The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
Noded by _chaotic_ with the exception of the Preface which was already noded by st.augustine before I started this little project.
Table of Contents
About the Book
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is the only novel written by Oscar Wilde, a playwright who came to be known for the details of his private life as much as for his genius. It is a gothic novel concerned with the degredation of a person as a result of their immoral actions - displayed in the case of Dorian Gray by a painting which bears the marks of the character's evil deeds while Dorian himself remains eternally youthful.
Originally serialised in "Lippincott's Monthly Magazine," the story was met with criticism from many people who found discomfort in the image of a seemingly respectable member of the upper class, an English gentleman, living to excesses and behaving scandalously.
Wilde responded to the public outcry in the preface which was added to the story when it was later published in the form of a novel, saying "Books are well written, or badly written. That is all."
To this day there is a debate as to the meaning of the book. Some say that Wilde used the hidden corruption of Dorian Gray as a metaphor for upper class Victorian society - superficially good and respectable but with elements of violence, sexuality, greed and corruption carefully concealed beneath the surface. Throughout the book we see examples of this, particularly in the scenes in which Dorian socialises with members of his own wealthy class. The underlying assumption is that if someone appears to be honorable, noble and good natured then this must certainly be the case. This is made most apparent when Wilde writes:
"Society, civilized society at least, is never very ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating."
Others suggest that the central theme of the book is the power of influence which people are able to exercise over their peers. This theory is supported by Lord Henry's whimsical suggestions and paradoxical statements which fascinate the impressionable Dorian Gray, and indeed, it could be argued that Lord Henry is chiefly to blame for Dorian's downfall. Dorian becomes intoxicated by a book given to him by Lord Henry in which the central character lives only for the thrill of new experiences, and this can be observed in much of Dorian's behaviour.
Wilde makes extensive use of symbolism to strengthen the impression of Dorian's fall from grace. In particular, he links certain characters to colours which best represent their nature.
When we first encounter Dorian he is pure and innocent. This idea is reinforced by the reoccurring use of white, which then diminishes as Dorian sinks into depravity. When Lord Henry first encounters Dorian he is captivated by his "white purity." Later in the book, Dorian orders a bunch of orchids, but requests that he should be given "no white ones at all."
Basil Hallward is the voice of reason, which Dorian declines to hear. After completing his portrait of Dorian, Basil signs his name on the painting in plain vermillion (reddish-brown) letters. This is not a colour with exciting connotations, in fact it is rather dull and dreary in the same way that Basil's advice seems dull and dreary to Dorian.
Lord Henry, on the other hand, is associated with lavish, attractive colours. Luxurious purples, sensuous dark reds and delicate shades of pink (such as when he washes his fingers in a bowl of rose water) suggest the appeal of Lord Henry's hedonistic philosophy and enigmatic personality.
Wilde's style of writing in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" includes long sections of dialogue, very much like conversations in a play. Those familliar with the author's dramatic works will recognise similarities between the novel and many of Wilde's plays such as "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Lady Windermere's Fan".
Although the tale of Dorian Gray is one of gothic horror, elements of satire can be found in Wilde's depiction of the wealthy elite who devote themselves to:
"...the great aristocratic art of doing absolutely nothing."
and through observations such as that a character's ownership of coal mines could
"...afford him the decency of burning wood upon his own hearth."
With all these elements taken into consideration, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is a masterfully crafted, evocatively written novel which leaves the reader to form their own interpretation of the key underlying theme.
Notes on Noding
In noding "The Picture of Dorian Gray" I have indented all of the dialogue using block quotes. I feel this is appropriate because of the length of some sections of conversation between characters.
Due to the length of certain chapters, some of them have been split into two writeups. I have tried to ensure that the text has been split at points least disruptive for the continuous flow of the narrative.
It has been a long, time consuming process getting "The Picture of Dorian Grey" onto e2, but it is one of my favourite books and I hope that by doing so I can introduce it to other members of the community. If you would like to discuss the book at all, please /msg me.
Update - Thanks to Gritchka for linking the preface for me.
Update 2 - The Picture of Dorian Gray first appeared in print in 1890, published on E2 under Fair Use.