Set in the late 19th Century, Oscar Wilde wrote his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is a story about debauchery and corruption of innocence and well known as a “Gothic melodrama.” Violent twists and a sneaky plot make this novel a distinct reflection of human pride and corrupt nature.
Before we examine the quality of the error that Dorian Gray commits, we should first examine his Friends and their relation to him because Dorian falls into this error with a little help from his friends.
1. The relationship between Dorian Gray and Basil Hallward
Though Wilde wrote in the preface to this book that ” To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim”, we can still trace the shadow of the author himself in all of the three major characters.
Basil Hallward, the artist who had painted the picture of Dorian Gray, probably has a homosexual attachment to the young Dorian. And as a homosexual himself (or to be exact, bisexual, because he also loved his wife and two sons), Wilde here might be commenting on the enforced secret homosexuals’ lives in the late nineteenth century.
Seemingly striving after impersonality and aesthetic perfection in his work, Basil feels the greatest anxiety of having put “too much of himself” into his picture of Dorian (Chapter 1, page 20) that he can’t exhibit it. To display his work of art in public would, in a sense, amount to exposure of Basil’s attraction to Dorian Gray. This is one reason, and another reason is that he may fear that more people will see and get attracted by Dorian Gray. He admits to Lord Henry that “he is much more to me(Basil) than a model or a sitter.”In his deep consciousness, he is quite possessive and self-contemptuous. He refused to introduce Dorian Gray to…
…he really is: a faithful, softhearted and blinded by love (we can find him as another Basil in De Frofundis). To avoid getting hurt, he pretended to be Lord Henry: decadent, cynical, eloquent, rebellious, and a bit evil in the eyes of bluenoses. Dorian Gray is what he would like to be: be loved, taste all the beauties and exquisite in life and die for what he wants to defend.
In this novel, Wilde had portrayed his philosophy of “aesthetic idealism.” He favored nature when it was explained as an internal individualistic impulse, just like Lord Henry who suggests that beauty is the greatest good and doing so diminishes the role of the soul. He does this out of a half-facetious, half-earnest pursuit of that which is more genuine, less socially constructed and therefore less hypocritical.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: