Oscar Wilde - Dorian Gray

Basil Hallward is an artist, who decides to paint a portrait of Dorian Gray, a young beautiful man. When he finished it, he shows it to Dorian, who understands seeing it that his beauty will disappear with time becoming old and horrible. At this point, under the influence of Basil's friend, Lord Henry Wotton who thinks that youth is the supreme value, Dorian expresses a wish that the reverse were true, that the portrait would absorb all the signs of age while he will remain forever young. He says that he will kill himself if his beauty fades. Alarmed by Dorian's reaction to his painting, Hallward tries to destroy it but Dorian stops him and takes the picture home with him. Dorian and Lord Henry became friends going to theater where he meets Sybil Vane who falls in love with him, saying that it was only on stage that she fascinated him. Noticing an expression of cruelty on his portrait, Dorian decides to return to Sybil, but it's too late because she has killed herself. Helped and encouraged by the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian starts to live a life of vice and sensual gratification, letting his portrait hidden in an unused room in his Mayfair house. Years later Dorian lets Basil see the now horrible face of the portrait and then kills him to prevent from revealing his secret. But this is only the beginning because for Dorian to keep his secret, other people have to die. The blood of his crime can be seen on the portrait that becomes more and more ugly. When Dorian realizes the horror of his acts decides to destroy the portrait but doing it he kills himself in the process. The portrait is magically restored to its original form while the real Dorian's features in Death become hideous, disgusting old man.

The exchange of art and life

The Picture of Dorian Gray begins with a dialogue on the nature of art in the modern age. For Basil Hallward and his friend Lord Henry, beauty and appearance have become the ultimate values. Art can no long be judged on moral but only on aesthetic grounds, reflecting the motto of Aestheticism "Art for Art's Sake". The prologue of the story moves from typical Wilde a comedy into a world of Gothic horror, as Dorian, who makes his life an unchanging work of art while his portrait becomes the mirror of his real inner soul. This contrast between the appearance and reality is the central theme of the novel. To seduce Dorian, Lord Henry gives him a copy of an unnamed book, a key text for the Aestheticism movement. Dorian's ideas are influenced by this book to embrace evil desires and passions including murder and human sacrifice. The character of Dorian embodies many aspects of Wilde's own philosophy, in particular his rejection of the utilitarian values of industrialized mass society through the cult of art and beauty for its own sake.

Truth and beauty

For Wilde, the work of art is neither simply true nor false. As Lord Henry says in the beginning of the novel, beauty is a thing that "cannot be questioned" which as "one of the great facts of the world". At the end of the novel, when the picture is restored to its original condition, we find ourselves asking if it's the same picture of youthful innocence we saw at the beginning. The Picture of Dorian Gray creates a split between the world of appearances and the inner world of mental and bodily passions.

Extract

Basil has finished painting the portrait of Dorian Gray and he wrote his name using a red color on the cover of the canvas. Lord Henry looked at the picture and he feels really happy to have seen it. Dorian was silent because his face became red when he looked at it. Lord Henry starts talking about nature on the beauty of youth. One day human face would have been covered by the sign of age and eyes would have changed their color, at the end human body would have been deformed. Dorian hearing that, expresses the desire to remain young and beautiful forever and all signs of time would have been depicted on the portrait. He would have given his soul for this.

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