All art is quite useless.
- From the Preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The author of this was openly criticised after this novel was published in 1891, mainly because of the concluding sentence of the preface, quoted above. However, its critical reflections on the social attitudes of the end of the 19th Century caused it to become a novel that was widely celebrated across the globe.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin on 15 October, 1854. While studying at Magdalen College, Oxford, he attracted great attention to himself with his critical appraisals of society and aestheticism (the pursuit of beauty).
Wilde was the writer of many plays, namely Lady Windermere's Fan (1893), Salome (1893), The Sphinx (1894), A Woman of No Importance (1894), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).
His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), spurred intense outrage from many contemporary reviewers on its publication. Wilde replied that 'Each man sees his own sin in Dorian Gray.' Finally, the novel reached the praise that it should have had.
Oscar Wilde died in Paris on 30 November, 1900, at the age of 46.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
This is a story about debauchery and corruption of innocence. It is set in the late 19th Century. Violent twists and a sneaky plot make this novel a distinct reflection of human pride and corrupt nature.
The story begins with Basil Hallward, an artist painting a magnificent picture of his subject - a handsome young man named Dorian Gray. Dorian Gray starts as the essence of young innocence, with his path in life to find peace in his heart.
This innocence becomes corrupt when he realises that youth and beauty are an illusion, and that the finished picture will become a mockery of him when old age reaches his youthful complexion and wrinkles mark his unblemished face. He wishes that he would stay looking young, beautiful and innocent as he gets older, and that the picture would get older in his place.
He gets what he wishes for. Dorian has the appearence of an angel, yet his soul becomes as corrupt as the Devil - which is what the picture now represents. The purity of his soul becomes corrupted, which is reflected as the ageing and disfigurement of the picture. Dorian now has a visible reflection of his true self which tortures him to no end.
Dorian Gray, still on his path to find peace, tries anything to stay as he was when the picture was painted, ensuring that nothing can get in his way until this happens.
A book on moral corruption, it has become one of the most informing texts on human nature.
Oscar Wilde no doubt took inspiration for this book from many aspects of his own life, and observations made of society at that time. One could even speculate that this is almost an autobiographical piece of writing.
All characters have their own distinct personality. Even though some seem less palpable than others, they all create the aura of corrupt society at that time.
Dorian Gray is the protagonist of the story. He begins as an innocent young lad of 20 years, the grandson of the last Lord Kelso. He captivates everyone with his charming disposition and 'Adonis'-esque complexion. Flattered by his inexplicable beauty from the portrait of himself, Dorian Gray becomes corrupt by his own vanity, and slowly descends into his own personal hell.
He is an excellent musician, well-known for being an expert pianist and violinist. His high status in society allows him to go to elegant parties held by lords and ladies. Dorian resides either at his estate at Selby or in his house in London.
Lord Henry Wotton
A person with his own philosophy for life, the universe, and everything, Wotton is ten years older than Dorian Gray, and he befriends the confused youth when he first meets him at Basil Hallward's art studio. He is indirectly responsible for Dorian Gray's downfall.
Lord Henry sees all life as an illusion. He has much fun discussing life with his cousin, the young Duchess of Monmouth, whose retorts are as witty as his own.
A talented artist who 'discovers' the youthful Dorian Gray, and is immediately captivated by his good looks and face of innocence. He is the artist who paints the picture of Dorian Gray, and flatters the lad horribly. He practically worships him, not believing the rumours he hears about Dorian.
Basil believes that nobody appreciates his art, and has even tried disappearing mysteriously in an attempt to boost his career.
Here are some quotes from the book for a taster, carefully selected so as to not give the whole story away!
All influence is immoral - immoral from the scientific point of view...
- Lord Henry Wotton
The quivering, ardent sunlight showed him the lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had been looking into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing... No line like that warped his red lips.
'I suppose you have come about the unfortunate accident of this morning, Thornton?' he said, taking up a pen.
'Yes, sir,' answered the gamekeeper.
'Was the poor fellow married? Had he any people dependent on him?' asked Dorian, looking bored.
- Dorian Gray and his gamekeeper
'What of Art?' she asked.
'It is a malady.'
'The fashionable substitute for Belief.'
'You are a sceptic.'
'Never! Scepticism is the beginning of Faith.'
'What are you?'
'To define is to limit.'
'Give me a clue.'
'Threads snap. You would lose your way in the labyrinth.'
- Lord Henry Wotton and the Duchess of Monmouth
This novel gives a haunting reflection on human corruption that is hard to forget once you have read it. It is a reminder that beauty is fragile, and only skin-deep.