Oscar Wilde - Vita e opere
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin where he grew up in an intellectual environment. He studied at Trinity College until he got a scholarship to Oxford. After his studies, he moved to London where he started to develop his literary credo, also thanks to his travels to the USA where he managed to relate to an open society.
He had success as a poet, novelist and dramatist and was known for his dandy-like style, until the father of his lover, a young poet, accused him of his homosexuality which was illegal at the time.
He spent two years in prison, where he wrote his prose confession "De Profundis", a letter to his lover. Afterwards, he moved to Paris to escape the humiliating English society, and he died there in 1900.
The picture of Dorian Gray
Plot - The three main characters are Lord Henry Wotton, the painter Basil Hallward and the young man Dorian Gray. Basil paints a portrait of Dorian, who, influenced by Lord Henry's view of life, starts to realise the power of his beauty and devotes his life to superficiality following Lord Henry's ideas of fun and parties in the name of the inestimable value of youth.
So, when Dorian expresses the desire to stay forever young, it becomes true and his picture starts ageing instead of him. Dorian is happy but scared and hides the picture. Throughout the years, everyone else grows old while he is still beautiful, and he will eventually kill his best friend Basil for being guilty of having portrayed him.
He won't be able to bear the pressure anymore, so he stabs the picture and immediately it goes back young, while Dorian finds himself wrinkled and ugly, drying from a knife in his own chest.
References - The story refers to the Faust legend, about the man who sells his soul to the devil in change of eternal youth and immortality, and to the classical myth of Narcissus, who falls in love with himself after seeing his image reflected in a pond.
Themes - The plot presents a homosexual background which was much more evident in his first version though, written in the USA where it would be more acceptable.
Through Dorian's constant pursuit of sensation, Wilde's philosophy kind of translates into the story: arts for art's sake is his motto; Wilde intends to make his life the major masterpiece, totally opposing the Victorian ideals. Self-realisation is achieved through the enjoyment of life, which the Victorians consider unnatural.
This is one of the fundaments of his aesthetic theories which he exposes in the preface of his book: art is not supposed to teach anything or to give a moral, rather just to be beautiful. Anyone who tries to make art didactic misunderstands it.
Therefore, through his preface, the author prevents people from looking for a moral purpose in the novel, although there is a pattern of sin, repentance and punishment.
Wilde wants to show the vices and follies of the English upper classes, who assume false identities to face the hypocrisy of society, through mask-wearing.
He does that by wisely using humour and figures such as epigrams and paradox to make readers reflect: sharp statements turn out to have the opposite meaning, creating surprise, or apparently absurd ideas are actually true through examination.
Finally, the very long and detailed descriptions of gardens, rooms and pieces of furniture, reveal and early decadent taste.