Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. He studied at Oxford and he became a disciple of Walter Pater, the theorist of Aestheticism in England, accepting the theory of “Art for Art’s Sake”. After Oxford he settled in London where he became famous for his extraordinary wit and his dress as a dandy.
In 1881 he edited Poems and he was engaged for a tour in the USA. On coming back to Europe he married Constance Lloyd. His works:
- Short stories: The Canterville Ghost, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, The Happy Prince and other tales;
- Novel: The Picture of Dorian Gray;
- Plays: Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, The Importance of Being Earnest.
Wilde lived in the double role of rebel and dandy. The dandy is a bourgeois artist, who, in spite of his obvious unconventionality, remains a member of his class. The wildean dandy is an aristocrat whose elegance is a symbol of the superiority of his spirit.
The Pictures Of Dorian Gray is set in London at the end of 19th century. Dorian Gray, a young man whose beauty fascinates a painter, Basil Hallward, who paints his portrait. While the young man’s desires are satisfied, including that of eternal youth, the signs of age, experience and evil appear on the portrait. Dorian lives only for pleasure, making use of everybody and letting people die because of his insensitivity. When the painter sees the corrupted image of the portrait, Dorian kills him. Later Dorian wants to free himself of the portrait, witness to his spiritual corruption, and stabs it, but he kills himself. The picture returns to its original purity.
The story is told by a third-person narrator and the perspective adopted is internal which allows a process of identification between the reader and the character. The story is profoundly allegorical, it is 19th century version of the myth of Faust. The picture stands for the dark side of Dorian’s personality, his double (theme that is present also in Italian literature especially in Luigi Pirandello in Il fu Mattia Pascal). The moral of the novel is that every excess must be punished and reality cannot be escaped. The horrible picture can be seen as a symbol of the immorality and bad conscience of the Victorian middle class. The picture restored to its original beauty illustrates Wilde’s theory that art is eternal.