Discussion Post: The Picture of Dorian Gray

February 25, 2010 at 12:10 am 5 comments

For those of you who are interested, this is the last week to participate in a discussion post and be entered to win the beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classic! You can answer my questions below, ask your own, or just talk about what you liked and what you didn’t — anything counts.

Next week, we’re reading Trilby by George Du Maurier — you might want to brush up on your French for that one! For now, onwards to Dorian:

Lord Henry (a character whom some argue is based on Wilde himself) seems to speak entirely in bons mots or aphorisms. Do you have a favorite, or is there one that you think holds a certain truth? Also, how do you feel about Wilde’s technique with this character — are all of his witticisms distracting, charming, or simply an egotistical exercise for Wilde himself?

I love Lord Henry. Really, I do. He’s almost as awesome as Algernon Moncrieff (The Importance of Being Earnest), and I only say “almost” because he doesn’t have any cunning plans to disguise himself as his friend’s alter ego in order to marry his friend’s pretty ward.

However, his constant witticisms are simply exhausting. When in conjunction with Dorian’s early innocence, Lord Henry’s cynical observations come off as amusing. Once the story has developed, Lord Henry simply becomes comic relief, a character who would be more at home in one of Wilde’s plays rather than this novel.

My favorite Lord Henry-ism? “I am too fond of books to care to write them” — never has anyone summed up my views on literature quite so splendidly!

Discuss how Wilde uses the theater and Dorian’s portrait to explore the relationship between reality and facade. Ultimately, which does Wilde decide is more important, one’s outward appearance, or one’s true nature?

“Blood will out,” as they say, and Wilde’s central theme in this work is that no matter how beautiful a facade may be, it must fall eventually. Dorian’s disillusionment with the actress Sybil Vane is one example; he believes her to be as sweet and passionate as Ophelia, Desdemona, or Rosalind, and is embarrassed and angered to discover that he has been in love with a simple girl who is a very bad actress.

While Dorian remains beautiful in appearance, his nature is corrupted; for all of Lord Henry’s prattling about how beauty is paramount, Wilde seems to reject this notion with Dorian’s final transformation into the bloated, blood-stained figure from the portrait. While beauty is desirable, realism always wins the day. Even Lord Henry has to admit, “All ways end in the same point…disillusionment.”

When Dorian first notices that the portrait has changed, there is a brief time when he is resolved to make the portrait his conscience and strive to redeem himself. After Sybil’s death, he abandons this notion. Is this a proportionate reaction? Why do you think Dorian reverses his position? How does 19th century culture play a role in this change?

First, Dorian seems to believe that he has murdered Sybil, and that murder is unforgivable. Not only has he lost the chance at redeeming himself by marrying this innocent woman (marriage to a virtuous girl as a method for reforming one’s roving ways appears in many Victorian novels, though Lord Henry mocks this practice in Dorian), he has committed another sin from which there can be no redemption.

Additionally, as shown when Dorian attempts to change the picture for the better later in the story, it is hard to say whether marrying Sybil would have removed the look of cruelty from the portrait’s face. Lord Henry says that good intentions are mostly “vanity,” and undoubtedly that would leave its mark on the portrait alongside the cruel sneer,  rather than one erasing the other.

I hope you enjoyed Dorian Gray! See you next week for Trilby — not as well-known, but a classic nevertheless!


Entry filed under: Classics, LT Classics Challenge. Tags: , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Britney  |  February 25, 2010 at 4:03 am

    I’m still reading (Dorian just learned of Sibyl’s death).

    I do have to say that I’m enjoying this book much more than I had expected. I’ve been an Oscar WIlde fan since I visited Dublin six years ago, so I’m happy to finally be reading something he wrote!

    • 2. KT  |  February 25, 2010 at 10:11 am

      Ohh, sorry about the spoilers, then! I enjoyed this book as well, though there is one long bit in the middle about Dorian’s hobbies that seemed to drag on forever. Overall, I think it’s much more serious than his other work. I’d recommend The Importance of Being Earnest for your next Wilde!

  • 3. Britney  |  February 25, 2010 at 10:21 am

    No, don’t be sorry! I got myself into it (and sometimes I like to know what to look forward to).

    I do have a book of plays by Oscar Wilde, and I think The Importance of Being Earnest is included in it. :)

  • 4. Amusing Search Queries « Literary Transgressions  |  February 14, 2011 at 12:02 am

    […] term: transgression in the picture of dorian gray I believe the point is that all his transgressions are in the portrait, not just one! Among his […]

  • […] link.Further Reading/ViewingThe Picture of Dorian Gray Trailer YouTube video please click here. Discussion Post: The Picture of Dorian Gray Everlasting Beauty – The Picture of Dorian Gray   Be Sociable, Share! Related […]


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