Everything is not what it seems – The Picture of Dorian Gray

         Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, fits perfectly into the themes of the Fin de siècle. The themes of darkness and decay are ever present in the golden boy Dorian’s descent into madness and murder. Through his actions and the narration, it can be determined that Dorian’s murderous tendencies can be attributed to Dorian’s own disconnection to himself and his own will.
          One scene that made it obvious that Dorian is detached from his own self is in the moments leading up to Basil’s murder. It was described as Dorian watching Basil “with that strange expression that one seen on the faces of those who are absorbed in a play when some great artist is acting…there was simply the passion of the spectator” (pg 173). The comparison of Dorian to an absorbed spectator in an amazing play is interesting because it seems as though he’s in a distant world – one opposite to the room that he and Basil are in. This comparison also draws on the idea of art as it entices and entrances those who witness it, in this instance Dorian is the one filled with “the passion of the spectator.” I also read this as Wilde hinting at the idea of supernatural influence on Dorian’s attachment to his body and will because this is one of multiple moments where Dorian is pulled into the unseen. For example, the scene of Dorian’s death because he had transformed from “exquisite youth and beauty” to laying lifeless “withered, wrinkled and loathsome” and unrecognizable. The sudden disappearance of youthful beauty as soon as he died further suggests the idea of the evil supernatural at work as that would be the only reason for such a rapid change in looks. Dorian’s death can be read as confirmation that the same distant force that “absorbed” him in the play of life had also orchestrated his death as the finale to the art piece.

6 thoughts on “Everything is not what it seems – The Picture of Dorian Gray”

  1. I really liked your close reading of Dorian as having “the passion of the spectator.” While the context of this quote is of him looking at Basil, it made me think about the relationship between the art and the artist. Since the “art” being discussed is this portrait that is so lifelike it might as well be considered Dorian, it’s hard to determine who/what the art really is – is the art Dorian or the picture of Dorian? In that regard, I think it is interesting that Dorian (the supposed art) is called “the spectator”, when I would usually think about a spectator as someone who is observing art.

  2. I think your argument here about Dorian viewing himself as an audience member in the crowd of a play about his life is interesting. This goes along with our class discussions about how Dorian is an appreciator of the arts, so much so that when Sybil can’t act anymore, he stops loving her. You bring up how Dorian seems to glamorize the artful act of watching a play, I think it would be cool to expand on how Dorian glamorizes his appreciation of the arts or how his own life is art. I thought about this also when Dorian actually kills Basil, the dramatics of the murder felt like Dorian was romanticizing the performance. There is a lot with the whole Dorian-“passion of the spectator”thing.

  3. To further your point that Dorian is detached from himself and connect it to art, Wilde writes Dorian as a blank, impressionable canvas in the beginning of the novel. To your second point of Dorian as “an absorbed spectator in an amazing play,” do you think this implies an out of body experience when he murder Basil? And if so, what does this add to the complexity of Dorian and the novel as a whole? Could it be that murder is Dorian’s only form of control, as he is impressionable and others (Henry, the portrait) seem to dictate his life?

  4. This is an interesting take because I never thought about there being some sort of evil supernatural force at hand. I wonder if this said force was not just apparent because of Dorian’s descent into madness but from the moment the painting was first created. I remember Basil describing his art as painting the essence of Dorian gray. This unique word choice makes me think that in a way Dorian’s soul was bared upon the canvas. Dorian’s is forever tied to this painting and with the destruction of it, the destruction of his soul ensued.

  5. Dear Jacksons,
    I completely agree with your analysis where you say, ” This comparison also draws on the idea of art as it entices and entrances those who witness it, in this instance Dorian is the one filled with ‘the passion of the spectator.’ ” I would like to offer a piece of information that will further illuminate your close reading of this passage. This concept of spectatorship questions the purpose of art. According to Jane Thomas, art offers “artist and viewer access to a lost absolute or ideal form of beauty or the Divine Ideal” which then stimulates “a perverse longing for what can never be wholly.” Dorian’s ideal is beauty so he longs for a life full of beauty in experiences and physicality. Thus, Dorian begins to corrupt other young men and takes part in pleasurable yet devious activities. In pursuing this corruption and desire, Dorian “disconnect[s]” (as you wrote) as a spectator so he merely watches instead of feeling consequential guilt

  6. This is a really good close reading of the section. I think the most interesting part is your link between Dorioan’s two murders. That is, the killing of Hallward and himself. Your idea of the super natural aspect of the novel as the play of life is super interesting too. I wonder how we could apply this idea to other novels we’ve read? Take Dracula, for example, if we think of the structure as that of a performance for the reader then what new ideas can we tease out of the epilogue. Maybe we already considered it for this angle as literature is inherently performative.

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