“The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.” – Oscar Wilde
Warning: Spoilers ahead
To scrutinize The Picture of Dorian Gray is to examine a picture of its soul; the soul wearing the meaning which I have inferred as I sifted through the leaves of its book.
The story is dominated by three characters:
- Dorian Gray: a living essence of beauty and youth
- Basil Hallward: a painter and a bearer of goodness
- Lord Henry Wotton: a man whose main philosophies in life are beauty and pleasure
My thoughts are mostly concentrated on the parallelism of the book to two stories I’ve been told (via different media): 1) The Devil and Daniel Webster, and 2) Black Swan. Googling, I realized that #1 is a retelling of the Faust Legend.
“The legend of Faust is well known in Germany and western Europe. The hero of the tale, a German magician named Faust, or Faustus, agreed to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for youth, knowledge, earthly pleasures, and magical powers.
The legend is based on a historical figure, a wandering German scholar who lived between about 1480 and 1540. Contemporary accounts describe him as a magician with an evil reputation who was associated with black magic. Although a relatively minor figure, he inspired many stories that developed into the Faust legend.
To acquire greater wisdom, power, and pleasure, Faust turned away from God and made a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles. But in selling his soul, he gained eternal damnation. Faust’s tale serves as a warning for those seeking to fulfill their earthly desires without the help of God. … ”
(Source: Myths Encyclopedia)
In other words, this is a late reaction because I never knew I have encountered the Faust Legend twice in my life already. Nevertheless, that has not diminished nor tarnished the disturbing allure of this legend.
The story is told in first person, although it is quite confusing especially during conversations where the narration becomes passive, to delineate which idea is whose probably.
Wilde’s style of writing is very mellow, as soft as the feeling you would get if you imagine to be sleeping in the clouds. So mellow that half the time before the climax, I slept trough his book. (Hahaha. But I’m essentially sleepy lately.) His words are crafted so that there is not a hint of vulgarity in them, just as he intends them to be.
But the point of this entry is so that I get to tell the world (or rather, the handful parts of it that stumble their way into this blog) about my thoughts on this book.
Well, firstly, there is the allusion to homosexuality, as Borders (publisher of the copy I read) says in its description at the back cover. This book was first published in 1890, as it is claimed to have made quite a sensation (according to Borders‘ description).
As I see it though, homosexuality in the book is quite tame in comparison to modern stories on the matter. But of course, it’s the 21st century now. Hello.
Basil Hallward is extremely fond of Dorian Gray, showering him with every inch of compliment he can conjure. And on one conversation, he told Lord Henry:
” … When I like people immensely, I never tell their names to any one. It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvellous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it. … “
Aside from that, Basil also mentioned about his art having an ideal, being that Dorian is the inspiration of it all. And of course, since he is a painter, he paints Dorian’s portraits. Including that one picture which becomes the pivot of Dorian’s life, the conclusion of Basil’s, and the entertainment of Lord Henry’s.
And this is where I figured Black Swan fits: that picture of Dorian Gray is his “lustful twin”, as Thomas Leroy would say it. And the evil magician in the story is Lord Henry Wotton (a.k.a. Harry), although he is rather unconscious of it. His beliefs are terrifying and yet, with his eloquence he is able to conquer his audience. He loves having people under his influence, and so it is not surprising for Dorian Gray to fall under his spell. But Harry does not seek anyone’s ruin; in fact, he wishes only beauty and pleasantry in life.
Dorian obtains Harry’s mindset and embeds his own philosophies upon it, with additional help from a book Harry sent to him. He worships that book. He pursues the senses, cultivates his obsession on them.
He is rather narcissistic, owing mainly to the fact that everybody just seems to adore him and his youthfulness. He commits heaps of sins, but their disturbance do not come to rest in his appearance, only in his memory.
And in his picture.
His picture is the conscience he has never had the courage to carry.
I figured we are all Dorian Grays sometimes. When we do something gravely wrong, we would likely cower from the world. We will bury it in the confines of our past, but it will always be there.
We all have that picture of ourselves, locked in a room that only we have access to. We go to it in bad times; we ask it to keep all the ugliness away.
That picture is our soul. And it is more reflective than a plain surface mirror.
P.S. Thanks to Roi for lending me his copy of the book!