Aestheticism was a popular dogma in the late 1800s that centered on the belief that art should exist for beauty alone. This doctrine is defined as an “exaggerated devotion to art, music, or poetry, with indifference to practical matters” and “the acceptance of artistic beauty and taste as a fundamental standard, ethical and other standards being secondary” (“Aestheticism,” def. 1 and 2). In Oscar Wilde’s sole novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, aestheticism is a fashionable belief accepted by society at the time. Oscar Wilde uses the moral deterioration and ultimate destruction of Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray to emphasize the negative effects of society’s preoccupation with aesthetics and offer a moral for the reader.In this novel, Oscar Wilde displays Dorian’s moral corrosion negatively in order to convince his audience of the detrimental effects of aestheticism. As Dorian descends deeper into the depths of his depravity, the audience loses faith in him. His innocent, childlike and charitable qualities, seen in his philanthropy and petulance when he is first introduced, are lost, and he acts cruelly and selfishly. For example, when his lover, Sibyl Vane, performs on stage and fails to meet Dorian’s expectations, Wilde fashions Dorian’s reaction to be callous and bitter to her so that the reader sympathizes with Sibyl.The juxtaposition of Dorian’s incredible devotion and his sudden hatred of Sibyl Vane creates shock and makes the reader realize Dorian’s injustice to his lover. When he first meets Sibyl, Dorian is enamored by her beauty and talent. “‘Sibyl Vane is sacred!’” he exclaims when describing the actress to his friend Lord Henry (Wilde 51). Dorian worships her because she encompasses every aspect o…
…te ugliness somewhere in ourselves” (139). Dorian Gray employed evil in his endeavor to become the aesthetic ideal, and in doing so created an ugliness in his soul that murdered him.
“Aestheticism.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 15 Mar. 2008. .Beckson, Karl E. Oscar Wilde. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited, 1970. Google Book Search. 2 Mar. 2008 .McGlinn, Colin. Ethics, Evil and Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1997.Pearson, Hesketh. Oscar Wilde: His Life and Wit. 3rd ed. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1946.Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ed. Norman Page. Ontario: Broadview Press, 1998.—. The Picture of Dorian Gray. The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other Writings. Ed. Richard Ellman. New York: Bantam Dell, 1982.