Oscar Wilde, despite having lived and died in the first half of the twentieth century, that is, in the year 1900, when he was just about 46 years old, remains, to this day in the twenty first century, a man whose intellectual witticisms and aestheticisms are well appreciated and even stay unparalleled today. In fact, it is often said that Oscar Wilde's life in itself was a veritable art form, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in his work 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. It is through this work that the author explores sensitive topics like the social classes and their behavior, the vanity and the narcissism that is inherent in these people, and the mortality that everyone has to face at one time or another during their own lifetimes. (Tanaka, 5)
The novel in its first published version appeared in the Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, in July 1890. It initially contained thirteen chapters, but the next year the novel was amended and along with numerous revisions, it now contained six new chapters. (Beckson, 67) There are several opinions about the novel, and for the main pat they are all appreciative of the amount of depth of emotion that is revealed within the pages of the book, but, however, there are some who state that the Picture of Dorian Grey is one of the most boring books, in today's context, ever written, because there are passages after passages of words that are quite completely uninteresting. (Nunokawa, 41)
Oscar Wilde is also known to have defined love and beauty in terms of 'Phaedrus' by Plato, wherein the two abstracts are stated to be viewed according to the inclination of the beholder, while having nothing to do with the intrinsic morality of art at the same time. In fact, Oscar Wilde's novel was condemned at the time of publication as being decadent and, in answer; Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said that there is nothing that can be called either 'moral or immoral' within the pages of a book; and aesthetic and moral values are totally independent of each other in the book. He also stated that a book can either be well written or badly written, and that was all. (Monsman, 16)
In 'The picture of Dorian Gray', two characters, one, a painter Basil Hallward, and another, his college friend and dandy Lord Henry Watton become friendly with Dorian Gray, an exceptionally beautiful young man. Basil feels that he must paint Dorian Gray so that the painting may inspire him, and Lord Henry, the philosopher, seeks to influence him with his various ideas on New Hedonism. Dorian Gray, an impressionable young man, falls under the spell of Basil's painting, and of Lord Henry's philosophies and thoughts, and seeks to pledge his very soul in order to remain young forever. Meanwhile, Dorian meets a pretty young actress named Sibyl Vane, who has acted in numerous plays of Shakespeare, and expresses his love for her. They plan to marry. (Notes on the Picture of Dorian Gray)
However, what happens thereafter is an ironical twist of fate, wherein when the love that they feel for each other becomes more and more real, the actress loses her acting abilities, and this makes Dorian Gray spurn her advances and turn her away from him in a most cruel and unkind manner, despite having been in love with her before. Sibyl Vane, not knowing what else to do, decides to commit suicide, and therefore takes her own life. It is after this incident that Dorian Gray first notices a cruel twist to his facial expression, in the painting. Although Dorian Gray is dismayed be the death of his lady love, Lord Henry, spouting philosophy, manages to convince Dorian that her death can in fact be interpreted as well as taken as an aesthetic and an intensely artistic experience. (Notes on the Picture of Dorian Gray)
Thereafter, Dorian begins to live a life of debauchery and decadence. He not only becomes completely self-indulgent, but also starts to pamper himself to sensual pleasure of all kinds, both good and bad. While this is happening in Dorian Gray's life, the portrait and his face in the picture keep changing, turning from the innocent face that it once was to one that is evil and malevolent at present, while his real face remains as young and as youthful and vibrant as it ever was. Basil Hallward, on a mission to make Dorian Gray change his decadent ways, visits him, and attempts to talk him out of his evil doings but, Doran after revealing the secret of the portrait to him, decides to destroy him, and therefore, kills him without a second thought.
After committing the murder, when the body of Basil has to be disposed of, Dorian blackmails another fellow decadent, Alan Hallway, into making the necessary arrangements for its disposal. It is after this that another woman tempts Dorian, and when he is successful in being able to resist the temptation, he takes stock of the situation and decides to reform his ways. When he informs Lord Henry of this decision, he sees in his own picture a look that implies moral hypocrisy and also of cynicism. Bitterly angry by what he sees, Dorian Gray loses his temper and attempts to slash the picture into several pieces. What happens however, is the inevitable; that is, Dorian Gray, by destroying his portrait, has destroyed himself. The portrait returns to the picture of the young and beautiful and innocent person that Dorian was before he was painted, and Dorian Gray himself becomes an old and barely recognizable individual, completely wrinkled and aged. (Notes on the Picture of Dorian Gray)
Much earlier in the novel 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', Dorian is seen as the pastoral Greek ideal and epitome of 'beauty' as such, and this aspect makes his moral decadence and corruption even more unacceptable as it progresses throughout the story. Even if the moral dissipation belies his beautiful appearance, the narrative does not question the true state of aesthetic beauty. However, the fact that outward appearances belie and hide the true and the innermost thoughts of the individual is nowhere better revealed than in the novel. What Oscar Wilde tries to say is that Dorian Gray's 'true' character cannot be inscribed and written on his body; it can only be done in the picture of the individual. This factor is exemplified by the fact that even Lord Henry, supposedly the most intelligent man in the novel, cannot believe that a man as beautiful as Dorian Gray cannot possibly commit murder. He cannot commit murder because he does not 'look the part'.
The recurring themes of the novels of that time were that of art vs. truth, appearance vs. reality, and public vs. private. In Oscar Wilde's work, especially in Dorian Gray, the enormous gap between appearances and true reality is revealed in the painting of Dorian Gray, and what the painting succeeds in dong is exactly what Dorian attempts to conceal form others, if only because of the fact that what he is doing is morally wrong and completely depraved. What he attempts to conceal is externalized by the painting, and all his decadence and evil ways are revealed for all in the painting. His physical body, however, is able to maintain its beauty and its innocence, only because of the fact that the painting takes on all the consequences of Dorian's actions. Certainly, looks can be deceiving, and all is not what it seems to be on the surface of things. (Notes on the Picture of Dorian Gray)
Is it actually possible to capture a person's essence, and is essence important at all? What exactly is essence and why does it matter so much? These themes of superficiality and misleading appearances and more are obsessions of Oscar Wilde, and he revels in gaining insights into this theme throughout the novel. He at times derides it, and at times lauds it, and sometimes even appears to endorse it, like for example when Lord Henry talks about it philosophically, and when he is faced with the decadent and despicable crime that Dorian Gray has committed, that of the murder of Basil Hallward, chooses to ignore it or to shrug it off, by stating that a beautiful man such as Dorian Gray would not be able to commit such a dastardly deed. Sir Henry indeed turns a blind eye to the many and numerous faults of Dorian Gray and refuses to accept the truth for what it is. The obsession with the 'beautiful' and temporary pleasures of the time, when such pleasures were actually at odds with the Puritanical and Victorian values of the time, shows that the people of the time believed in surface beauty more than anything else.
However, the belief that all one's sins are actually inscribed on one's own conscience takes on a lot of importance, and it…