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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


What comparison is drawn between art and crime in Chapter 19 of The Picture of Dorian Gray?

In Chapter 19 Dorian Gray attempts to confess to Lord Henry Wotton that he has murdered Basil Hallward. However, Lord Henry doesn't believe Dorian to be capable of murder, specifically because he considers crimes to be activities performed solely by the lower class. Lord Henry lectures Dorian: "All crime is vulgar, just as all vulgarity is crime." He goes on to say, "I should fancy that crime was to [the lower classes] what art is to us, simply a method of procuring extraordinary sensations." In saying this Lord Henry offers the notion that art is the ultimate appeal to the senses for the aristocracy, an impulse satisfied by the lower class through crime. Wilde uses dramatic irony here, since readers understand that Dorian, by all outward measures, belongs to the aristocracy yet indulges himself in the vulgarity of crime to meet his desire for extraordinary sensations.

In Chapters 2 and 3 of The Picture of Dorian Gray which actions of Lord Henry Wotton's establish him as the antagonist of the story?

In their very first encounter in Chapter 2, Lord Henry manipulates Dorian Gray. He warns Dorian about his admiration for the portrait, reminding him that beauty is fleeting and someday the beautiful picture will mock Dorian in his aged condition. Dorian is horrified by this thought, and his fervent wish to trade places with the painting sets in motion the major events of the story. In Chapter 4 Lord Henry reflects that Dorian "was his own creation. He had made him premature. That was something." Lord Henry is seen as the "complex personality" who "took the place and assumed the office of art," which is traditionally the agent that reveals men as they are. His clinical detachment from Dorian is evident as he reflects that it didn't matter "how it all ended." Dorian is like an actor in a play "whose joys seem to be remote ... but whose sorrows stir one's sense of beauty, and whose wounds are like red roses." Lord Henry's thoughts and actions support the theme of art versus life.

Why might Basil Hallward be considered the tragic hero of The Picture of Dorian Gray?

Throughout the novel Basil Hallward embodies the best of art and perhaps the best of humanity. He displays a responsible relationship with art, unlike Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton, who use it as a justification for their bad behavior. For example, Basil decides not to exhibit the painting of Dorian Gray because he believes he has painted too much of his own emotions into the work. He feels it is wrong that many artists "treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography." He wants to see a return to "the abstract sense of beauty." Basil is also the mouthpiece for morality when he discusses goodness with Lord Henry. Whereas Lord Henry believes that "to be good is to be in harmony with one's self," Basil counters by asking "if one lives merely for one's self, Harry, one pays a terrible price for doing so?" Basil is a foil for Lord Henry's amoral approach to the pleasure-seeking life. In this scene in Chapter 6, Dorian is caught between the two positions forwarded by his friends and sadly adopts Lord Henry's philosophy. Basil becomes the tragic hero when he meets his end trying to help Dorian repent of his sins and move to a more moral path.

How is The Picture of Dorian Gray an allegorical expression of Wilde's notion that "art has a soul, but man does not"?

When Dorian Gray's portrait takes on and begins to reflect his soul, Wilde is offering a literal interpretation of the notion that art has a soul but humans do not. The reader sees the changes in what would properly be Dorian's soul manifest in the picture of him. Dorian is, in effect, soulless. This condition is illustrated in various descriptions of Dorian after the exchange takes place. For example, in Chapter 13 when Basil encounters the changes in the painting, he is deeply disturbed. By contrast, as Dorian observes the painting and Basil's pained reaction, he shows "neither real sorrow ... nor real joy. There was simply the passion of the spectator, with perhaps a flicker of triumph in his eyes."

How is the symbol of flowers developed in Chapter 7 of The Picture of Dorian Gray?

In Chapter 7 the narrator develops the flowers symbol by describing Sibyl Vane as having a throat that "curves [like] a white lily." Here her femininity is likened to the elegant blossom. Wilde invokes the aesthetic movement's association of the lily with feminine beauty. Later in the chapter Dorian Gray sees carts of lilies being towed through the empty streets, and "their beauty seemed to bring him an anodyne (sedative) for his pain." This suggests that Dorian could find some solace in Sibyl's feminine beauty. Dorian himself is also associated with flowers in Chapter 2 when Lord Henry Wotton declares that "time is jealous ... and wars against your lilies and your roses," meaning that age will ravage the lily white and rose tones of his complexion. In the bloom of his youth, Dorian embodies the feminine and is admired for it by Lord Henry and Basil Hallward.

How do concepts of Wilde's lecture "The House Beautiful" surface in Chapter 4 of The Picture of Dorian Gray?

"The House Beautiful" was a lecture that Wilde presented during his 1882 speaking tour of the United States. The concept of the house beautiful was a translation of the aesthetic movement into home decoration. Wilde believed people should surround themselves with handcrafted art in their living spaces, and that the art should represent the individuality of the people living in the home. In Chapter 3 of Dorian Gray Lord Henry Wotton's home is a wonderful expression of the concept. When Dorian visits Lord Henry, the room where they meet is described as "a very charming room, with its high-paneled wainscoting of olive-stained oak, its cream-colored frieze and ceiling of raised plasterwork." Here and in the description of "long-fringed Persian rugs ... [and] large blue china jars," Wilde honors the house beautiful concept.

In Chapter 19 how does Dorian Gray's claim that Lord Henry Wotton "poisoned" him with the yellow book reflect a larger theme within The Picture of Dorian Gray?

In Chapter 19 Dorian accuses Lord Henry of "poisoning" him with the yellow book, rumored to be based on Joris–Karl Huysmans's book À Rebours (Against Nature). During the Victorian era, books that were considered lewd were bound in yellow covers to warn people of their scandalous content. Some writers and artists of the day decided to capitalize on this notoriety and in 1894 launched a literary quarterly journal, The Yellow Book, which was published in London and Boston, with contributors such as W.B. Yeats and H.G. Wells and illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and Max Beerbohm. The journal received bad publicity when it was falsely reported that Oscar Wilde was carrying one of its issues when he was arrested for gross indecency in 1895. The Yellow Book folded in 1897. While Dorian believes that his obsession with the yellow book led to his corruption, Lord Henry insists that one cannot be poisoned by a book because "Art has no influence upon action." He elaborates by saying that "books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame." Lord Henry analyzes the relationship between art and life. This is a major theme of the book developed through opposing views embodied here by Lord Henry and Dorian. Finally, the influence that Dorian perceives this book to have had on his life illustrates Wilde's belief that life imitates art; Dorian imitated the ideas in the book.

How is the decadent movement's concept of posing explored through the titular character in The Picture of Dorian Gray?

The decadent movement maintained that man can partially escape his nature by assuming a pose. Assuming a pose implies an artificial projection of character or persona. Members of the decadent movement supposed that anything that is not natural is superior; thus an individual who assumes a pose is better than one who does not. Dorian's ability to maintain his youth is an assumption of a pose; his youthful look is interpreted by his contemporaries as evidence of innocence—as seen in Chapter 16 when James Vane believes Dorian cannot be "Prince Charming" because he looks so young. Wilde himself was known to say that one's first duty in life is to assume a pose, and Dorian does just that.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray how does Wilde establish Lord Henry Wotton as the novel's dandy?

In the novel Lord Henry adopts a number of the concepts of the aesthetic movement; namely art for art's sake and experience for experience's sake. Still, for all his talk Lord Henry is not a man of action. True to Wildean dandy form, he concerns himself more with cultivating philosophical inquiry. In doing so he reveals himself to be a man who treats his own life as a work of art. This tendency is illustrated by Dorian's observation in Chapter 18 that "you would sacrifice anybody, Harry, for the sake of an epigram (a witty expression)." Dorian's claim about Lord Henry valuing art above the lives of other people qualifies Lord Henry as the dandy of the story. Interestingly, Dorian himself, under Lord Henry's influence, evolves into something of a dandy before he comes to recognize Lord Henry as one.

How does The Picture of Dorian Gray counter the Victorian notion of the purpose of art?

In The Picture of Dorian Gray Wilde counters the Victorian notion that art serves a moral, didactic purpose by refusing to insert a didactic conclusion to the events of the novel. This is in keeping with the aesthetic movement that called for "art for art's sake." Wilde was known to have said that there was no such thing as a moral or immoral book and that art should not be held to a moral standard. The text takes this issue head on in Chapter 19 when Dorian pleads with Lord Henry to never share the yellow book with anyone else because it ruins lives. Lord Henry then criticizes Dorian for moralizing, saying, "You are much too delightful to do that. Besides, it is no use."

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