Course Blog

I Ship Lucy and Mina

Okay this blog post is not THAT simple. I want to explore the meaning of homosocial desire as it pertains to women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as I feel Sedgwick’s Between Men does an amazing job at describing the homosocial desire, however it is only…between men, so where does that leave our women? The line in Dracula that honestly intrigued me most was Mina’s referencing to Lucy that she loves her “with all the moods and tenses of the verb”. I believe that this does not imply a sister love or friendship, but rather as a lover. However, I part of me is also curious as to why Mina and Lucy are victims to the vampire epidemic specifically. Although neither Mina nor Lucy actually does anything to violate Victorian gender norms, they come close to doing so, and Stoker’s reclamation of Mina suggests that the only appropriate gender boundaries that women can cross are ones that benefit men.

Mina and Lucy are each depictions of the New Women, in different stages, Lucy being more progressive and Mina a tad more reserved. The result, in my eyes, is the fact that Mina loves Lucy, not only for being herself, but for being everything that Mina wants to become. Mina and Lucy’s perceived transgressions make them potential New Women–and thus, potential victims for vampires, since that is what they seem to be attracted to. However, I acknowledge the ambiguous nature of Mina and Lucy’s relationship, but I believe the answer lies in penetration. The way in which one becomes a vampire is through penetrative practices of exchanging or sucking blood, and I want to tie this into the Victorian belief of what classifies as “sex”. Since Mina and Lucy cannot have penetrative sex, there cannot be (in the Victorian mind) a relationship between the two women, and therefore there is no sex to be had. I wish I could elaborate further, however, I already feel as though this is a stretch. Let me know what you think.


The New Woman – Sybil and Irene

In the Portrait of Dorian Gray, a notable moment in the story is the suicide of Sybil Vane as a result of her relationship with Dorian. As we see from their interactions, Sybil is a talented actress who Dorian falls in love with for her ability to completely portray the characters she becomes. Because of this love she loses her natural talent which pushes Dorian to fall out of love with her. No longer having her art or her newfound love, she kills herself. One of concepts created during the fin de siécle is the New Woman, which promotes an independence for woman in a male-dominated society. In a way, Sybil perfectly represents this figure because she has found her passion in acting and a career as an actress. Doing all without the traditional pathway of marriage and love showcases her agency and ability to create a life for herself during this time period. I believe there is a deeper meaning in the fact that the moment she meets Dorian and falls in love, her life goes downhill. Although it is a drastic symbolism, Sybil’s suicide denotes the affect a partner and love can have on a person.

When looking at Sybil’s situation through the lens of Irene Adler from the Sherlock Holmes stories, an interesting comparison can be made. Irene is one of the only people to have bested Sherlock Holmes, who is promoted as a character with a natural genius, and isn’t placed as a romantic foil for him. Irene is also a great example of the New Woman because of her pushback against traditional values. For example, her crossdressing directly signifies a disregard for how a woman should be during this time period. What challenges all of this is that in the end she still gets married. Even to look back at Romance of a Shop, after their journey of independence, the sisters still end up getting married and having children.

These different examples of female characters and their experiences placed during the time period of the fin de siecle make me question what statement the authors were attempting to make about the New Woman. Would it be better to focus on your passion and reject marriage to avoid the disappointment of love like Sybil? Or form your own path in life while choosing marriage at your own discretion like Irene? Either way I think both of these characters push forward thinking about what the New Woman truly signifies. It would be interesting to connect this thought process to how modern day feminism has developed from this early concept.

A spectator’s aesthetic excuses

Dear readers,

Art is subjective. So how do YOU see the portrait of Dorian Gray?

Well, I’ll tell you so you’ll tell me: I think Dorian is art himself. 

Thanks to the beginning of the book, along with the confession Dorian gets out of Basil, we understand that Basil creates the portrait of Dorian with intention. Basil, as an artist, paints Dorian to capture his ideal of Dorian’s essence which is the beauty of how he remained innocent in mind and body. From there, I see Dorian, as the art, becoming unconsciously aware of the subject and employing it for his advantage so that he may excuse himself. Or even better, so that he may preserve the outer self that everyone else gets to interpret. Power is knowledge and knowledge changes perception…as we know, this doesn’t end up being a good thing for Dorian.

“ The young man was leaning against the mantelshelf, watching him with that strange expression that one sees on the faces of those who are absorbed in a play when some great artist is acting. There was neither real sorrow in it nor real joy. There was simply the passion of the spectator, with perhaps a flicker of triumph in his eyes.” (Chp. 13, pg 149) In this passage, Dorian finally reveals to Basil how demented the portrait has become. What I find creepy is how Dorian is described as if he’s relishing in the sight like a “spectator”; I think this means that Dorian is detached emotionally because he’s decided to stop caring about his sins. But I would also like to postulate that Dorian is “absorbed” in the way he is anticipating Basil’s reaction. 

What’s incredibly interesting is that I see this metaphor of a spectator not only paralleling with Sybil Vane but also appearing throughout the story. In chapter 9, Dorian states that “To become the spectator of one’s own life, as Harry says, is to escape the suffering of life” (pg.107). I believe this connects back to my earlier point where I offer us a way to think about Dorian’s mentality with the immoral acts he’s committing. Half of what makes Dorian an art is the literal portrait that essentially takes the hits for him while the other half is his state of being. What I’m trying to say is that Dorian watches people fall victim to the portrayal of his beauty and finds pleasure in it. *Purrs* Kinkyyyy (no? Too soon?). In all seriousness, Dorian is like a child relying on the privilege of his youthful beauty to get away with anything. He detaches himself as a “spectator” so he doesn’t have to “suffer” with the guilt of his actions. 




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.

Room for the Past

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.


Maybe Beauty Isn’t The Best Metric For Determining One’s Character

The ending of Dorian Gray is perhaps the most interesting close to a story we’ve engaged with this semester. I’d like to use this blog post to consider Dorian himself as the piece of art, rather than the portrait. This idea is mirrored in the final paragraph of the story, as the portrait re-claims its original youth at the conclusion of the story. It contains all of the “wonder” of Dorian’s “exquisite youth and beauty” (188). In addition to this, art has premance. Paintings look the same whether you view them ten minutes after their completion or twenty years later. This is the case for Dorian. 

If Dorian himself is the piece of art, given his position as the most beautiful man in England, he is also the best artwork in England. Thus, I would argue the novel is a cautionary tale about art for art’s sake. Wilde is suggesting that perhaps there should be substance to the beautiful rather than just existing because it can.

Dorian is assigned value, and is considered virtuous purely because of his beauty. His character is not taken into account. Lord Henry goes as far as suggesting he could not possibly be a murder because he is so beautiful. Yet, it is only when Dorian attempts to destroy the artwork, himself, not the ugly, evil portrait that he dies or rather realizes consequences for his actions. Thus, Wilde warns the reader about the hazards of his own philosophy. He considers potential negatives of assuming that beauty is all that matters. One might view the novel in a similar vein as “Stan” by Eminem. Both ponder, and give voice, to critiques of their philosophy or actions. In the case of Eminem, that the things he says in his music have real world consequences. For Oscar Wilde, that using beauty as the sole metric of measuring the worth or morality of a human being can also have negative consequences. 

Dorian as the New Mona Lisa

When Basil reacted to the new version of the portrait of Dorian, we all noticed a rather unexpected response from Dorian. Before this moment, Dorian would paralyze himself with fear and anxiety over someone seeing the covered portrait and exposing his secret; while he did choose to show Basil this, it would be reasonable to expect some hesitation or abrasiveness from him. Instead, we are met with a chilling image of Dorian in which “there was neither real sorrow…nor real joy” (170). Most notable about this description is the fact that Dorian is described as an audience member watching a play, enthralled in the art being produced (170-171). At surface level, this is a clear sign of Dorian’s detachment and overall emotional shift. The fact that he is unmoving when someone is physically appalled at his moral wrongdoings and ultimately condemning him, as noted by the painting having “the eyes of a devil,” shows us that Dorian has embraced this childlike philosophy of do now, ask for forgiveness later (171). While I am inclined to agree that Dorian has been influenced by Lord Henry’s no-care attitude, I think there is another layer here. There is importance in Dorian’s apathetic emotional state being described as that of someone watching a play; I think Dorian views his own life as a piece of art that has no moral significance in relation to the rest of the world because Basil, alongside everyone else, has decided Dorian’s value as a person in the terms of artistic value. From his youth, Dorian was introduced to art in all forms (operas, books, plays, paintings) by Henry and Basil. From there, they each obsessed over Dorian’s thoughts on art and what it means in relation to how Dorian chooses to live. After recognizing that Dorian’s “true self” is in the portrait, he begins to view its changes as insignificant since it is a part of the world of art. He was able to recognize the painting as a reflection of his soul but chose to marvel at the artistic manifestations of his actions instead of changing his life. The scene with Basil helps demonstrate this understanding since Dorian acts as an observer of a performance, disconnected from the moral implications of his actions rather than the central one responsible. Dorian is interested in the intensity that art can capture, such as when he became obsessed with Sybil’s acting that portrayed a variety of Shakespeare’s heroines. The fact that his own painting can also capture the intensities of life excites him because it will become the best version of art in his eyes; this goal should only matter if he himself views his own life, or soul, as art.




Schrodinger’s Painting

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray comments on moral corruption through the abstract concepts of art. Dorian Gray acts as an innocent blank slate until Lord Henry fills his mind with misogynistic and unnecessarily cruel thoughts. But what if the true cause of Dorain’s corruption? Is Lord Henry fully responsible for influencing a young man into becoming serial killer? Was Dorian always a serial killer in waiting? Or perhaps the very vanity of art simply corrupted his soul.

Dorian adopts Lord Henry’s views without consideration. Specifically Lord Henry’s misogynistic views teach Dorian to be vain about his own beauty. Even though Sibyll is an actress, Lord Henry believes her actual acting performance will still be a “delightful experience” as long as if she is “lovely” and beautiful (Wilde 73). By claiming the key to maintaining youth, and therefore beauty, is to avoid “unbecoming emotions” (Wilde 73), he claims youth and beauty coincide. Additionally, emphasizing Sibyll’s beauty over her acting skills puts youth and beauty on a higher pedestal than skill, intellect, morals. Dorian, who wishes to stay young and beautiful, now believes he must be vain and proud, and not anything unbecoming, in order to keep his beauty. If Lord Henry claims Dorian’s “tragic” look was unbecoming (Wilde 73), then it’s not far of a stretch to say shame and guilt are also unbecoming. Dorian later commits murder and feels a warped sense of shame, lamenting how Basil dead body was like “a dreadful wax image” (Wilde 135), even though he merciless stabbed Basil himself several times. The portrait Basil painted of Dorian reflects his moral decline.

Yet Dorian keeps the portrait covered by a screen. It is only when he “drew the screen aside, and saw himself face to face” that he realized the portrait had in fact changed from a picture of innocence to Dorain with a sneer (Wilde 82). Upon seeing the portrait changed for the first time, Dorian hadn’t murdered Basil yet, but he had been cruel to Sibyll. Lord Henry had by then filled Dorian’s head with misogynistic views, but is he fully responsible for Dorian’s decline? Can a person really become a serial killer just by listening to a toxic jerk? Although the portrait changes in tandem with Dorian’s decline, Dorian doesn’t see the changes until he uncovers the portrait. In that way, the portrait acts as Schrodinger’s Cat, where the time it unchanged is unknown since it is only observed when the screen is removed. When did the portrait really change? Did it predict Dorina’s decline or simply illustrate it after the fact? If no one checked on the painting, would Dorian still corrupt, would the painting still show beauty instead of cruelty?

Who Was the Real Painting?

The period of time known as the fin de siecle was marked by uncertainty and doubt, particularly about the role of people in nature. Ideas like natural selection and evolution called into question people’s beliefs about the world and how it came to be. This is often reflected in the literature, especially in the last scene of The Picture of Dorian Gray.  

There are many things about this scene that are somewhat ambiguous, which reflects the contemporary doubt and questioning about the world, but there are also aspects that are more unambiguous. When Dorian is found dead, he is described as “withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage” (Wilde Chapter XX). What is not clear is how his face got this way when the curse of the portrait has kept his face young until now. Based on how the final scene is described, I think what happened when Dorian tried to ‘kill’ the portrait was that the portrait had grown in power, so it was able to move and deflect the blade so that it killed Dorian instead. Of course, there are other possible interpretations, including that Dorian got confused in his rush to destroy the painting and stabbed himself instead, but this doesn’t explain how he suddenly aged when he hadn’t been doing so. The fact that this is never fully explained and is mostly left to the reader’s interpretation can be seen as a reflection of the uncertainty of the time. Where most of Victorian England was questioning topics like the role of religion in their lives, Dorian’s friends are wondering how he’s not aging and wondering what happened when they find him with a knife in his chest and the roles of him and the portrait reversed. What is clear is that the painting is now “splendid” when before the subject was described as old and evil-looking. It’s also clear that Dorian now looks old instead of the painting.  

In addition to reflecting contemporary feelings of doubt, the final scene also very effectively wraps up a commentary on the role of art. This is mostly done through the aforementioned ambiguity of the final scene. For example, all we know is that when Dorian is found, he was “a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart” and that they needed to “examine the rings” to determine who he was (Wilde XX). Again, it’s unclear if Dorian tried to ‘kill’ the portrait or if it killed him. We don’t know how the portrait became young again and Dorian became old. The fact that the switch happened seems to suggest that the portrait took Dorian’s place. Maybe the portrait was the real Dorian all along, because Dorian looked the same while the painting changed? Maybe the portrait was always trying to get rid of Dorian and it finally got the chance? Does that mean that art does have a life of its own, as Basil alluded to? 

Vain vs Vane: The Vanity of Dorian Gray

“I spared somebody. It sounds vain, but you understand what I mean. She was quite beautiful, and wonderfully like Sibyl Vane. I think it was that which first attracted me to her. You remember Sibyl, don’t you? How long ago that seems! Well, Hetty was not one of our own class, of course. She was simply a girl in a village. But I really loved her. I am quite sure that I loved her” (Wilde 177).

In this quotation from Dorian, the boy’s ignorance and classicism separates him from Hetty, the woman he finds himself attracted to, in explaining: “Well, Hetty was not one of our own class, of course. She was simply a girl in a village.” Though immediately after, dismisses this, claiming “But I really loved her. I am quite sure I loved her.” Through this paradigm of classist thought have we seen Dorian carry out both his horrible wrongdoings, as well as his attempts to rid himself of them. Or in this case, rather than utilizing these social benefits towards predation (“killing” Sybil and really killing Basil), he now intends to save people, acknowledging his past mistakes. What’s interesting to me about the fact that Dorian claims to be in love with Hetty is that she reminds him of Sibyl, someone who’s death he dismissed so easily. He even acknowledges this to a degree by claiming, “She was quite beautiful, and wonderfully like Sibyl Vane. I think it was that which first attracted me to her.” Here there is an implication that he also loved Sibyl just loved Hetty, which doesn’t make the most sense given how that ended. Particularly in saying, “You remember Sibyl, don’t you? How long ago that seems”, it seems as though Lord Henry’s influence took shape in how Dorian would not think much of her going forward. As Dorian claims that he ‘spared’ her, maybe because Hetty reminds him of Sibyl, he wanted to kill her because he didn’t get the chance before?