Monday, February 27, 2012

Wilde: Option 3

[posted by Daniel]

Dorian Gray is concentrated beauty which is personified by his youth. Lord Henry and Basil discuss Dorian's personality but they are merely referring to his visual persona. He is shallow, he is handsome, but above all he becomes more and more corrupted and sinister while maintaining his innocent appearance as the book continues.

Dorian carries numerous aesthetic qualities and gives off an inspirational energy to artists like Basil and yet he becomes an infectious disease to everyone around him.

What is Oscar Wilde saying about the nature of aestheticism? If Dorian is truly a living piece of art, then is art destruction? Is Wilde making a statement of the dangers of vanity or the dangers of art?


  1. After reading all of The Picture of Dorian Gray, I cannot help but think that the novel is a cautionary tale about the nature of aestheticism. Dorian is introduced to aestheticism by Lord Henry, who lives only for pleasure, and he passes these sentiments to Dorian. Dorian’s life becomes only surface when his aging process is exchanged with a portrait, which also bears the burdens of Dorian’s sins, which are shown as ugliness. Aestheticism, then, taken to its extremist forms, leads to decadence and immorality, as good is coupled with beauty, and there is no consideration of morals. Dorian’s beauty that equals an eternal work of art is what takes away his personal responsibility. After living in sin, Dorian tries to do good, and after only one good deed, he thinks that it will make the painting look beautiful again. This is not the case, so Dorian concludes that “For curiosity’s sake he had tried the denial of self. He recognized that now” (Wilde, 183). To Dorian, good deeds are only another form of pleasure, another way of experiencing the world, thus again, related to aestheticism. At this moment, Dorian’s ideas of morality are crushed again, so he decides to get rid of the marker of his conscience, the painting: “Yes, it had been conscience. He would destroy it” (Wilde, 183). Dorian’s destruction of conscience is what kills him. When a person lives through art, and only art, he or she looses their humanity, because they are only concerned with surface and his or her own vanity.
    Another problem with aestheticism that text shows is that it is too linked to hierarchy. Those who are aesthetes in The Picture of Dorian Gray are aristocratic; they do not work and only pursue pleasure. These attitudes are only symptoms of excess money. Lord Henry describes why laborers and people of a lower social class are boring, because, “They get up early, because they have so much to do, and go to bed early because they have so little to think about” (Wilde, 146). Here, perhaps, my sentiments are influenced by Marxist ideas, because it seems that those who can enjoy aestheticism are the ones that have money. Lord Henry, the biggest proponent of aestheticism shows even more of his disdain for lower classes when discussing the death of the peasant, latter revealed to be Sibyl’s brother. Dorian feels guilt, but Lord Henry says, “It is rather awkward for Geoffrey, of course. It does not do to pepper beaters. It makes people think that one is a wild shot. And Geoffrey is not; he shoots very straight. But there is no use talking about the matter” (Wilde, 168). Lord Henry’s cares do not extend to people of a lower station then he. Thus, aestheticism is only linked to the rich, which is one of the dangers of aestheticism. If the beautiful ideas of aestheticism, such as the enjoyment of arts could be shared by more people, then it would be noble, but in this novel, it is only a byproduct of the rich.

  2. I agree with Ed, that Wilde is using this novel to caution readers about the perils of pursuing the aesthetic. Through the epitomizing of Dorian’s beauty Wilde is showing the reader, peoples strong desire for anything that brings beauty or pleasure into one’s life. He shows this through the obsessive character of Basil, who becomes so entranced with the boy’s beauty that he feels that he cannot function without him, “I couldn’t be happy if I didn’t see him every day. He is absolutely everything to me” (Wilde, 11). Along with this unhealthy relationship Dorian has also influenced Basil to produce the best artwork he has ever done, but this only lasts until Dorian stops seeing Basil which leads to the downfall of his career. Basil’s infatuation with Dorian’s beauty along with his constant desire to capture or be inspired by it for his art shows one example of Wilde’s cautionary tale about the aesthetic. While beauty can inspire many to create beautiful artwork, one must be cautious not to become too absorbed in the beauty which can make them dependent upon it produce anything worthwhile.
    This cautionary tale of the aesthetic can also be seen in Dorian’s infatuation with the book that Lord Henry lends him. While reading the book Dorian becomes absorbed in it, “it seemed to him that in exquisite raiment, and to the delicate sound of flutes, the sins of the world were passing in dumb show to him. Things he had dimly dreamed of were suddenly made real to him. Things of which he had never dreamed were gradually revealed” (Wilde, 128). For years Dorian becomes fascinated with the book and reads it over and over constantly, even getting several copies published in different colors to fit his moods (130). He seems to mirror his life to the novel and Dorian makes his life centered on finding the pleasures and beauty in life and surrounding himself with it, no matter what horrible things it does to his soul. This type of hedonism creates in him, “mad hungers that grew more ravenous as he fed them” (132). Dorian becomes addicted to anything that brings about pleasure, and this constant hunger for it leads him down the path of destruction, taking down others in his wake. This is another example in the novel where Wilde shows how the obsession/excess of the aesthetics can create an individual who knows neither right nor wrong, only pleasure. Wilde is showing the dangers of the aesthetic qualities that come about from art, literature, clothing, jewelry, incense, etc, and how too much of them can lead to life of self destruction mirrored in the novel through the thoughts/actions of Dorian.