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[66] The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

dorian.jpg“He himself could not help wondering at the calm of his demeanour, and for a moment felt keenly the terrible pleasure of a double life.”

The Picture of Dorian Gray is not really about the picture of him at all. I used to be thinking along the line of how the portrait altered (could be hallucinatory) and what might have altered it, over time. Whichever it was the portrait invoked so much fear in him and hatred for the painter. While this is true, the focus, or really the cause for all the morbid actions is not the picture, which at best might only function as a catalyst. The engine of the book, and also of Dorian Gray’s pursuit of pleasure without being mindful of moral disintegration, is one Lord Henry Wotton, who in a fiendish joy pricked the young man’s obsessed awareness of aging, or losing his beauty. What causes him to muster up saving his youth from its horrible brevity and thus plunges him onto the road to self-destruction is a “poisonously” influential book from Wotton that sparkled a transmission in his mind.

Things pertaining to (forbidden) sensual pleasure that he had dimly dreamed of were suddenly made real and validated. Things of which he had never dreamed were, under the metaphoric and subtle words that described life of senses in terms of mystical philosophy, were revealed to him. As these words danced around in his mind like heavy odor of incense seething into his brain, he grew more and more enamored of his own beauty, more and more interested in the vulgar profligacy of asceticism that dulled the senses. He began to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life what was itself a moment, something utterly in defiance of a life that would make his soul. He lived a double life: While deriving from the secretive life volupturous pleasure, he managed to have the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world. That the true nature of the senses had not been fully understood and that the world had contrived to suppress the savage and carnal nature necessitated this double life, which provided a niche behind society’s judgment to worship the senses. This is a liberation from the feeling of natural instinct of terror about passions and sensations.

This is the very terror that deterred the painter from making his motivation of undertaking the portrait known. Buried in the lines Basil Hallward was a dim roar of homosexual love that was no more than a bourdon note of a distant organ. It was out of his burning infatuation and adoration for Gray that painted the portrait. Although the love he bore Gray had nothing in it that was not noble, that it was more than physical admiration of beauty, lest to be persecuted, Basil decided not to bare his heart, reveal his desires, and so subjected his life to microscopic scrutiny. The artist stood at the crossroad of individualism (which Gray pursued to the extreme) and modern morality, which consisted in accepting the standards of one’s age, meaning, assimilation. It was no surprise that he, who succumbed to this mentality, confronted Gray about the calumnies that had circulated in the society, especially his “fatal” association to young men. Gray’s embarkation to spiritualize the senses imparted in him a wild desire to know everything about life, regardless of virtues or vices, in order to give form to and thus concretize every feeling, expression, and thought.

As he groped his way through the labyrinth of passions, he gave in to the corruption of his soul, reaping pleasure but not happiness, indulging in sensation of crime to the point that his conscience raised such fearful phantoms to peer at him from silent corners, to mock him from secret places, to make him feel an icy coldness creeping to his heart. Every little hideous detailed come back in an added, remastered horror. So morbid and crazed, and yet poignant was his realization of his corruption that the purging of his soul led him to destruction. The picture, after all, stood as the sole evidence of his decadence.

9 Responses

  1. I have a copy of this and need to get around to reading it sometime. The only Wilde I’ve read is his plays and I’ve loved those. I know this is wildly different, pardon the pun, but I’d still like to read it someday.

  2. I really need to read this. I wanted to read it in high school, but the nuns dissauded me. It has been a sore point ever since, and I have had a fear of tackling it! Crazy, eh.

  3. I happen to love the plays of Oscar Wilde, especially Lady Windermere’s Fan. Your very interesting comments (which I have had to read more than once) remind me that I need to finally read The Picture of Dorain Gray. I actually have a copy salted away, so soon I’ll pull it from storage and accomplish the deed. I’ve enjoyed watching a dramatic adaptation by the BBC, but reading your comments convinces me that there is much more which could be gleaned from reading the original. Wilde is such a moralist, and this work seems so extreme in it’s presentation of the spiritual consequences of immorality. We frequently experience Wilde’s witty aphorisms detached from his works, and all of them seemingly naughty and delicious, but it’s interesting to see the characters from whom these bon mots issue. Most of them fall prey to consequences in which they come to rue their insouciance. Picture strikes me as such an ironic parallel to the tragedy of Wilde’s own life. Thanks for your thoughts. I shall go through them several more times.

  4. Hmm it’s funny how I have never read this one even though I’ve got the book with me the whole time since college. Maybe it’s time.

  5. […] 11th, 2007 · No Comments If the Portrait of Dorian Gray was regarded a poisonous book that it formed the basis of charges against Oscar Wilde, then Madame […]

  6. I remember reading this book a few years ago, and you have definitely mirrored a lot of my own thoughts about the book.

    But remember it being a lot funnier than you describe, in that Oscar Wilde, tongue-in-cheek, poke fun at humanity’s shortcomings sort of way. Maybe a re-read is in order for me…

  7. I read the book many years ago as a university student of psychology. I couldn’t help thinking of the relationship between Gray and his own picture in terms of the Freudian psychodynamics of id, ego and superego. While he was indulging in all that his id aroused him to, the picture was the sole reminder from his superego as to the true nature of his corrupted life but which he managed to ignore until the very end. The end is astonishing for a first time read but still predictable. After recovering his full touch with reality, no other action would appease the superego accept the ultimate redemption. A great book!

  8. […] A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook […]

  9. […] Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Review Celebrated novel traces the moral degeneration of a handsome young Londoner from an innocent fop […]

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