The Picture of Dorian Gray is playful, imaginative, and dark in all the right places. Even today its witty one-liners shine in this fast paced tale of one beautiful man’s great decline.
The plot is simple. Amidst flowers and a light summer breeze from the open door into the sunfilled garden Basil Hallward paints a picture of Dorian Gray. It is the most beautiful picture, made so both by Dorian Gray’s physical beauty as well as the intangible affection Hallward feels toward Gray. Alas, enter Lord Henry Wotton a witty scoundrel without an ounce of morals who enthralls Gray with his philosophy of only living life only by the pleasure to the senses.
“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”
The ‘friendship’ og Hallward and Gray is set on pause. Dramatic things happen and Dorian Gray becomes enthralled with his own beauty. So much that he wishes that the picture rather than his face decay.
In this follows a rather obvious tale of hubris, made even more delightful by the commentary of art that Wilde seems to throw in.
It starts gently with
“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”
then escalates to
“The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.”
Before the grand crescendo of
“All art is quite useless.”
Wilde once wrote
“Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”
The complete decay of the beautiful man is wonderful juxtaposed with the three men, each representing their own distinct roles in art. The artist, the consumer and the object. It is easy to see how Wilde may identify with Hallward, an artist pouring so much emotion into his art that he is indistinguishable from the art. And easy to see the Lord Henry Wotton persona that one may slip into to delight and entertain at parties.
So why did Wilde wish to be Dorian Gray, a man driven to madness by his own vanity?
“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.”
Oh, to be admired by an artist, to be an object of pure admiration- that is surely an aspirational fate – in other ages perhaps.
For more poorly written debauchery and earnest poetry visit my blog at ladyscribble.com