In July 1890, Lippincott's Monthly Magazine a censored version of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" written by Oscar Wilde appeared. Even edited, the story stirred up such a moral outrage that many reviewers wanted him persecuted. In 1891 Wilde released a longer version in book form with a preface defending the book. In it he defended art for art's sake. About the characters in the book, Wilde said that, although people thought he was more like Lord Henry, he actually was more like Basil Hallward.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray", the only novel written by Wilde, is the story of a beautiful, shallow young man who is afraid to lose his youth and beauty. He lives in a society that measures people harshly by their attraction, and he wants to retain his power. He has two main influences in his life, the good angel on one shoulder in the form of Basil Hallward, the artist, and the evil devil on the other shoulder, in the form of Lord Henry Wotten. Basil paints a portrait of Dorian that seems to capture his soul, so when Dorian makes a wish that his portrait will age and not himself, the devil takes heed.
As Dorian follows a completely hedonistic lifestyle, his portrait shows the ravages, but he does not. He continues to destroy lives, until he commits the ultimate sin, and kills his friend, Basil. After that his crash is inevitable. Fearing discovery, Dorian tries to destroy the painting, only to destroy himself.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" opens with two prefaces. One preface is by the artist, Basil Hallward, who painted the portrait of a young man, and the other is by Oscar Wilde, the author of the story. Hallward tells the story of the day a beautiful young man came into his studio to have his portrait done. At that time, Wilde was visiting and remarked that it was too bad the boy would have to grow old, and lose his looks. The artist speculated, off handily, that it was too bad the boy couldn't remain young and let the painting age, instead. He continues that Oscar became thoughtful and soon left. Then, about a year later, a copy of the book falls into his hands. Oscar Wilde's preface is a philosophical discussion on art, that ends in, "All art is quite useless."
The first chapter opens in the studio of the artist, Basil Hallward. He and the reprobate, Lord Henry Wotten, are admiring Basil's newest painting. It's a picture of an extraordinarily beautiful young man. Blond hair, blue eyes, radiating goodness and merriment. Lord Henry is badgering him to put the painting on display, but, Basil refuses. He says he can't put it on exhibit because it portrays a "curious artistic idolatry" that he feels for Dorian, the boy in the painting. It seems that Basil met Dorian Gray at a party, and for some reason, it terrified him. He knew at their first meeting, that his life was on the verge of some terrible change. But, never the less, or maybe because of his fear, he became obsessed with Dorian and wanted to paint him. To capture his beauty on canvas. Now, he sees Dorian every day and says that the boy is his sole inspiration.
Lord Henry recognizes the name. Lady Agatha, his aunt told him that Dorian Gray had agreed to help her on a charity project in the East End. She said he had a "beautiful nature". Basil does not want Lord Henry to meet Dorian. He feels, and rightly so, that Lord Henry would be a bad influence on the young man. But, as he is saying this to Lord Henry, the butler announce the arrival of Dorian. After Basil reluctantly introduces Dorian to Lord Henry, he settles in to work on the painting. While painting, Basil takes the time to warn Dorian about the immorality of Lord Henry. But, instead of being warned away by his caution, Dorian is intrigued by Lord Henry and asks him to stay and talk to him while Basil paints.
Lord Henry is very interested in Dorian, and while Basil adds finishing touches to the painting that the model is not needed for, he asks Dorian to take a stroll in the garden. As the two men are walking, Lord Henry is dropping his own philosophies on the young man. He warns Dorian of how quickly youth and beauty fades, and to live life to the fullest while he can. He wants him to always be looking for new sensations, and to leave the common pastimes of men alone. He wants him to explore a more hedonistic path. Basil calls the men back inside, and Dorian models for a bit longer. When the painting is complete, Lord Henry says it's the most beautiful painting he has ever seen, but looking at it saddens Dorian. He has been thinking about what Lord Henry said and he thinks the painting will stay young and he will age. He says he would sell his soul if it could be the other way around and the painting could age while he stays young.
Dorian becomes very distressed and tells Basil that he must love the painting more than he loves his friends because the painting will always be beautiful. Dorian says that when he finds he is growing old, he plans to kill himself because no one would love him. This distresses Basil, and he offers to destroy the painting, but, Dorian changes his mind. He wants to take it after all. But, against the wishes of Basil, he decides to go to the theater with Lord Henry, since he had already promised him earlier he would go with him. After they leave, Basil throws himself down on the sofa, with a look of pain.
The next day, Lord Henry visits his uncle, an agreeable, but kind of "rough-mannered" old man. Lord Henry asks him if he has any gossip on Dorian. Lord Fermor, his uncle, tells Henry that Dorian's story is sad. His mother was disinherited after marrying a penniless soldier. Her father arranged to have the man killed just before Dorian was born. She died shortly thereafter, and Dorian was left with his grandfather, a cruel tyrant. Lord Henry finds the story romantic and wants to spend more time with Dorian. He plans to dominate Dorian and make him feel for him what Basil feels for Dorian.
Lord Henry leaves his uncle and heads down the street to his Aunt Agatha's house. When he arrives he sees that a small group of noblemen and women have gathered to discuss plans for philanthropic work. Among them is Dorian. Henry joins the group for lunch and proceeds to make sarcastic comments about their work. He says, "I can sympathize with everything, except suffering." He goes on to say it is too ugly and distressing. He tells them that instead of focusing on the bleak side of life, focus on the beauties and pleasures of the world. "Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world's original sin. If the caveman had known how to laugh, History would have been different". Instead of being angry at the caustic remarks Henry makes, the group is charmed by his humor. When he starts to leave, Dorian whispers to him to take him along. Henry reminds him that he was supposed to visit Basil, but Dorian leaves with Lord Henry, instead.
A month later, Dorian is waiting to speak to Lord Henry at the man's home. While waiting, Dorian is having a discussion on music with Henry's wife, Victoria. "She tried to look picturesque, but only managed to look untidy." When Dorian repeats one of Lord Henry's witticisms, she notices it and says that she is always hearing things like that from her husband's friends and it is the only way she knows anything about him.
When Lord Henry arrives, Dorian is excited to tell him about his new love. Dorian says that he took Henry's advice to experience life. While walking through a seedy district of London, he was stopped by a theater owner. After going in, Dorian was introduced to Sibyl Vane. She is an actress who plays the heroine in Shakespeare plays. After she meets him, she calls him Prince Charming, because of his beauty. Dorian admonishes Henry for not telling him that actresses were the only women worth loving. Then, since he knows Lord Henry is going to tease him, Dorian wishes he had not told Henry about Sibyl. "You could not have helped to tell me, Dorian. All through your life you will tell me everything you do." They make plans to go the next night and see her performance of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. They also plan to ask Basil to join them. Dorian tells Henry that Basil sent the portrait, framed to him. That night, while getting ready to go out, Lord Henry muses on how much Dorian interests him. Instead of feeling jealousy over Dorian's new love, he thinks it will be fun to watch. Later that evening, when Henry returns home, he is met with a note from Dorian, he and Sibyl are engaged.
Chapter five opens in the Vane household. Sibyl is in love, and dancing on stars. Her mother is more cautious but thinks a man with a lot of money, is a good choice, regardless. James, Sibyl's older brother is not so sure. He is a sailor and is about to ship out to Australia. James begs his mother to keep an eye on Sibyl while he's gone, he doesn't think this match is a good one. So, when James takes his sister for a walk, he wants to discuss her fiance. She won't tell him Dorian's name, only that she calls him Prince Charming, and that she "will love him forever!" James vows that if the man hurts her, he will kill him.After they return home, James confronts his mother on his own father. She tells him that the man was a gentleman, but was married. If he had lived, he would have provided for them, so she and Sibyl would not have to work. James tells his mother to look out for Sibyl so she doesn't meet the same fate.
After they return home, James confronts his mother on his own father. She tells him that the man was a gentleman, but was married. If he had lived, he would have provided for them, so she and Sibyl would not have to work. James tells his mother to look out for Sibyl so she doesn't meet the same fate. Once again, before he leaves on the ship, James vows to kill the "Prince Charming" if he hurts Sibyl. While Basil and Lord Henry are having dinner, Henry tells Basil about Dorian's engagement. He is not pleased and thinks it is not good that Dorian is marrying so far below his station. But, Henry just wants to see how it all plays out. Then Dorian arrives extolling the virtues of Sibyl and the three men leave the theater to watch her latest play.
That night, at the theater, Sybil's acting is terrible. Dorian is disheartened and goes backstage afterward to find out what happened. But, she is thrilled. She tells him that she used to be able to adapt the emotions of the characters she played because she didn't have any of her own. But, now, since she is so happy and in love, she can't fake the emotions of the characters anymore. When Dorian hears this, he realizes that he only loved her because of her acting. So he cruelly ends their relationship.
Later, when Dorian returns home, he notices that the face in his painting has a cruel smirk, and he realizes how shallow and cruel he was. He decides to go to Sibyl the next day and make amends. But, the next morning, while Dorian is studying the change in his portrait and trying to come up with logical explanations, Lord Henry arrives and tells him that Sibyl killed herself during the night. Feeling guilty, Dorian wants to go to the police, but, Lord Henry convinces him that her death was just her final artistic expression, and since she was only the characters she played, she was never actually a real person. Dorian agrees with him about Sibyl and then also about living his days with searching out pleasures while he is still young enough to enjoy them. Especially, since he has determined the painting will show the wear and tear, not his own pretty self. Then the two men leave for the opera.
Basil comes over the next day, and offer his condolences to Dorian, but, is discouraged to find that Dorian is not at all sad. Dorian repeats some of the same things Lord Henry said about her. But, he does ask Basil to do a drawing of her so he can remember her. That brings Basil to ask about the portrait. He starts to remove the covering from it, but, Dorian stops him. Telling him he never wants to see it on display and will be greatly angered at Basil if he ever touches it. Basil still wants to paint Dorian again, but he refuses. After Basil leaves, Dorian has the painting moved upstairs to an old schoolroom that is never used anymore and locks it away. There no one will see the portrait age, "no eye would ever see his shame."
Key in the pocket, Dorian sees the daily newspaper waiting for him with a note from Lord Henry and a book with a yellow cover. The paper has an article about the death of Sibyl, that Dorian tears up, and the book is about a Frenchman who lives a life of debauchery. Dorian sits down to read it, intrigued. Dorian decides to follow the ideas the book gives him. For the next few years, he participates in all the vices he can find at night, and follows all the new fads during the day. He is interested in mysticism, the teachings of Darwin, and antinomianism, the disregard of moral laws. His life is hedonistic. He spends years exploring different senses. When indulging in the sense of smell, he collected various perfumes, when exploring the sense of sound, he collected musical implements from around the world. When he became interested in jewels, he collected vast amounts, once wearing a suit covered in pearls to a costume ball.
On the day before his thirty-eighth birthday, Dorian runs into Basil on the street. He tries to ignore the man, but, when Basil calls to him, he is forced to acknowledge him. Basil tells him that he is leaving on a trip to Paris and wanted to first let Dorian know of the rumors circulating regarding him. Dorian assures him that these rumors can't be true, just look at his beauty. Sins would show on a man's face, so he can't be doing anything wrong. Basil doesn't quite believe him. It is obvious that Dorian is not the same innocent boy as before, he wishes he could look into Dorian's soul. Dorian tells him that if he wants to see his soul, he would be glad to show him.
Dorian takes Basil in to see the portrait. Basil is horrified and asks for an explanation. Dorian explains that on the day he first met Lord Henry and they discussed the transient properties of youth and beauty, he swore his soul to the devil if the painting would age and not he. Basil asks Dorian to destroy the horrid painting and ask forgiveness from God. Dorian becomes enraged and kills Basil.
The next day Dorian contacts his one-time friend, Alan Campbell, a chemist. He asks Alan to dispose of the body upstairs, but Alan refuses, even when Dorian admits that he killed the man. Finally, Alan relents when Dorian blackmails him with a secret that would ruin him (the story hints that the two men were lovers). Dorian goes to check the painting and sees something even worse than before, “What was the loathsome red dew that gleamed, wet and glistening, on one of the hands, as though the canvas had sweated blood?” Dorian throws the cover back over the painting and allows Alan to bring up the equipment needed to dispose of the body.
Later that evening, Dorian goes to dinner at a noblewoman's home. The conversation is inane and the only reason he stays is because Lord Henry is expected. When the man arrives he notices that Dorian is distracted. The hostess assumes he must be in love, but Dorian denies it. Then when Lord Henry begins to ask where Dorian was the night before, he becomes short tempered and leaves. After arriving home, Dorian decides to take some opium with him to an opium den. He dresses in common clothing and grabs a cab to the seedier part of London. Along the way, he recites the mantra he developed from Lord Henry's teachings, “To cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul!” At the opium den, Dorian sees an old acquaintance, a young man whose downfall can be laid at Dorian's feet, Adrian Singleton. He tries to get Adrian to leave with him, but, he refuses. Then a woman comes up to Dorian trying to flirt, and he rebuffs her. She calls him the "devil's bargain," when he tells her not to call him that, she calls him, "Prince Charming."
A sailor standing nearby hears the name, jumps up and chases him out. After following a distracted Dorian, the sailor suddenly grabs him and threatens to kill him. The sailor is James, the brother of Sibyl, and he has promised to kill her errant boyfriend. But, Dorian convinces him that it couldn't be him because his sister died eighteen years ago, and he doesn't look a day over twenty.
After James releases Dorian and returns back to the opium den, the woman tells him that it's been eighteen years since Dorian made her what she is, and she wished James had killed him. She tells him that Dorian sold his soul to the devil to keep his young face. James is furious that the man he had been searching for so long just got away.
A week later, while entertaining guests at his country estate, Dorian thinks he sees the face of James in the window. Feeling fearful, he won't leave the house for a few days, when he finally does, he accompanies his guests for a hunting party. A wayward shot from one of his guests takes down a man unknown to them all. Later, when Dorian checks out the dead man, he sees it is James Vane and thinks he is safe.
A few weeks later, Dorian visits Lord Henry and tells him that he has decided to change his ways. He tells him that he turned away from seducing a young woman, and is, therefore, ready to become more moral. Lord Henry scoffs at that and then wants to discuss the suicide of Alan Campbell and the disappearance of Basil. Dorian asks him what he would say if he admitted to killing someone, but Lord Henry says that Dorian would never do something so vulgar.
Dorian goes home and checks to see if the painting is showing his decision to reform, but the face on the painting just shows a "look of cunning, and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of a hypocrite." Dorian decides that the painting is the only evidence of the crimes and immoral acts he has committed, so he makes up his mind to destroy it. Taking the knife he killed Basil with, Dorian attacks the painting. Downstairs Dorian's servants hear loud cries coming from the room. They rush in and find an old man laying on the floor with the painting of a young and beautiful Dorian ripped by a knife. They manage to identify the old man as Dorian by his jewels.
Dorian Gray - in the beginning of the novel Dorian Gray is a young and beautiful man. He is naive and innocent, but shallow. He is also easily led. Whenever he meets Lord Henry Wotten he begins to be led to a life of debauchery. Lord Henry tells him that he should enjoy his youth, wring all the enjoyment he can while he is young because he will soon lose his beauty. Fearing aging, Dorian makes a deal with the devil to allow the portrait Basil Hallward is painting of him to age instead of himself. But, what he discovers is that not only does it age, it also acquires the ravages of drug use and other immoralities.
Dorian becomes determined to follow a hedonistic lifestyle. The first thing he does is fall in love with an actress, even though, a man of his social standing would never develop a relationship with an actress. Dorian, as his personality shows, takes it a step further and asks her to marry him. But, he is too shallow to actually feel love and ends their engagement when he loses interest in her. He feels no remorse when she kills herself. Nor does he feel remorse for any of the lives he destroys for the next eighteen years. But, when he kills his friend, he starts to feel guilt and decides to destroy the painting, not realizing that it would break the spell and he would die.
Basil Hallward - a talented artist, he is the stabilizing moral character. In the beginning of the novel, Basil is obsessed with Dorian to the point of idolatry. Although Dorian is his favorite model, and he has painted him in various costumes, the last painting is the best. Basil becomes worried that he put too much of his own soul into the art. That his love of Dorian is shown with every stroke of the brush. But, later, when he stops using Dorian as a model, and spends some time away from him, his worshiping wanes. Basil begins to be able to separate the art from himself and says that "art is always more abstract than we fancy. Form and color tell us of form and color - that is all." But, he still worries about Dorian. After he hears rumors of Dorian's hedonistic lifestyle, he goes to speak to him about it. Unfortunately, it is that concern that leads to his death.
Lord Henry Wotten - a quick witted, intelligent, charming aristocrat. His philosophies are hedonistic in nature, although, he doesn't actually follow them. He sends Dorian Gray down the path to his own ruin with a few words and a book. He likes to observe the people around him and laugh at their mistakes with a feeling of superiority. When he gives the impressionable Dorian his platitudes on a life he enjoys watching the young man live them. Every time Dorian does something that hurts another, Lord Henry is the devil on his shoulder, giving him the ideas for destruction and excuses when it happens.
Oscar Wilde Biography
Born Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland. An Irish-born English writer. Wilde was the leader in the aesthetic movement that was based on the principle of art for art's sake.
Educated at the Trinity College in Dublin, Wilde was inundated with the brilliant literary discussions of the time at his mother's Dublin salon. He went on to study at Oxford. There he excelled in the classics, wrote poetry and turned the Bohemian lifestyle from his youth into a new wave. As an aesthete, Wilde wore his hair long and velvet knee britches. He filled his rooms with sunflowers, peacock feathers, and china. He wanted to aspire to the perfection of china. Though ridiculed in periodicals and mocked in the comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, Patience (1891) for his eccentricities, Wilde's brilliance, wit, and flair gathered him a lot of followers.
Wilde was a successful playwright and poet. His poetry was first published in 1881. and led to more successes and lecture tours. He married 1884 to a wealthy Irish woman and had two sons. Wilde then devoted himself to writing exclusively. He wrote some of his most auspicious works during this time, including The Happy Prince, The Picture of Dorian Gray, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest. A great many of his plays are being performed on the stage and screen to this day.
At the peak of his career, in 1895, Oscar Wilde was embroiled in one of the most sensational trials at the court of the century. Oscar had a close friend and suspected lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. Lord Douglas had and abusive father, John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry. He was disgusted by his son's homosexuality and blamed Wilde for his son's depravity. For publicly slandering him, Wilde sued the Marquess. The Marquess retaliated by having Wilde arrested for sodomy. After a long and salacious trial, Oscar Wilde was accused and convicted of sodomy. Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor, and Lord Douglas was forced into exile. Afterward, Wilde was bankrupt and depressed, his writing took a much darker tone. The two reunited after Wilde's release from prison, but didn't stay together. Douglas later took part in several court cases standing against homosexuality.
Oscar Wilde spent the rest of his life in Paris, he wrote under the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth. He converted to Roman Catholicism. During this time, he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a poem about the starkness of life in prison and the desperation of prisoners. Although published anonymously, it is hauntingly beautiful. Wilde died of meningitis on Nov. 30, 1900.
A brilliant writer, Oscar Wilde was before his time. Although his work was celebrated it lost its eminence with his conviction of homosexuality.