Oscar Wilde

The picture of Dorian Gray

This route finds the best expression in Wilde's thought, who brings back Walter Pater's theory: "Life as a work of art"

 

He was born in Dublin in 1854, and soon distinguished himself for his eccentricity. Wilde became a disciple of Walter Pater accepting, proudly, the theory of "Art for art's sake". He was also a fashionable man, settled in Lodon, for his extraordinary wit and his foppish way of dressing, noted as a great talker. Wilde totally adopted "the aesthetic ideal", as he affirmed in one of his famous conversations "My life is like a work of art". He lived the double role of rebel and dandy in his attempt to break with the society. The dandy is a  bourgheois artist who, in spite of his uneasiness, remains a member of his class, and the elegance is a symbol of the superiority of his spirit, that demands absolute freedom. Life was meant for pleasure, and pleasure was beauty, so Wilde's main interests were beatiful clothes, good conversation, delicious food. He affirmed "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all". Infact the concept of "art for art's sake" was to him a moral imperative non merely an aesthetic one:"art is the cult of beauty" and only through this way he could prevent the murder of the soul.

 

The picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray is a young man whose beauty fascinates an artist, Basil Hallward, who decides to paint him. While the young man's desires are satisfied, including that of eternal youth, the signs of age, experience and vice appear on the portrait. Dorian lives only for pleasure, making use of everybody and letting people die because of his insensitivity. When the painter sees the corrupted image of the portrait, Dorian kills him. Later Dorian wants to free himself of the portrait, witness to his spiritual corruption, and stabs it, but he mysteriously kills himself. In the very moment of death the picture returns to its original purity, and Dorian's face becomes "withered, wrinkled and loathsome". Dorian is the protagonist, the typical dandy, who thinks man should live his life, realising his wishes and his dreams.

The moral of this novel is that every excess must be punished and reality cannot be escaped; when Dorian destroys the picture, he cannot avoid the punishment for all his sins, that is, death. The horrible picture could be seen as a symbol of  the immorality of the Victorian middle class, while Dorian and his pure appearence are symbols of bourgeois hypocrisy. Finally the picture, restored to its original beauty, illustrates Wilde's theories of art: art survives people, art is eternal. In this connection it is very interesting the preface to the work, unanimously considered the manifesto of Aestheticism.

 

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