Dorian Gray’s Love for a Performance

Throughout Wilde’s novel, readers are encouraged by Lord Henry to view Dorian Gray as an interesting mind to be observed and analyzed. Therefore, who better to pull into the psychoanalysis of Dorian than Freud himself. In his speech on Writers and Day-Dreaming, Freud provided an analysis on the act of day-dreaming and fantasies for adults that is useful in understanding Dorian’s relationship with the young and beautiful actress, Sibyl.

Sibyl is nothing more than an idea to Dorian; she is not an actual person of substance in his mind, instead she is a proxy for his own fantasy of immortality. He first noticed her on the stage, and from that moment on she was an ever-changing and malleable idea. She was someone new each night that Dorian went to see her, and he could always return to whichever representation or role that he enjoyed most. “Might we not say that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or rather, re-arranges the things of his world in a new way which pleases him?” (Freud, 144). Dorian never understood that there was more to Sibyl than her art because he did not want to. He could continue to love her as her performance, and therefore she could be anything he wanted her to be.

“I have seen her in every age, in every costume. Ordinary women never appeal to one’s imagination. They are limited to their century. No glamour ever transfigures them. One knows their minds as easily as one knows their bonnets… But an actress! Oh how different an actress is! Harry! Why didn’t you tell me that the only thing worth loving is an actress” (Wilde, 51).

Sibyl was never a real person to him, she was only a piece of living, breathing art for him to admire. Dorian’s love for Sibyl stems from these grand romances that have lived for centuries, never losing their beauty and their relevance to society and human emotion, that she portrays on stage. There is the immortality of beauty that Dorian will never possess, and is constantly reminded of through his portrait, and Sibyl has had to carry the torch of that beauty through her performances.

When discussing an orphan’s fantasy for a successful life that centers around a stable family and home, Freud explained:

“In the phantasy, the dreamer has regained what he possessed in his happy childhood – the protecting house, the loving parents and the first objects of his affectionate feelings. You will see this example from the way in which the wish makes use of an occasion in the present to construct, on the pattern of the past, a picture of the future.”

By planting seeds of discontent in Dorian’s mind, and the idea that the most important thing he has is his youth and beauty that comes with it, Lord Henry took away Dorian’s happiness. Lord Henry encouraged Dorian to think about things he wasn’t quite ready for, therefore in idealizing Sibyl, Dorian is regaining the innocence and beauty that was stripped from him. However he is also building his idea of an ideal future, because Sibyl is a symbol of the immortality of beautiful art, therefore he can regain the delusion of his own beauty’s immortality by latching it on to Sibyl’s work.

Basically, Dorian’s passion for his actress stems from the fact that he can not separate her performance from who she is as a person. This then makes me wonder about Freud’s idea of when a child begins to separate play from reality, and therefore as an adult they are able to separate fantasy from reality. Personally, I don’t think Dorian ever learned to separate one from the other, which is how we ended up with this situation.

One thought on “Dorian Gray’s Love for a Performance”

  1. In my blog post I also talked about the difference between ethics and aesthetics in the novel – Dorian lives solely in the world of aesthetics, which is artificial, while his portrait lives in the world of ethics, which is real. I like your connection to Freud’s essay on day-dreaming – Dorian’s life definitely resembles Freud’s definition of the “fantasy,” and I find the quote “he creates a world of his own, or rather, re-arranges the things of his world in a way which pleases him” especially relevant to Dorian’s life – he attempts to surround himself solely with beauty, conforming to the ideal of the Aesthetic movement.

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