Book Review The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
How Oscar Wilde's homosexuality influenced his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.
A review and analysis.

Submitted: October 17, 2018

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Submitted: October 17, 2018

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The Picture of Dorian Grey is a lovely tragic tale of a young man who is obsessed with not just youth, but the lustre of expedience and licentiousness. 

This is an important book that allows the reader to witness the downfall of Dorian Grey, via his reckless decisions to worship material beauty, sensuality and desire, regardless of the cost. 

“There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realise his conception of the beautiful.”

 Living this sensuous yet sinful lifestyle is inevitably Dorians destruction. 

Dorians tragedy shows the reader that expedient behaviour can only lead to destruction and chaos. 

The moral of the story, is thus, to not pursue what is expedient, but what is meaningful and sincere. 

 

Chapter 7 of Jordon Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life, entitled, "pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient”, elaborates on this essential moral of Wilde’s Novel in depth. 

 

What is not articulated within the novel, is the continual homosexual themes underlying the characters and the storyline. 

Dorian emotionally destroys the young men he becomes close friends with. Some suicide, others leave “England with a tarnished name”. 

Basil, the painter, is initially drawn to paint Dorian by an overwhelming infatuation with Dorian’s youth, innocence and “rose white boyhood”. Their relationship is considered a “romantic” friendship. 

At one point in the novel, Dorian threatens a male chemist with complete societal disgrace, by disclosing crucial information that only Dorian is aware of between the two, unless he follows Dorians strict instruction. 

There are continual gay overtones within the novel. 

 

There is no larger example of this, the hidden homoeroticism within Wilde’s work, than the fact that Wilde had to revise his works from the original affectionate passage that Basil utters to Dorian, in chapter IX of the 1980’s edition:  

 

“It is quite true that I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man usually gives to a friend. Somehow, I had never loved a woman. I suppose I never had time… Well, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I quite admit that I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly. I was jealous of everyone to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When I was away from you, you were still present in my art. 

 
To the following more platonic response in 1891: 
 
“Dorian, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I was dominated, soul, brain and power by you. You became to me the visible incarnation of that unseen ideal whose memory haunts us artists like an exquisite dream. I worshipped you. I grew jealous of everyone to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When you were away from me, you were still present in my art. 

Clearly, Wilde is concealing something within his revisions, perhaps to protect himself from an opressive law and/or speculative fans. 

 

 

Overall, the novel itself seems to be a confession of Oscar Wilde. 

Dorian seems to be a projection of Wilde. 

His charming youthful face is the facade of innocence, of an upper-class novelist in respectable academia, whilst the degrading portrait locked away in his secret room “upstairs”, is the personification of Wilde’s soul, his secret skeletons rotting in his closet.  

Living a double life is a key element within the novel, which Wilde undoubtedly would have been subject to. 

The tragedy is not of the self-destruction of Dorian Grey and his downward-spiral into crime and sexual deviancy, but rather the incessant turmoil Wilde had to endure, ensuring that he’s record, his “face” so to speak, is kept eternally innocent before a heteronormative society. 

The paranoia that Dorian feels, ensuring that the entire world is oblivious to his tarnished soul, his decrepit picture, is rather a projection of his own paranoia regarding the potential unveiling of his own homosexual desires. 

When one is forced to reject all the love one naturally feels for the same sex because of a heteronormative Procrustean Standard of Living, one can’t help idolise the superficial and become superficial in the process. 

Dorian loves Sybil Vane purely for her acting talent… when he discovers that she can no longer act, after finding true love with Dorian, he rejects her and is instantly appalled by her love. One can consider this act superficial, that Dorian only loved Sybil for her talents and not for who she was as a woman, but the very superficiality stems from Dorians, or rather, Wilde’s forced conformity into a superficial society that only allows heterosexual relationships to flourish. To align oneself with that “standard" is to eliminate everything that occurs naturally within oneself, and thus, all that is left, is not authentic or meaningful, but superficial. 

Wilde’s novel, is thus, his account of the superficiality he feels, living this tortured paranoid double life, projected onto Dorian, who has the opportunity, via a supernatural portrait that conceals all his sins and wrinkles, to engage in all the dreams and sensual experiences he could only long for. 

This is not a superficial novel, where a protagonist engages in criminal sinful behaviour purely for the pleasures of sin, but rather, functions as a potential fantasy that Wilde could fulfil, and the consequences of a said lecherous fantasy. 

At the time of writing, homosexuality would have undoubtedly been considered a sin to Wilde. Thus Dorian, committing sin, is simply Wilde indulging in all the unspoken pleasures he yearns to feel. It is a tragic novel, highlighting the love Wilde never allowed himself to attain, and the poisoning of Wilde/Dorians mind by a society that oppresses him. 

 

 

Unfortunately, Wilde was prosecuted for Gross Indecency on behalf of acting on his desires, was stripped of his reputation and status, had his plays “The Importance of being Earnest” and “An Ideal Husband” cancelled at West End, had the novel “Dorian Grey” even used against him in a court of law, proclaiming it a dirty novel that endorsed his homosexuality, was forced to change his name to escape the law and reputation, and eventually, died somewhere in France, poor and unrecognised. 

How fortunate it is, however, that his novel and his plays are still available to read today, and that we can celebrate the person that he was and the literary genius he endowed us with. 


© Copyright 2019 Mason Dzellovich. All rights reserved.

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