0198 | The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde


Context: Finished this off the day we went into Perth taking our friends’ bikes to cycle around King’s Park and the Swan River.

Never read any Oscar Wilde but, after this, I’d like to. The guy has an amazing way with words, an epithet for every occasion. This gives his characters some great lines and makes their discussions almost worth studying sometimes.

Dorian Gray is a novel exploring the pursuit of pleasure without concern for the conscience. It’s a curiously moral tale. I say curious because I didn’t expect a character like Wilde to write such. But then it does lampoon and make a mockery of Victorian morality which, in many cases, was simply a veneer as all religious morality is in truth. This is something that Wilde was more than familiar with.

I knew the story, unfortunately, as that made me less appreciative of the novel as I read it. But the story is only a minor character. It’s the influences that act on Gray that make this such a good read. You wonder where his desires will take him.

Ultimately his desires take him pretty much where you might expect. And why is there no surprise here? Well, it’s because the way the story ends is no surprise to any of us. It’s because the story of Dorian Gray is, ultimately, our own story; a story of how we hide the moral corruption that lies under all our attempts to conceal it. It’s because, as a Great Book once said, the wages of sin is… well I won’t spoil it for you!

The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amid the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink flowering thorn.

From the Preface:

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

…the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.

When one is in love, one begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others.

I adore simple pleasures… they are the last refuge of the complex.

Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.

It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was.

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  1. Unfortunately this was Oscar Wilde’s only novel ever published. He did write a book of short stories and of course his famous plays and poems. The Picture of Dorian Gray for me was what you might have expected from Wilde if you had only read his life story. I’ll say no more for those who have not yet read this book.

  2. I’m fascinated by Oscar Wilde and his life story. Being a homosexual man in Victorian times wasn’t as bad as during the 1950’s, but you still ran into problems. Especially being so flamboyant and outspoken as Wilde was.

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