You’ll Be the Prince and I’ll Be the Princess: The Aesthetics of Heterosexuality in Dorian Gray

this is soooo us – Dorian

“Romeo and Juliet” by Julius Kronberg (1886)

I think it is safe to say that heterosexual love is the most perennially popular of Western literature topics, for better or worse. Even the Odyssey is framed with a heterosexual marriage. And Taylor Swift has reportedly become a billionaire this week. All this love stuff has to make a mark on the psyche, and it certainly does for our lovebirds Dorian and Sibyl.

Dorian Gray becomes infatuated with Sibyl when he sees her acting in Shakespeare plays. Dorian says, “She is all the great heroines of the world in one. She is more than an individual… I want to make Romeo jealous. I want the dead lovers of the world to hear our laughter and grow sad. I want a breath of our passion to stir their dust into consciousness, to wake their ashes to pain. I love her, and I must make her love me,” (Chapter 4). Dorian sees no value in Sibyl Vane herself, only what she can become in his and the world’s imagination. He hopes that when he makes her love him, he will become a part of this long and storied tradition of lovers. He may not be fully immortalized until he is part of a conventional straight narrative and must be the very best of these. There is also a sense of this making him prove his masculinity: to make Romeo jealous is to emasculate him, to cuckold him.

Sibyl also desires to be part of this tradition, but deeper, stronger emotions underly her affection. When thinking about her “Prince Charming,” “A rose shook in [Sibyl’s] blood and shadowed her cheeks,” (Chapter 5). By putting flowers (which have romantic and sexual connotations) in Sibyl’s very blood, Wilde already draws the deeper connection between Sibyl and this fantasy. Sibyl’s love is surely caught up in images, though, as she says she loves him because “he is like what love himself should be,” (Chapter 5). Dorian is an ideal, and being loved by this ideal makes her “feel proud, terribly proud.” Being the object of Prince Charming’s affection feeds her ego, like becoming Prince Charming feeds Dorian’s ego. She also echoes Dorian when she says “to be in love is to surpass one’s self.”

When Sibyl performs poorly, she cites the reason as her really falling in love with Dorian. But for Dorian that isn’t the case. He loses all love for her when she grows “sick of shadows,” (Chapter 7). When Sibyl becomes real, when Galatea comes to life, she disgusts Dorian. Real love, according to Wilde, makes convention feel like a sham, and Dorian is only interested in appearances.

Sibyl before and after Dorian showed his true colors (smh)

2 thoughts on “You’ll Be the Prince and I’ll Be the Princess: The Aesthetics of Heterosexuality in Dorian Gray”

  1. I love this! I wonder if there’s more to that parallel between Romeo and Juliet and this book. Maybe Sibyl was more like the obstacle that got in the way of Dorian loving himself? Maybe that helped him to finally realize the true nature of the painting? Or maybe Sibyl has more in common with Taylor Swift? Taylor begs her lover to “just say yes” but it is implied that he doesn’t. Sibyl does have a much stronger reaction than Taylor’s character, though.

  2. I think Dorian’s infatuation with Sibyl is a fascinating exploration of love as a performance, more so, a desire to fit into the grand tradition of iconic lovers. Simply being in love isn’t enough for Dorian, rather he needs to be the center of attention. I think your reading of Romeo is interesting, and I also have another view of it. The desire to make Romeo jealous not only reveals a competitive edge but also exposes societal expectations of masculinity. In this light, Dorian’s pursuit of love seems more like a quest for validation within the constraints of societal norms. In traditional gender roles, men are often expected to assert dominance, compete for attention, and prove their worthiness in various aspects, including romantic pursuits. The competition for romantic attention becomes a means through which Dorian seeks societal approval and recognition, conforming to the narrative that often portrays masculinity as assertive, competitive, and dominant. I think this “quest” can all tie back to his need to have approval and desire from others because he is unable to love himself. He needs his value, whether artistic or human, confirmed by outsiders even in his romantic relationships.

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