In Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian’s decision on where to place his portrait piqued my interest. Though seemingly a trivial choice, I believe that Dorian’s room is representative of the fin de siecle as an era, but let me explain myself first.
Incase you missed it, prior to coming in contact with the portrait painted by Basil, Dorian is synonymous with purity and naïveté. But as time progresses, it becomes evident to both Dorian and the reader, that the painting reflects Dorian’s ever-changing personality, and as he commits worse and worse actions, the painting changes to be more and more ugly. This important relationship between Dorian’s past actions and the representation in the painting becomes a key point in understanding his childhood rooms’ meaning.
First, I want to draw attention to the paragraph on page 117 that outlines a basic understanding of the room itself. It starts, “He had not entered the place for more than four years – not indeed since he had it first used as a play-room when he was a child, and then as a study when he grew somewhat older” (Wilde 117). In this paragraph, Dorian views this room with a nostalgic lens about his past, one that I would argue is representative of his innocence. However, by introducing the painting into a space representative of his innocent past, he corrupts it with a physical item relational to his new recent history. This reading of the room as a symbol for the past takes veering turns throughout the text as well.
Jumping ahead in the novel, Dorian reveals his secret of the changing painting to Basil, the artist who originally painted the portrait. In a wild fit of fear and insecurity, Dorian murders Basil in the very room that he had played in as a child (Wilde 151). As Dorian’s actions become more severe, the room takes on a greater representation of both his past actions and present state of being. Another facet that is important to keep in mind is the fact that the painting is just as representative of Dorian as it is of Basil. By killing the creator of the painting, Dorian in turned killed half of what the painting stood for as an object; the unification of two men on a 2-D surface.
The final place in the text that I want to direct attention to is when Dorian kills himself. He decides ultimately that the portrait is the source of his problems and takes the same knife that killed Basil and lunges towards the painting. However, the knife is turned on him and he is left dead, old, and withered (212-13). Here, the room is the final resting place for our main character, ultimately serving as a timeline. Instead of pointing the blame at himself, Dorian is the cause of his own downfall, and points the knife instead. Based on the text, it is unclear if the painting somehow turned the knife on Dorian, or if he kills himself. I read the ending as a sudden realization that Dorian makes: he is the root of the problem and the only way out is via suicide.
Thus leading us to my overall argument that Dorian’s room is representative of the fin de siecle. Now, I am well aware this may be a stretch, however the fin de siecle is an era where lingers of pessimism and degeneration are prevalent in hundreds of texts. I strongly believe that Dorian’s room is a timeline for his degeneration and cannot help but be a pessimistic space for Dorian.
As always, please tell me your thoughts.