The Picture of Dorian Gray and the Seduction of the Reader
"To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim," writes Oscar Wilde in the famous preface of his classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. One might find it a bit ironic the fact that posterity always has looked upon this book as being more or less an autobiography.
Wilde was surrounded by scandals until his death, stirring the strict, Victorian society he lived in with his homosexual bent and libertine views on life. The Picture of Dorian Gray was therefore also regarded by many people as "highly immoral" and has probably earned the title "classic" years after the author's death.
It is like Wilde means to tell us that art indeed has its important place among people, and beauty is seducing to the viewer. However it is temporary, dangerous, and powerful enough to spoil the life of a man. One must know how to look upon beauty to be able to love it without succumbing to it. As Oscar Wilde was a confirmed aesthete himself, this conclusion may appear paradoxical, but it should be mentioned that not much in this book is not...
"The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely," asserts Wilde, and this turns on to another apparent theme in the book, being the main characters' idea of living for pleasure. "I have never searched for happiness," says Lord Henry Wotton. "Who wants happiness? I have searched for pleasure." It is Lord Henry who best impersonates this pursuit for indulgence, leading a true upper-class dandy life where every act is superfluous and beauty is exalted for being the most important matter in life. One may be inefficient, idle, unwise, sinful or just indifferent to the important issues of life, as long as one fully enjoys it - this both being a fresh idea of individuality given to the stiff society of Wilde's time, and the advice triggering Dorian Gray's personal decline. Since Henry believes that the only aim in life is self-development and that satisfaction of all desires is the only thing that counts, he draws the conclusion that conscience and morality are the two main obstacles that keep people away from achieving these goals. That man's vices could be justified in such a shallow way was one of the main reasons the book was considered immoral by the author's contemporaries. But Lord Henry's always very sharp observations must also be seen as greatly invigorating and perhaps Wilde's attempt to stress on individuality and complexity.
In the beginning of the novel, when Lord Henry first meets Dorian, he states:
"...to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him."
This is an interesting assertion, because later on Lord Henry himself turns into the Bad Influence, pulling the boy's strings. The more time the two spend together, the more Dorian is affected by Henry's striking statements and is gradually transformed until barely nothing remains of his own personality. Henry's vices become Dorian's and as a reader, one starts to wonder which words or thoughts are really Dorian's and not just something Henry has put into his head. This all shows the feebleness of the mind; how easy it is to unconsciously be controlled by others, mixing other people's impressions and thoughts with one's own, never being able to tell the difference.
In The Picture of Dorian...