The author-audience relationship

The conversation in class today made me think about the Victorian celebrity. Someone made a remark about how The Picture of Dorian Gray served as a warning against idolization, because Basil’s worship of Dorian and Dorian’s worship of himself caused Dorian to believe he could get away with anything (and he did get away with quite a lot). In the Longman Anthology of British Literature reading, it talks about how authors during the Victorian era became sort of celebrities. The circulating libraries and three volume novels allowed “…readers who wanted to see more of one character, less of another, or prevent the demise of a third,” to “badger” authors like Dickens, creating a new sort of relationship between author and audience (Longman Anthology 1067). At the end of the Age of Reading section, it is stated that “hero worship was yet another Victorian invention,” and idea which I think can offer some insight on The Picture of Dorian Gray (Longman Anthology 1068). 

Given this practice, I think it’s interesting that the novel focuses on art. Before this new relationship between authors and their audiences, authors (and publishers) had full control over the literary art people consumed, but once the three volume novels became a trend, the audience started to have more of a say over what they read, and the authors lost some of the control they had over their art. I think that kind of mirrors what happens in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Basil creates the portrait of Dorian which he claims to have put too much of himself into, which I think drives home the idea that the the art still belongs to Basil, and he still has control over his own creation, which would reflect the situation of authors before the Victorian era developments (Wilde 8). 

I think, looking at the novel in this lens, Dorian is the art. Even though he was a person before Basil painted his portrait, he was not a very interesting person, and almost immediately after Basil finished the portrait, it comes to reflect Dorian’s soul and Dorian comes to reflect Basil’s art. So in the same vein, I think that Lord Henry can be viewed as the audience or readership. Aside from Dorian, he is the only other person who ever sees the portrait. Like Dickens’ readers, Lord Henry also had a lot of influence over the “art” (ie Dorian) and takes full responsibility for it, thinking “to a large extent the lad was his own creation,” (Wilde 51). 

I also found the parallel between the novel and the idea from the Longman Anthology that “…readers experienced literature as an ongoing part of their lives,” (1067). Still reading Lord Henry as the audience to Basil’s art, this could explain why Lord Henry had a constant relationship with Dorian throughout the book while Basil kind of faded away and only returned to be murdered. Even the way Lord Henry viewed Dorian, as a specimen/psychological study, points to Dorian being less of a human and more of an object/text up for interpretation.  

2 thoughts on “The author-audience relationship”

  1. Talk about “death of the author”! I think it’s interesting that we have works of art both in Dorian Gray and Dionea that come to life. I like your idea that Lord Henry is like a reader who guides the piece of art, but I would say it’s more like an audience interpreting a piece of literature and changing public opinions about it rather than Charles Dickens changing a story to appease his audience, because the painting is one piece of art that already exists. You could also argue that it is Henry himself who changes the painting.

  2. Alex I totally agree! Yes, Dorian is art because he is easily impacted by others’ subjectiveness of him and it is his beauty that makes him this human art form that people fawn over. I think your idea of the Victorian celebrity crosses with one of the creepy, gothic aspects in The Picture of Dorian Gray which is Dorian’s desire for recognition, then fear of recognition towards the end of the novel. In this way, similar to your point about the three volume novel, the public/audience influences the art/Dorian.

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