“The Picture of Dorian Gray”, by Oscar Wilde, is strangely a depiction of his own personality. Dubbed a book of love, pleasure, and above all, insanity, it revolves around the main character, Dorian, his soul, the consequences of his choices, and his eventual untimely demise. In his Wilde’s autobiography, Ellmann notes that he was an accomplished aesthete, profoundly affected by beauty and discreetly subscribed to flamboyant dressing and lifestyle (Ellmann, 136). The themes behind this writing subjected him to public caricature encompassed with moral outrage. They brought out the controversial man in him and underlined his growing belief in pacifism, social reform and libertarianism which labeled his like mined colleagues the ‘decadents.’ However, he managed to hit his mark via strategic execution of wit and style catapulting his works to tremendous success.
Naturally, alongside Dorian are other characters. Lord Henry Wotton, Basil Hallward, Han Campbell, Sybil Vane, and her brother and James Vane enhance the themes of aestheticism and duplicity which majorly feature in this exceptional writing (Andrew, 101). Based on the strong motif of aestheticism, Wilde integrates the concept of double life redeeming a perfect absurd abstract that disillusions the concept of beauty. Impressed by Dorian’s beauty, Basil Hallward produces a copy-cat painting of the young man. Infatuation strongly leads Basil to believe in a new mode in his art and he effectively executes it. By making a wish that the portrait ages on his behalf, Dorian encounters the characters who least support him in his quest to maintain his beauty.
The flamboyant Lord Henry Worton holds strong beliefs that energies of humanity should directly pursue beauty and fulfillment of the senses. A similar view is held by Oscar Wilde himself which underlines his admiration for aesthetics. He desires to hold on to his beauty and live in a dazing lifestyle. Realizing the imminent fading of his beauty, Dorian wishes that his portrait ages on his behalf. He therefore trades his soul, and his lifestyle is plunged into debauched acts. In his lifetime, a wrong against humane morals is displayed through a blotch of the portrait. Dorian has no control over his soul and therefore indulges in sin freely yet secretly. He is guided by a wayward lack of conscience and knowledge of what is right.
Dorian commits a series of sins which prompt the corruption of portrait. He unremorsefully and harshly drives the woman he was to marry into a successful suicide attempt. The corruption of soul is also prompted by numerous sins committed with opium and concubines. At this point, his immense rage and hatred towards Basil drives him to murdering him by stabbing him at the back of his head. The body is disposed by melting with chemicals borrowed from his friend Calan Campbell. Overwrought with remorse, Campbell shoots himself (Andrew, 200). Dorian decides to go on a reformation process. His main aim is to change the soul for the better and improve the image of the portrait. He does one great act and on seeing no implications of improvement, he stabs the picture. Overwhelmed by anger, he forgets the dwelling place of his soul and stabs it ostensibly killing himself.
According to his review on the revisions of the story line, Lawler notes that the initial book is filled with homoerotic instances (Lawler, 105). Probably indicating Wilde’s turbulent and riotous lifestyle, Basil is an admirer of the beauty of Dorian. This can directly indicate his amorously wayward relationships with Robert Ross, Lord Alfred Douglas and Boise. Not only does this affect Basil, it goes in a circular rounding all other characters in the plot. The attraction towards characters of the same sex is the basic nauseating factor in the scenes. The initial critical reception of the book was poor. It was notoriously labeled unclean, effeminate, and contaminating as it effectively distorted the views of conventional morality. This resulted in a sensational reception amongst Victorian critics and Wilde sought to counter them through revising the original publication.
The characters reflect the personality of Wilde. The admiration of aesthetic forms coupled with dimensional observance of beliefs and execution of the same depicts the magnitude of semblance between the fictional characters and Wilde himself. In Dorian’s portrait, Basil is able to realize his artistic potential, an implementation that results into a splendid work. Regrettably though, the portrait is the well of Dorian’s death for he figuratively stabs it. The head that harbored the artistic beauty is stabbed just like Wilde’s desire for aesthetic competence leads to his downfall.
Drawing from the believe point of view, Wilde is replicated in Lord Henry Wotton. A true nobleman, he is depicted as a friend of Basil. Interestingly though, he is equally attracted to Dorian, a fact that could superbly translate into Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. He conveys to Dorian his world view, stating the essence of beauty and fulfilling the one’s senses. This corrupts Dorian and can be compared to the events that led to Wilde’s extra-marital affairs as well as homosexual acts. The desire and pursuit of sexual fulfillment is well underlined in his infamous relationship with Lord Douglas whose father defames Wilde leading to his down fall.
Dorian Gray is the perfect personification of Wilde. The encounters that he goes through coupled with his admiration for aesthetics is the initial point of his successful depiction in the story. In his review of the revisions of the book, Lawler notes that his notoriety in indulgence in questionable moral and immoral acts as well as a rocky family life well documented (Lawler, 219). In the quest for redemption, he is arrested and charged for indecency and sent to jail. This is the figurative element of a corrupted portrait defined by the hard work he was subjected to. The final days that see him live in poverty could as well underline his stabbing of the portrait.
To conclude, Oscar Wilde wonderfully prophesied his own life. In the construed characters he underlines his beliefs and tragically foresees his downfall. However, it is in Dorian, where his poetic pen outlined his life and death. His notoriety was and still is incomparable so as his style and wit. His imagination lives on. In the imaginative and admiration for aesthetics, he has been recapped in the movie, ‘The League of Extra-ordinary Gentlemen.’ So talented and passionate was his works that it greatly impacted on theatrical arts long after he departed.
Andrew, Mantoine. The Picture of Dorian Gray– Introduction Penguin Classics 2001
Ellmann, Williamson. Oscar Wilde Vintage, 1999
Lawler, Donald. “An Inquiry into Oscar Wilde’s Revisions of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray” New York: Garland, 2001