Plot: Dorian Gray is a fascinating and lovely young man, whose beauty fascinates an artist, Basil Hallward, who, one evening paints him in his office where the story starts. Infact in the office Dorian meets the cynic and charismatic Lord, Henry Wotton, that reveals him the sense of beauty, that is the highest aspect of the genius, it is the biggest thing of the world, it is extraordinary but also temporary, so urges him to live his youth intensely. Driven by Wotton’s words Dorian, gives himself up to the search of unbridled passions and pleasures. Dorian doesn’t tolerate to gets old while the pictures of his friend Basil will not change. So Dorian expresses the wish of the eternal youth and magically the sins of the age, experience and vice appear in the portrait. Dorian continues to live only for pleasure, making use of everybody and letting people die because of his insensibility as his lover, a actress, that kills herself because Dorian doesn’t manage to love her, and Basil Hallward that he considers responsible of the ugliness and kills. In the meantime the picture has the sins of the age and Dorian the sins of his moral corruption and decay and his picture become the mirror of his soul. Later Dorian wants to free himself of the portrait, witness to his spiritual corruption, and stabs it, but he mysteriously kills himself. In the very moment of the death the picture returns to its original purity, and Dorian’s face becomes “withered, wrinkled, and loathsome”.
The Characters: Dorian is the protagonist, he is the typical dandy, who thinks man should live his life, realising his wishes and his dreams. He is an unquiet spirit, in search of something new that can satisfy his morbid sensitivity, lover of every frivolities, but also of every intellectual experience, and connoisseur on music and on theatre, expert in perfumes, jewellery,…so the dandy Dorian isn’t a empty personality. This story is profoundly allegorical: it is a XIX century version of the myth of Faust the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil so that all his desires might be satisfied. This soul becomes the picture, which records the signs of experience, the corruption, the horror and the sins concealed under the mask of Dorian’s timeless beauty. The picture is an autonomous self: it stands of Dorian’s personality, his double, which e tries to forgot by locking the picture in a room. The moral of this novel is that every excess must be punished and reality cannot be escaped; when Dorian destroys the picture, he cannot avoid the punishment for all his sins, that is, death.
The horrible, corrupting picture could be seen as a symbol of the immorality and bad conscience of Victorian middle class, while Dorian and his pure, innocent appearance are symbols of bourgeois hypocrisy. Finally the picture, restored to its original beauty, illustrates Wilde’s theories of art: art survives people, art is eternal. Dorian is a decaying hero, more than an immoral he is amoral, because the sense of beauty has made forgotten in him the others important values.
Biography: Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. After attending Trinity College (Dublin) he was sent to Oxford where he gained a first class degree in Classics and distinguished himself for his eccentricity. He also become a disciple of Walter Pater, accepting the theory of “Art for Art’s Sake”. Then he left Oxford and settled in London where he soon became a fashionable figure both for his extraordinary wit and his foppish way of dressing. In 1881 Wilde edited, at his own expense, Poems,, and was engaged for a tour in the United States where he gave some lectures on the Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthetes. The tour was a remarkable personal success for Wilde, who made himself known for his irony, his attitudes and his poses. On his return to Europe in 1883, he married Constance Lloyd who bore him two children, but he soon became tired of his marriage. At this point of his career he was most noted as a great talker: his presence became a social event and his remarks appeared in the most fashionable London magazine. In the late 1880s Wilde’s literary talent was revealed by a series of shorts stories, The Canterville Ghost, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, The Happy Prince and Other Tales written for children and the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. After his first and only novel he developed an interest in drama and revived the comedy of manners. In the 1980s he produced a series of plays which were successful on the London stage: Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, The Importance of Being Earnest, his masterpiece, and the tragedy in France, Salomè. However, both the novel and the tragedy damaged the writer’s reputation, since the former was considered immoral, and the latter was prevented from appearing on the London stage owing to its alleged obscenity. In 1891 he met the young and good-looking Lord Alfred Douglas, whose nickname was “Bosie”, and with whom Wilde dared to have a homosexual offences. The boy’s father forced a public trial and Wilde was sent to prison for homosexual offences. While in prison he wrote De Profundiis, a long letter to Bosie published posthumously in 1905. When he was released, he was a broken man; his wife refused to see him, and he went into exile in France, where he lived his last years in poverty. He died of meningitis in Paris in 1900.
General reference: Spiazzi - Tavella, Only Connect…, volume two, Zanichelli