The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel written by Oscar Wilde at the end of the Victorian Age. The novel is set in London, at the end of the 19th century.
The plot The main character of the novel is Dorian Gray, a young man, incredibly beautiful. In the first scene, the reader can see the most important characters of the book: Dorian, his friend Basil, and Lord Henry. Basil has made a portrait of Dorian, who is considered an incredibly fascinating and attractive person. In Basil’s studio, Dorian meets his friend Lord Henry, and talking to him, he begins to fall in love with his words and his speeches: Lord Henry talks about beauty and art. When Dorian sees his own portrait, he recognize his own beauty, he understands the importance it has, and he says he wish his beauty could last forever, and the portrait, instead of him, could grow old and ugly. In this way, unconsciously and indirectly, he makes a pact with the Devil: the portrait will actually grow old, whereas Dorian will remain young forever.
After some time, Dorian falls in love with and actress, called Sybil Vane. He loves him because of her cleverness while acting, but after having been engaged to her, she loses it and he leaves her. Then she decides to suicide. After this horrible episode, Dorian looks at his portrait and he notices that it is magically changed: his expression show now regret and shame. Dorian remembers hi
After lots of years, and after having lived a life full of luxury and pleasure, the shame and the guilt-feeling begin to weigh on Dorian: he considers Basil as thes wish and understands the pact with the Devil: so he locks the portrait in a lonely room of his house. cause of his fate, and so he murders him with a knife. After this, the expression on the face of the portrait is no longer bearable, and Dorian decides, mad, to stab it. But doing this, he kills himself. In the end, Dorian becomes suddenly old and ugly, while the portrait regains his original and pure beauty.
The meaning The novel can be considered a modern version of the Renaissance myth of Faustus, who had sold his soul to the Devil to have his desire of knowledge satisfied. Dorian too sold his soul to the devil to satisfy his desires. In the novel, the picture is the mirror of Dorian, it records all his actions and mistakes, and it represents his soul and his age. Even if he locks it in a part of the house, and he covers it, it's not possible for him to forget it.
The first sign of the magical nature of the novel comes with the death of the actress Sybil Vane. The young woman, symbol of the perfect art (Wilde is an aesthetic author), fell in love with Dorian. But after engaging to him, she lost his acting talent, Dorian left her, and pushed her to commit suicide. Another sign is the death of his friend Basil. After having murdered him, Dorian can no more watch into his soul (the picture), and he stabs it, killing himself.
The end of the novel, with the death of Dorian ad the return of the picture to the initial beauty, means that art lasts forever, perfectly, whereas life does not, and so, art prevails on life. So it's a triumph of the aesthetic movement. The aesthetic movement contrasts in fact the Victorian idea of art with a social purpose. Art is free, with no purpose, and it is wherever there's beauty.
Some critics spoke about a contradiction between the meaning of art in the novel, and the fact that Dorian can no more stand his own soul. But other critics answered saying that this kind of morality was introduced in the novel to escape from censorship. Other critics said that Dorian was grown up with upper classes values, that worked unconsciously in him, but at the same time he wanted to fight them and criticize them.
In the end, the Picture of Dorian Gray is considered the expression of aesthetic movement, because the character of Dorian represents the value of "Art for art's sake", influenced by the character of Lord Henry. Even the name, Dorian, comes from the Greek art, and "Gray" means that the character lost his innocence, his purity (white), after having met lord Henry.