February 24, 2005

In pinks and red: Dorian Gray

About two years ago, I was part of a writing group at the Mount Pleasant Library. We were to create a story from the ground up with the idea that our story should focus on one element: plot, character or point-of-view. In any case, I thought back to these elements while reading The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Wilde's plot, though important in the development of the story--because it is a novel, is not the driving force behind the work. Instead, the character study of Dorian Gray and his supporting characters, Basil and Lord Henry (as of chapters 1-4), jeopardize the scenes.

The beautiful surroundings:

The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind strred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

...high pannelled wainscoting of olive-stained oak, its cream coloured frize and celing of raised platerwork, and its brickdust felt carpet strewn with silk, long-fringed Persian rugs.

set an amiable scene, but the dialogue, full of dark and satirical comments about human beings and their nature are enough to spoil the outward beauty of the pretty setting. This is perhaps Wilde's intention--to make the reader appreciate what lies beneath a pretty scene, and discover the layers beneath.

Dorian's layers are the subject of study. His attitude toward his own beauty goes from a sort of understated understanding that he is attractive to an outward understanding that he is a beautiful creature, but in the same instant, a beautiful creature who will fall apart. This assumption, is due in large part to Basil's, and especially Lord Henry's, views concerning his appearance. Is there something beneath this attractive exterior, or is it simply a young man wrestling with the loss of his youth?

Wilde foreshadows, quite sneakily, I might add, to the demise of Dorian's beauty through a beautiful image:

"The spray of lilac [Dorian] fell from his hand upon the gravel. A furry bee came and buzzed round it for a moment. Then it began to scramble all over the oval stellate globe of the tiny blossoms."

Later Wilde describes Dorian again as a flower, "bear[ing] blossoms of scarlet flame."

Flowers are an extended metaphor throughout the work; however, one stands out as not fitting appropriately with the character. Basil describes his relationship to Dorian as rather superficial stating, "I have given away my whole soul to some one who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer's day."

Dorian is a more apt person to say something like this. He is the ornament who will most likely fade away as time passes. Dorian, in relationship to Basil, is a muse and perhaps a friend, but will his image not fade, as Dorian mentions? Yes, and he will lose his usefulness, tossed aside when his youth or his petals fade in the heat of the day.

As for the stance of Wilde, I think that the dialogue of Lord Henry and Dorian and Basil are a sort of direct discourse on artwork. The artist, Basil, for example, stands behind Eliot that "an artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them." Though Eliot does not say that one should keep all f one's self out of their work, there is a definite differentiation between personal work for catharsis and professional.

That is the reason Basil has such difficulty giving up this work to the masses: "I will not bare my soul to their shallow prying eyes." He has "shown in it [the painting of Dorian Gray] the secret of [his] soul."

He has broken the artist impersonality rule, but luckily, at least from Lord Henry's view, "It is the finest portrait of modern times."

But the portrait is going to Dorian. Maybe the scarlet will turn to crimson.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at February 24, 2005 12:40 AM | TrackBack

I felt bad for Dorian while reading, because neither of his "friends" seem to care a whole lot about Dorian himself. Like you mentioned, Basil cares for Dorian for purely selfish reasons and Lord Henry seems mainly to enjoy the conquest of corrupting Dorian. While he may be the epitome of beauty, that beauty seems to be getting in the way of his life. I thought it was stated beautifully on page 52 where Lord Henry was musing about Dorian's parentage:

"Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic."

Posted by: Johanna at February 24, 2005 2:44 PM

I think that is the whole push behind this story, Johanna. How beauty can be self-destructive--an end in itself. As I mentioned, I see a very sad ending for Dorian.

Posted by: Amanda at February 25, 2005 8:57 AM

Why feel bad for Dorian, he was a puppet, whatever anyone told him that is how he thought, this way of thinking is what led him to his death and the loss of his soul

Posted by: tim at April 19, 2005 7:51 PM
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