Dorian as Faust in The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a rich story which can be viewed through many literary and cultural lenses. Oscar Wilde himself purposefully filled his novel with a great many direct and indirect allusions to the literary culture of his times, so it seems appropriate to look back at his story – both the novel and the 1945 film version – in this way.
In many ways, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a retelling of the Faust story. A temptation is placed before Dorian, as with Faust, and he falls for it–offering up his soul to get it. In fact, one of Faust’s principal wishes is also to remain young. Faust and Dorian also each seduce a young woman, then lead her to her death, as well as leading the woman’s brother (Valentine in Faust and James Vale in Dorian Gray to die in attempting revenge for his sister.
It is also a Doppelganger story, like Adelbert Chamisso’s “Peter Schlemihl” (in which Peter foolishly sells his shadow) and even more like Edgar A. Poe’s “William Wilson” (in which the narrator is tormented by a schoolchum who looks and sounds exactly like him, and which ends much like Dorian Gray, with its more sinister overtones.
Dorian Gray has a theme of eternal youth, bought at the price of one’s soul, and continued through the destruction of others, in common with vampires as well. And, of course, Dorian Gray has to be run in the mind’s eye against the backdrop of Oscar Wilde’s life, particularly his affair with the young aristocrat, Lord Alfred Douglas, which eventually landed Wilde in jail for sodomy, and pretty much ended his career.
Along these lines, the life of Oscar Wilde and his novel, Dorian Gray can also be compared to that of rock star Freddy Mercury of Queen and their song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Here we have Oscar Wilde, fun-loving, witty, cynical, decadent kind of guy, undone by his homosexual liaison with Lord Alfred Douglas, languishing in jail for sodomy. A few years previous to this sad turn of events, he writes The Picture of Dorian Gray–about a decadent, immoral murderer, who also has homosexual relations (with various young men who die, become drug addicts, commit suicide, etc.), and who dies a horrible and disfiguring death due to his evil ways. Now, we also have Freddy Mercury, who lived a flamboyant and decadent lifestyle as a sexually ambiguous rock star.