THE STATE LINGUISTIC UNIVERSITY AFTER V. BRUSOV
OSCAR WILDE: THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish playwright, poet and author of numerous short stories and one novel. Known for his biting wit, he became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London, and one of the greatest «celebrities» of his day. Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest. As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned for two years' hard labour after being convicted of homosexual relationships, described as «gross indecency» with other men. After Wilde was released from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry, never to return to Ireland or Britain.
Oscar Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin. Oscar Wilde was educated at home until he was nine. He then attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Fermanagh, spending the summer months with his family in rural Waterford, Wexford and at his father's family home in Mayo.
Wilde had a disappointing relationship with the prestigious Oxford Union. On matriculating in 1874, he had applied to join the Union, but failed to be elected. Nevertheless, when the Union's librarian requested a presentation copy of Poems (1881), Wilde complied. After a debate called by Oliver Elton, the book was condemned for alleged plagiarism and returned to Wilde.
While at Magdalen, Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna, which he read at Encaenia; he failed to win the Chancellor's English Essay Prize with an essay that would be published posthumously as The Rise of Historical Criticism (1909). In November 1878, he graduated with a double first in classical moderations and Literae Humaniores, or «Greats».
At Oxford University, Wilde petitioned a Masonic Lodge and was later raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason retaining his membership in the Craft until his death.
Legends persist that his behaviour cost him a dunking in the River Cherwell in addition to having his rooms trashed, but the cult spread among certain segments of society to such an extent that languishing attitudes, «too-too» costumes and aestheticism generally became a recognized pose. Publications such as the Springfield Republican commented on Wilde's behavior during his visit to Boston in order to give lectures on aestheticism, suggesting that Wilde's conduct was more of a bid for notoriety rather than a devotion to beauty and the aesthetic. Wilde's mode of dress also came under attack by critics such as Higginson, who wrote in his paper Unmanly Manhood, of his general concern that Wilde's effeminacy would influence the behaviour of men and women, arguing that his poetry «eclipses masculine ideals under such influence men would become effeminate dandies». He also scrutinized the links between Oscar Wilde's writing, personal image and homosexuality, calling his work and way of life «immoral».
Wilde was deeply impressed by the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater, who argued for the central importance of art in life. Wilde later commented ironically when he wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray that «All art is quite useless». Wilde's sexual orientation has variously been considered bisexual or gay. He had significant sexual relationships with Frank Miles, Constance Lloyd (Wilde's wife), Robbie Ross, and Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde also had numerous sexual encounters with young working-class men, who were often male prostitutes. Wilde became one of the most prominent personalities of his day. Though he was sometimes ridiculed for them, his paradoxes and witty sayings were quoted on all sides.
The picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890. Wilde later revised this edition, making several alterations, and adding new chapters; the amended version was published by Ward, Lock, and Company in April 1891. The story is often mistitled The Portrait of Dorian Gray.
The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Talking in Basil's garden, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Realising that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian cries out, expressing his desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than himself. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, plunging him into debauched acts. The portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging. The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered a work of classic gothic horror fiction with a strong Faustian theme.
The novel begins with Lord Henry Wotton, observing the artist Basil Hallward painting the portrait of a handsome young man named Dorian Gray. Dorian arrives later, meeting Wotton. After hearing Lord Henry's world view, Dorian begins to think beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life, the only thing left to pursue. He wishes that the portrait of himself which Basil is painting would grow old in his place. Under the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian begins to explore his senses. He discovers an actress, Sibyl Vane, who performs Shakespeare in a dingy theatre. Dorian approaches her and soon proposes marriage. Sibyl, who refers to him as «Prince Charming,» rushes home to tell her skeptical mother and brother. Her protective brother, James, tells her that if «Prince Charming» harms her, he will kill him.
Dorian invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet. Sibyl, whose only knowledge of love was love of theatre, loses her acting abilities through the experience of true love with Dorian. Dorian rejects her, saying her beauty was in her art, and he is no longer interested in her if she can no longer act. When he returns home he notices that Basil's portrait of him has changed. Dorian realizes his wish has come true – the portrait now bears a subtle sneer and will age with each sin he commits, whilst his own appearance remains unchanged. He decides to reconcile with Sibyl, but Lord Henry arrives in the morning to say Sibyl has killed herself by swallowing prussic acid. With the persuasion and encouragement of Lord Henry, Dorian realizes that lust and looks are where his life is headed and he needs nothing else. That marked the end of Dorian's last and only true love affair. Over the next 18 years, Dorian experiments with every vice, mostly under the influence of a «poisonous» French novel, a present from Lord Henry. Wilde never reveals the title but his inspiration was possibly drawn from Joris-Karl Huysmans's À rebours (Against Nature) due to the likenesses that exist between the two novels.
One night, before he leaves for Paris, Basil arrives to question Dorian about rumours of his indulgences. Dorian does not deny his debauchery. He takes Basil to the portrait, which is as hideous as Dorian's sins. In anger, Dorian blames the artist for his fate and stabs Basil to death. He then blackmails an old friend named Alan Campbell, who is a chemist, into destroying Basil's body. Wishing to escape his crime, Dorian travels to an opium den. James Vane is nearby and hears someone refer to Dorian as «Prince Charming.» He follows Dorian outside and attempts to shoot him, but he is deceived when Dorian asks James to look at him in the light, saying he is too young to have been involved with Sibyl 18 years earlier. James releases Dorian but is approached by a woman from the opium den who chastises him for not killing Dorian and tells him Dorian has not aged for 18 years.
While at dinner, Dorian sees Sibyl Vane's brother stalking the grounds and fears for his life. However, during a game-shooting party a few days later, a lurking James is accidentally shot and killed by one of the hunters. After returning to London, Dorian informs Lord Henry that he will be good from now on, and has started by not breaking the heart of his latest innocent conquest, a vicar's daughter in a country town, named Hetty Merton. At his apartment, Dorian wonders if the portrait has begun to change back, losing its senile, sinful appearance, now he has changed his immoral ways. He unveils the portrait to find it has become worse. Seeing this, he questions the motives behind his «mercy,» whether it was merely vanity, curiosity, or the quest for new emotional excess. Deciding that only full confession will absolve him, but lacking feelings of guilt and fearing the consequences, he decides to destroy the last vestige of his conscience. In a rage, he picks up the knife that killed Basil Hallward and plunges it into the painting. His servants hear a cry from inside the locked room and send for the police. They find Dorian's body, stabbed in the heart and suddenly aged, withered and horrible. It is only through the rings on his hand that the corpse can be identified. Beside him, however, the portrait has reverted to its original form.
In a letter, Wilde said the main characters are reflections of himself: «Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be–in other ages, perhaps».
The main characters are:
Dorian Gray – a handsome young man who becomes enthralled with Lord Henry's idea of a new hedonism. He begins to indulge in every kind of pleasure, moral and immoral.
Basil Hallward – an artist who becomes infatuated with Dorian's beauty. Dorian helps Basil to realise his artistic potential, as Basil's portrait of Dorian proves to be his finest work.
Lord Henry «Harry» Wotton – a nobleman who is a friend to Basil initially, but later becomes more intrigued with Dorian's beauty and naivete. Extremely witty, Lord Henry is seen as a critique of Victorian culture at the end of the century, espousing a view of indulgent hedonism. He conveys to Dorian his world view, and Dorian becomes corrupted as he attempts to emulate him.
The other characters are:
Sibyl Vane – An exceptionally talented and beautiful (though extremely poor) actress with whom Dorian falls in love. Her love for Dorian destroys her acting ability, as she no longer finds pleasure in portraying fictional love when she is experiencing love in reality.
James Vane – Sibyl's brother who is to become a sailor and leave for Australia. He is extremely protective of his sister, especially as his mother is useless and concerned only with Dorian's money. He is hesitant to leave his sister, believing Dorian will harm her and promises to be vengeful if any harm should come to her.
Alan Campbell – a chemist and once a good friend of Dorian; he ended their friendship when Dorian's reputation began to come into question.
Lord Fermor – Lord Henry's uncle. He informs Lord Henry about Dorian's lineage.
Victoria, Lady Henry Wotton – Lord Henry's wife, who only appears once in the novel while Dorian waits for Lord Henry; she later divorces Lord Henry in exchange for a pianist.
In his preface, Wilde writes about Caliban, a character from Shakespeare's play The Tempest. When Dorian is telling Lord Henry Wotton about his new 'love', Sibyl Vane, he refers to all of the Shakespearean plays she has been in, referring to her as the heroine of each play. At a later time, he speaks of his life by quoting Hamlet, who has similarly driven his girlfriend to suicide and her brother to swear revenge.
The Picture of Dorian Gray began as a short novel submitted to Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. In 1889, J.M. Stoddart, a proprietor for Lippincott, was in London to solicit short novels for the magazine. Wilde submitted the first version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was published on 20 June 1890 in the July edition of Lippincott's. There was a delay in getting Wilde's work to press while numerous changes were made to the novel. Some of these changes were made at Wilde's instigation, and some at Stoddart's. Wilde removed all references to the fictitious book «Le Secret de Raoul», and to its fictitious author, Catulle Sarrazin. The book and its author are still referred to in the published versions of the novel, but are unnamed.
Wilde also attempted to moderate some of the more homoerotic instances in the book or instances whereby the intentions of the characters may be misconstrued. In the 1890 edition, Basil tells Henry how he «worships» Dorian, and begs him not to «take away the one person that makes my life absolutely lovely to me.» The focus for Basil in the 1890 edition seems to be more towards love, whereas the Basil of the 1891 edition cares more for his art, saying «the one person who gives my art whatever charm it may possess: my life as an artist depends on him.» The book was also extended greatly: the original thirteen chapters became twenty, and the final chapter was divided into two new chapters. The additions involved the «fleshing out of Dorian as a character» and also provided details about his ancestry, which helped to make his «psychological collapse more prolonged and more convincing.» The character of James Vane was also introduced, which helped to elaborate upon Sibyl Vane's character and background; the addition of the character helped to emphasise and foreshadow Dorian's selfish ways, as James sees through Dorian's character, and guesses upon his future dishonourable actions. Another notable change is that in the latter half of the novel events were specified as taking place around Dorian Gray's 32nd birthday, on 7 November. After the changes, they were specified as taking place around Dorian Gray's 38th birthday, on 9 November, thereby extending the period of time over which the story occurs. The former date is also significant in that it coincides with the year in Wilde's life during which he was introduced to homosexual practices.
The preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray was added, along with other amendments, after the edition published in Lippincott's was criticised. Wilde used it to address the criticism and defend the novel's reputation. It consists of a collection of statements about the role of the artist, art itself, the value of beauty, and serves as an indicator of the way in which Wilde intends the novel to be read, as well as traces of Wilde's exposure to Daoism and the writings of the Chinese Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi. Shortly before writing the preface, Wilde reviewed Herbert A. Giles's translation of the writings of Zhuangzi. In it he writes:
The honest ratepayer and his healthy family have no doubt often mocked at the dome-like forehead of the philosopher, and laughed over the strange perspective of the landscape that lies beneath him. If they really knew who he was, they would tremble. For Chuang Tsǔ spent his life in preaching the great creed of Inaction, and in pointing out the uselessness of all things.