s and Arnold’s, but the difference is not adequately reduced to distinctions regarding what is moral and what is not. To pursue this point one can propose to look at some of Wilde’s major critical utterances, beginning with the famous preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. The preface must be addressed because it is so well entrenched in people’s minds and because it raises important questions about art and morality.
”You have spoiled the romance of my life. How little you can know of love, if you say it mars your art! Without your art, you are nothing. I would have made you famous, splendid, magnificent. The world would have worshipped you, and you would have borne my name. What are you now? A third-rate actress with a pretty face.” (Wilde, 63). This quote displays that when Sibyl loses her artistic ability due to Dorian’s love, she then loses Dorian. This makes it immediately clear that Dorian loved her in part because of her art. Take away that art, as Dorian did, and the reason for Dorian to love Sibyl disappears. When Sibyl Vane dies, he urges Dorian to think of her death as “a strange lurid fragment from some Jacobean tragedy.” Art, then, consoles in this novel just as it reshapes reality, which is a way in which Wilde chooses to illustrate the theme of art in this stage of the novel.
The author of the book- Oscar Wilde- was openly homosexual at the time of publication and some say this can be reflected in his writing; the critiques especially noticed this influence and deemed the book “vulgar” and “unclean”. To this, Wilde responded with –essentially- “those who appreciate art can disregard their morals to appreciate this book as an art form”. From this, and my interpretation of the book it can be understood that “The picture of Dorian Gray” is hardly about homosexuality, but rather focuses on many themes ranging from friendship, love, art and corruption, but most prominently youth and the quest for eternal beauty. These themes can still be relevant in today’s generation despite the idea that can be heard amongst the younger generations that classic literature is “out dated”
Although it’s true our generation doesn’t share the same social constructs as the older eras in which these novels were written, the constant pressure to remain youthful looking
and attractive from the media showing that the themes and morals from Dorian Gray don’t seem to differ much from the priorities of those in our society. With the selfie trend being a large influence in today’s youth, the photos of themselves are of course relating to the painting of Dorian Gray. The obsession that the selfies need to be perfect and capture the youthfulness of the taker- just as the painting does of Dorian- displays that the vain desire to appear youthful is just as prominent now as it was in the Victorian gothic era when the novel takes place.
Oscar Wilde created an olden day horror with “the picture of Dorian Gray” as the story takes a turn of eeriness, using the obsession with appearance to corrupt the main character, Dorian Gray. The young man enters the novel as an innocent young man until he is befriended by two other men, one of which is a painter who is captivated by Dorian and insists on painting him. The other man is the painter’s friend who can be interpreted as vain and somewhat moral less, this man-named Lord Henry- influences much of Dorians personality to the point where he views youth and beauty as one of the most important things and disregards his own morals. The corruption of the innocence inside Dorian, as you slowly watch him descend into a sinister and much older man who has become more obsessed with appearance rather then being a good person, can reflect much on the present time. People are becoming more and more infatuated with staying youthful as they begin to age. Spending your weekly pay on “miracle youth regenerating” crèmes to keep up appearances and up with the times has almost become expected of anyone who is showing signs of aging; the media is constantly advertising youthful men and women using the anti-aging products and creating the expectation in society to remain looking youthful. The painting of Dorian Gray comes into play as a symbol of Dorian’s aging and his sins. He wishes for the painting to bare his aging whilst he remains youthful however the painting only changes after his first act of immorality.
The story can relate much to the media’s influence as we too often become self-obsessed and vain, only caring about our appearance rather than the quality of our personalities and how we treat others. Lord Henry can be seen as the media in the 21st century; constantly influencing us to be more appealing to the eye rather than bettering our lives and the lives of those around us. Spending hours in the morning snapping shots of ourselves at obscure angles trying to find that perfect lighting, followed by filter after filter until finally we find the perfect combination and await the buzz of our phones to indicate we have received a like; meanwhile our dates that morning are waiting on a message to say we are going to be running a little late. It is ideals like this which Wilde portrayed in his novel to expose the dangers of self-obsession. Although this doesn’t mean that taking selfies makes you a horrible person and you’re not going to go out committing sins just for being a little bit vain, Wilde’s message is simply saying that appearance is not the most important thing in life and falls well under love and friendship.
Despite the moral lessons this novel is an excellent source of entertainment. It displays many of Wilde’s well known writing traits such as his classic one liners which leave you pondering their meanings for hours after you’ve put the book down. If you’re thinking that classic literature has passed its time because of the complicated language and outdated phrasing or ideologies then “The picture of Dorian Gray” will not disappoint. Of course there are some phrases that may cause you to reach for your phone to google what they mean but for the most part the book is written well enough for anyone to understand. Which is why the novel is excellent for teenagers and young adults to entertain and simultaneously expand their vocabulary. To give you a taste of some of the sentences this literary genius has constructed here a just a few of my favourites from “the Picture of Dorian Gray”:
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”
In conclusion, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is a perfect example of a classic literature novel, I’m more than certain the qualities and overall moral will endure time and still be relevant in the future. Hopefully people will begin to learn from it
● “The Psychopathology of Everyday Narcissism: Oscar Wilde’s Picture.” Labyrinths of Deceit: Culture, Modernity and Identity in the Nineteenth Century, by Richard J. Walker, 1st ed., vol. 44, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2007, pp. 91–116. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vjbnd.8.
● GLICKSBERG, CHARLES I. “Psychoanalytic Aesthetics.” Prairie Schooner, vol. 29, no. 1, 1955, pp. 13–23. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40624720.
● “Boston University Arts & Sciences Writing Program.” Writing Program The Conflict Between Aestheticism and Morality in Oscar Wildes The Picture of Dorian Gray Comments, www.bu.edu/writingprogram/journal/past-issues/issue-1/duggan/.
● Quintus, John Allen. “The Moral Implications of Oscar Wilde’s Aestheticism.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 22, no. 4, 1980, pp. 559–574. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40754628.
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