In the class “Angels and Demons” with Prof. Skalak we’re reading Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlow. Doctor Faustus follows the life of a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in return for a devil to do whatever he wishes. As I was looking over passages I’d marked I began to realize some interesting similarities between Dorian Gray and Faustus. I don’t mean to argue that they are the same or mirrors of each other. In the blog post I want to explore the similarities to see if there are any interesting connections to pull out of Dorian Gray.
The first connection I made was between the figure of Mephastophilis and Lord Henry. Both are introduced to the protagonist (Dorian and Faustus respectively) early in the text. Faustus summons Mephastophilis while Dorian is introduced to Harry but both are the catalyst for corruption. Another connection was the loss of the protagonists soul. For Dorian the portrait, as he states, “was to bear the burden of his shame” (Wilde 102) and for Faustus Mephastophilis/Lucifer has taken his soul. While these are not necessarily the same thing I feel like they echo each other. Both characters get something in return for their soul (and potentially their salvation depending on the religious reading of the text).
Both characters also have a doubleness. Dorian is literally doubled in the portrait. He looks at himself and uses this second self to separate himself from the actions he chooses. He does not need to see himself age or become ugly with his sin because the portrait does that for him. In Faustus the double self is more subtle but can be seen in the way that Faustus is constantly speaking to himself in the third person. When he expresses either his desire to work for the devil or his desire to repent he does so in the third person. This creates a separation from his actions because he treats them as though another person is doing them.
There is also a parallel in the way that books are discussed. Oscar Wilde explicitly states that “Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book” (Wilde 140). This connects some of Dorians downfall to his reading dangerous literature. He read a book that influenced him so much that he becomes more corrupted than ever. In Faustus literature has a similarly corrupting function. Faustus discovers how to conjure the devil from a book. His last line before being dragged to hell is “I’ll burn my books” as though that would save him from damnation (Marlow 1508). Both of these texts reference literature as a corrupting element.
Structurally both texts follow the white male protagonist through his decent into sin and corruption. We meet the protagonist before he is damned and very early in the text the reader is shown a moment of change where both are changed and begin their journey towards damnation. Both stories end with the death of this protagonist at their own hands and at the same time by accident. Dorian attempts to destroy the portrait and destroys himself instead. Faustus sells his soul and then is unwillingly taken years later.
Now that I’ve outlined all these similarities I’m not quite sure what this tells us about these texts. Perhaps Dorian Gray is more invested in religion than it first appears. Perhaps Wilde was influenced by Marlowes work. I think that both are invested in exploring white masculinity and what that means. They explore how these men navigate their desires and influences from the world. Despite the more than two hundred years’ time difference these texts have similarities that connect them. If anyone has any other ideas about this I’m curious what you think! I was interested in the ways these two texts participate in some of the same projects but I’m not sure if it’s entirely fruitful yet. Any light ya’ll can shed is much appreciated!