The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: A Summary


There’s no such thing as a moral or an immoral book books are well written or badly written, that is all. Dorian Gray’s provocative preface saw Wilde dismiss the mainstream Victorian belief that art was the hand servant of morality, for Wilde that was not the case, only artistic concerns mattered. Such attitudes were controversial, even dangerous, it was clear that the eighteen nineties were going to be a turbulent decade. But if Wilde believed that art was independent from reality, where did that leave Dorian Gray and his progress from innocence to cynicism, and secret vice? Let alone his terrible punishment. And what of Lord Henry Wotton? The suave charismatic aristocrat who tells his young friend ‘live the wonderful life that is in you, let nothing be lost upon you, be searching always for new sensations’ Lord Henry’s credo is at once bewitching and very dangerous, conjuring a world in which the intellect rules the passions and in which emotions are studied rather than felt, as the young actress Sibyl Vane will discover. This is a world in which life counts for far less than art Can life be transformed into art as Lord Henry believes or is the erosion and defacement of the portrait proof of their mutual incompatibility? Art, life, morality, ethics – all are serious concerns and yet Wilde habitually makes jokes about them. Mixing mystery and horror, with epigrams he would recycle in his society comedies Lady Windermereís Fan, and A Woman of No Importance. Wilde’s mixture of the serious and the frivolous profoundly disconcerted his original readers, even today, it makes his intentions and achievements difficult to assess. What sort of a novel is The Picture of Dorian Gray? Is it a gothic horror, is it a dark comedy, is it a reflection of its authors complex sexual dentity is it a satire on the moralistic conventions of late Victorian fiction, in which as Wilde said elsewhere, the good end happily and the bad unhappily, or is it a piece of self-promotion by someone who’s been a celebrity for a decade but had yet to reap the full financial rewards of his fame, after all in his student days Wilde had told his friends ‘somehow or other I’ll be famous and if I’m not famous I’ll be notorious’

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One thought on “The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: A Summary

  1. A controversial man in his time. He certainly became notorious and famous. It is a shame that he died at 46 years old after contracting meningitis, thanks to his stay in prison.

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