As you may have become aware, as you have looked through my growing number of blog posts, I am just a little bit in love with Oscar Wilde. And the decadence, eloquence, and rather philosophical writings of his have been long fascinating my mind, however, today, I have nearly finished his only completed novel; The Picture of Dorian Gray. Moving on through the novel, you begin to observe the complete destruction of a man through the ultimate kind of all-consuming vanity. He is essentially being made the central element of the universe, and subsequently, if his beauty, that which inspired this masterpiece, was to begin to deteriorate, then the universe around him would begin to deteriorate also.
This vanity is portrayed from a completely singular view-point, which potentially adds to the overwhelming decadence of the novel; Dorian Gray is literally the whole world, to both himself and Basil Hallward, something that is an intoxicating responsibility and power simultaneously. This obsession with the self shows how delicate the psychological perception of the self is, and how truly brilliant Wilde is as a writer, with the ability to write in such a completely beautiful fashion.
My favourite element of the novel however is the subversive portrayal of influence of Lord Henry; he fundamentally feeds Dorian Gray these twisted, backwards perceptions of life that reinforce the concerns he has for the world in relation to himself. This is because he himself seems to be more affected by realism than Dorian Gray and Basil Hallward are, perhaps because he is more exposed to London high society as prescribed by the time; the complexities of the social politics described in the novel are familiar to most of us, especially considering the festive season we’re entering. The balance one has to strike between social factions, work demands, and family duty all serve to create potentially a very stressful holiday period.
The lack of innocence however that Lord Henry represents however is the beginning of Dorian Gray’s demise; it is this that leads to his want to experiment with every kind of vice available to him, including endless intoxication and debauchery. Fundamentally however, this abuse of the satanic finery of life does not show on the man physically; his initial wish, that his portrait would grow old as opposed to himself, is fulfilled. This desire haunts him, and eventually, he is forced to greet his own reflection, himself as he was painted by Basil Hallward. The sheer fact that he killed the painter of the portrait symbolises rather aptly his desperation, and the complete disregard he had for his soul, or indeed for willpower and self-control as an entity in itself.
This rather beautiful novel of Oscar Wilde’s is a testament to the extravagant excellence of the late Victorian period of decadence; Wilde himself reflected decadence and in many ways, perhaps could see some of himself in both Basil Hallward and Dorian Gray, both being complex characters of aesthetic value, with little regard for the depth behind the necessary aesthetic value of life, and of possessions. The linguistic quality of the text reflects the richness of the plot itself and indeed the decadence of the late Victorian period as a whole. Wilde himself was critical of the conservative nature of the Victorian period, and led a life that defied many of the social boundaries set at the time.
Oh, Oscar Wilde. Thank goodness you were so naughty.