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Aestheticism and Decadence

The Aesthetic movement developed in Universities and intellectual circles in the last decades of the 19th century.

It reflected artists’ reaction against the materialism and the restrictive moral code of the bourgeoisie.

French artists “escaped” into aesthetic isolation (= Art for Art’s Sake) and embodied his protest against monotony and vulgarity leading an unconventional existence, pursuing excess and sensation, cultivating art and beauty (bohemian lifestyle).

It was born thanks to Keats, Ruskin (who searched for beauty in life and arts), Pater (theorist of the movement).
Pater rejected religious faith and said that art was the only means to stop time  life should be lived as a work of art filling each moment with intense experience.
Artist has to feel sensations and be the transcriber of the sense of the things.

Art has now nothing to do with morality and need not to be didactic.

• Excessive attention to the self
• Hedonistic and sensuous attitude
• Disenchantment with contemporary society
• Evocative language

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Set in London at the end of 19th century.
The protagonist is Dorian Gray, whose beauty fascinates a painter who decides to paint his portrait.
While the young boy is in the painter’s studio, he meets a dandy called Lord Henry, who tries to convince Dorian to be the symbol of the Aesthetic Movement.
Dorian accepts and while his desires of eternal youth and beauty are coming true, signs of age and vice appear on his portrait (representing his bad actions).
When he finds it out, he hides his portrait.
When Basil (the painter) sees the corrupted image of the portrait, Dorian kills him.
Later Dorian wants to free himself by the portrait, but he kills himself because the portrait represent a part of him (his soul).

Narrative technique:
The story is told by an unobtrusive third-person narrator.
The perspective is internal > identification between the reader and the character.
Settings described using the language of senses.
Characters reveal themselves through what they say or what other people say about them.

Allegorical meaning:
• Myth of Faust man who sells his soul to the devil to satisfy his desires
• Narcissus > dies for beauty
• Classical standards > beauty = morality
• Theme of double

The picture represents his soul, the corruption and the horror hidden under Dorian’s physical beauty.

Moral: every excess must be punished and reality cannot be escaped

Picture = immorality and bad conscience of middle class
Art survives people, art is eternal

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Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray