”The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray was Oscar Wilde‘s only novel (he’s mostly famous for his plays, poetry, and short stories), but what a novel it is! In the century or so since its initial publication in 1890, the fate of poor Dorian Gray has taken hold of the popular imagination. Dorian’s story plays upon the timeless theme of selling one’s soul in exchange for earthly pleasures (see other classics like Goethe’s Faust or the musical Damn Yankees), and the inevitable disaster that results. Wilde’s version of this narrative is particularly notable for its embrace of the hedonistic lifestyle of the Decadents, a late nineteenth century artistic movement that prized beauty and aesthetic experience over everything else. Dorian Gray and its protagonist have become synonymous with the pursuit of pleasure, regardless of its moral consequences.

The novel raised quite a blizzard of scandal in its day, and had critics denouncing Wilde for what they perceived to be his own innate immorality – and as a result, he responded with the famous “Preface” to the novel (published in its second edition) that explained his artistic beliefs. (Check out more discussion of the Preface in “What’s Up with the Epigraph?”) Altogether, The Picture of Dorian Gray reveals Wilde’s philosophy more than any of his other works; reading it is an essential key to understanding his artistic mission as a whole.

Why should I care?

Botox, liposuction, lip plumping injections, silicone, hair plugs… If you think about it, we go to extraordinarily bizarre measures just to hang on to fading youth and beauty. Our society is so obsessed with youth that there’s a multi-multi-million dollar industry simply devoted to making us look younger (or weirder, as the case may be). And why? Because we live in a culture where youth is idolized and age is the enemy of the people – the goal these days seems to be not just to stop aging, but to get younger.

We’re not the first culture to embrace this cult of youth, though. As we see in The Picture of Dorian Gray, our predecessors in the nineteenth century also longed for undying youth and beauty. In fact, the quest for the Fountain of Youth is one of the oldest stories there is; apparently, humanity in general has had a hard time getting over the fact that we all grow old and die. For this reason, Oscar Wilde‘s 1890 novel never ceases to be relevant – until we finally discover the secret of real eternal youth, we’ll always be interested in Dorian’s quest for it.

Read this beautiful novel here

Summary

How It All Goes Down

The Picture of Dorian Gray is the story of one beautiful, innocent young man’s seduction, moral corruption, and eventual downfall. We meet our three central characters at the beginning of the book, when painter Basil Hallward and his close friend, Lord Henry Wotton, are discussing the subject of Basil’s newest painting, a gorgeous young thing named Dorian Gray. Basil and Henry discuss just how perfectly perfect Dorian is – he’s totally innocent and completely good, as well as being the most beautiful guy ever to walk the earth. Lord Henry wants to meet this mysterious boy, but Basil doesn’t want him to; for some reason, he’s afraid of what will happen to Dorian if Lord Henry digs his claws into him.

However, Lord Henry gets his wish – Dorian shows up that very afternoon, and, over the course of the day, Henry manages to totally change Dorian’s perspective on the world. From that point on, Dorian’s previously innocent point of view is dramatically different – he begins to see life as Lord Henry does, as a succession of pleasures in which questions of good and evil are irrelevant.

Basil finishes his portrait of Dorian, and gives it to the young man, who keeps it in his home, where he can admire his own beauty. Lord Henry continues to exert his influence over Dorian, to Basil’s dismay. Dorian grows more and more distant from Basil, his former best friend, and develops his own interests.

One of these interests is Sybil Vane, a young, exceptionally beautiful, exceptionally talented – and exceptionally poor – actress. Though she’s stuck performing in a terrible, third-rate theatre, she’s a truly remarkable artist, and her talent and beauty win over Dorian. He falls dramatically in love with her, and she with him. For a moment, it seems like everything will turn out wonderfully. However, this is just the beginning of Dorian’s story. Once he and Sybil are engaged, her talent suddenly disappears – she’s so overcome with her passionate love for Dorian that none of her roles on stage seem important to her anymore. This destroys Dorian’s love for her, and he brutally dumps her. Back home, he notices a something different in his portrait – it looks somehow crueler. In the meanwhile, the distraught Sybil commits suicide, just as Dorian decides to return to her and take back his terrible words.

Sybil’s suicide changes everything. At first, Dorian feels horrible – but he rather quickly changes his tune. On Lord Henry’s suggestion, Dorian reads a mysterious “yellow book,” a decadent French novel that makes him reevaluate his whole belief system. The protagonist of the book lives his life in pursuit of sensual pleasures, which intrigues Dorian. From this moment on, Dorian is a changed man.

Dorian starts to live as hedonistically as his wicked mentor, Lord Henry, does. The only thing that documents this turn for the worst is the portrait, which alarmingly begins to exhibit the inward corruption of Dorian’s soul; the beautiful image changes, revealing new scars and physical flaws with each of Dorian’s dastardly actions. As years pass, the man in the picture grows more and more hideous, as Dorian himself stays unnaturally young and beautiful. Rumors start to spread about the various people whose lives Dorian has ruined, and his formerly good reputation is destroyed.

On Dorian’s 38th birthday, he encounters Basil, who desperately asks his former friend if all the horrifying rumors about him are true. Dorian finally snaps and shows Basil the portrait, in which the horrible truth about his wicked nature is revealed. Basil recoils, and begs Dorian to pray for forgiveness. In response, Dorian murders Basil, stabbing him brutally. He blackmails another of his former friends into disposing of the body.

Dorian retreats to an opium den after dealing with all of the evidence, where he encounters an enemy he didn’t know he had – Sybil Vane’s brother, James. Through a rather complicated turn of events, James (who’s on a mission to punish Dorian for his mistreatment of Sybil) ends up dead. Dorian isn’t directly responsible, but it’s yet another death to add to Dorian’s tally of life-wrecking disasters.

Dorian is relieved that his enemy is out of the way, but this event sparks a kind of mid-life crisis: he begins to wonder if his vile but enjoyable lifestyle is worth it. He actually does a good(ish) deed, by deciding not to corrupt a young girl he’s got the hots for, which makes him question his past actions even more. Seeking some kind of reassurance, Dorian talks to Lord Henry, who’s not any help at all, unsurprisingly. Dorian even practically admits to murdering Basil, but Henry laughs it off and doesn’t believe him.

That night, Dorian returns home in a pensive mood. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he hates his own beauty and breaks the mirror. Again, he vows to be good, but we find out that his various crimes don’t really haunt him, because he doesn’t consider them his fault. Instead, he selfishly wants to be good so that the painting will become beautiful again. Heartened by this thought, he goes up to see if his recent good deed has improved the painting – in fact, it only looks worse. Frustrated, Dorian decides to destroy the picture, the visible evidence of his dreadful crimes, and the closest thing to a conscience he has. Dorian slashes at the painting with the same knife that killed Basil, trying to destroy the work as he did the artist.

A tremendous crash and a terrible cry alert the servants that something very, very bad has happened – it’s even audible outside the house. Finally, they go upstairs to check it out, and are horrified by what they find: a portrait of their master, as beautiful as ever, hangs on the wall, and a mysterious, grotesquely hideous dead man is lying on the floor with a knife in his heart. Upon close examination, the rings on the dead man’s hand identify him as Dorian Gray.

Analysis

Literary Devices in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Symbolism, Imagery & Allegory

Sometimes, there’s more to Lit than meets the eye.

The portrait is the main symbol at work here. It’s a kind of living allegory, a visible interpretation of Dorian’s soul. Basically, the picture represents Dorian’s inner self, which becomes uglier with each passing hour and with every crime he commits. It is the image of Dorian’s true nature and, as his soul becomes increasingly corrupt, its evil shows up on the surface of the canvas. It seems that Dorian is not completely free of the picture’s influence: as it becomes uglier and uglier, Dorian pretty much loses it. It becomes a kind of conscience, and it reminds Dorian constantly of the evil at the heart of his nature. (Check out our “Character Analysis” of Dorian Gray for more about the man and the portrait.)

The Yellow Book

This is a thinly veiled reference to J.K. Huysmans’ À Rebours (“Against Nature”), an incredibly important novel of the Decadent period. In both the original text and Wilde’s summary of it, its incredibly wealthy protagonist devotes his life to seeking as many aesthetic sensations as he can, regardless of what society says. He is a representation of what Dorian could become – a robotic being with no true emotions and no true relationships – looking for only the next new sensation. Upon reading it, Dorian sees aspects of his own life reflected back at him in this character’s life. However, Wilde made some notable changes (like the explicit mention of the protagonist’s lost beauty, which just makes Dorian even more scared that he’ll lose his looks) to make it more fitting to his novel.

Most importantly, the yellow book represents the “poisonous” influence Lord Henry has on Dorian; Henry gives the book to Dorian as a kind of experiment, and it works horrifyingly well. Its hedonistic, decadent message makes it a kind of guide book for Dorian, who lives his whole life in pursuit of its ideals. Ultimately, as we’re reminded, it’s Lord Henry’s fault for poisoning Dorian with the book, which comes to stand in for all of Henry’s extravagant, selfish, dangerously seductive philosophical ideas.

Sex, drugs and…opera?

These pastimes are symbols of the decadent, hedonistic lifestyle Lord Henry lures Dorian into; they’re all different ways of living through sensory exploration. Opium, scandalous love affairs, and theatrical spectacle are Dorian’s distractions from his conscience, and he indulges in all of them as a kind of escape. Lord Henry’s philosophy, that we should all give in to what tempts us, is played out in Dorian’s indulgence in all of these luxuriant, sensual pleasures.

Setting

Where It All Goes Down

London, England in the late nineteenth century

Let’s talk about time first. This novel takes place in the height of the Decadent artistic movement of the late nineteenth century, making Dorian a contemporary of his author, Oscar Wilde. Although this trend (which celebrated aesthetic pleasure and sensual experience) began in France, Wilde was the major proponent of it in England. The influence of French Decadent writers can be seen throughout the novel, from the Gautier poem recorded in Chapter 14 to the extravagant, foppishly luxuriant style of Dorian’s clothing and furniture. Although Wilde never gives a specific date for Dorian Gray, his inclusion of the yellow book – a loosely-veiled version of À Rebours by J.K. Huysmans – means that Dorian must be living some time after its publication in 1884.

Interestingly, the Decadent movement took place in the broader setting of the Victorian era, which is mainly known for its prudish, priggish social mores and über-judgmental standards. The contrast between dull middle-class society and the sins of the wealthy and corrupt upper classes makes Wilde’s book all the more daring.

OK, on to location: Dorian moves freely between two major parts of London, the wealthy West End and the decrepit East End. In the West End, mostly in the super-ritzy Mayfair district, Dorian establishes his home, frequents various gentlemen’s clubs, theatres, and symphony halls. In the East End, near the dock, the disguised Dorian steals into grotesque saloons-turned-opium-dens for an occasional high, and disgustedly rubs elbows with the various underworld characters whose lives he’s destroyed.

The two settings represent Dorian’s two sides. In the West End, he is the gallant gentleman, fashionable trendsetter, cultured aristocrat, and scandalous local celebrity. There he enjoys the highest art forms civilization has to offer – opera, theatre, painting, French cuisine – to fulfill his refined appetite. In the East End, however, he becomes a creepy, skulking, unambiguously evil specter (the “devil’s bargain”) – just as desperate as the next guy for an opium hit and generally trying to find ways to forget his criminal life in the city. Wilde vividly creates a doubled setting for a doubled life.

Narrator

Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?

Third Person (Omniscient)

Although we see the story mainly through the lens of Dorian’s opinions, we also dip into the minds of other characters here and there, from Lord Henry to Mrs. Vane. We’re able to see everyone’s thoughts and perspectives, but that doesn’t mean we have an objective, or even necessarily fair narrator – in fact, this narrator is way harsh sometimes (see “Tone” for more on this). However, the narration is really thorough and complete, if nothing else.

Genre

Horror or Gothic Fiction, Literary Fiction

This short novel is an interesting combination of elements – Wilde wrote it in a sort of high literary mode (that is to say, with ornate, self-consciously artistic language and heightened sense of style), but it also has elements of the classic horror story, like the suspenseful build to the final twist. In other words, it’s a kind of horror story that’s ascended to the level of literary horror story – other examples are Henry James’sThe Turn of the Screw, or basically any short story by Edgar Allen Poe.

In terms of the “literary” part, you might consider Wilde’s concern with showing Dorian’s thoughts in depth, as well as his exploration of Basil and Lord Henry. While it shows some levels of psychological detail, the novel is also highly symbolic and allegorical; Wilde was no stranger to metaphor. On the “horror” side, we’ve got the grotesque descriptions of the portrait, the terrible murder and consequent, um, disappearance of Basil Hallward, and the general ick-factor of the opium den – and, of course, the dramatic ending, shrieks and all.

Tone

Take a story’s temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?

Alternately Admiring and Judgmental

Hmm…well, this sounds complicated, but we’ll stick to it. We get the distinct feeling that the narrator here is torn between fascination and disgust – Lord Henry and Dorian’s depraved philosophy is both appealing and revolting at the same time. This narrator is certainlyinterested in the beliefs espoused by the decadent characters here – the descriptions of Lord Henry’s brilliant wit and rhetorical skill (see Chapter 3) express a complete admiration and fascination with this character. The descriptions of Dorian’s incredible physical beauty are likewise invested with the same kind of near-obsessive, swooning admiration.

However, because this was a book intended for publication and sale, the narrator has to come down pretty harshly on these immoral characters – the tone grows increasingly judgmental and critical towards the end of the novel. We start to see that Lord Henry is a truly warped and flawed being, and that Dorian himself grows less and less compelling as he gets more paranoid (after all, as we overheard on an episode of America’s Next Top Model, desperation is not sexy). The tone of the narration is also extremely judgmental throughout with regards to characters who aren’t worthy of praise – ones that are either too stupid or too uncultured to merit Wilde’s interest, or are just women (for example, Mrs. Vane and Lord Henry’s wife, Victoria).

Writing Style

Ornate, bejeweled (bedazzled!), punctured with moments of humor

Wilde really unleashes the rabid hounds of ornamentation on this piece of work. His prose is almost visibly sparkling with gems and gilded bric-a-brac; reading Dorian Gray is like watching an all-out, massively expensive period film. Just take a look at this, the second sentence:

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. (1.2)

What the what? That is a lot of detail. This accumulation of sensory input forces us to slowly go through Wilde’s writing phrase by phrase, savoring the surplus of gorgeousness he piles up in his text. Interestingly, though, the Wilde writing Dorian Gray is the same mastermind behind acerbically hilarious plays like The Importance of Being Earnest, and he doesn’t want us to forget that – so he occasionally punctuates these long passages of florid description with a biting comment or two, usually in his witty dialogue. Our favorite is the sassy comment about the scandalous Madame de Ferrol, whose “hair turned quite gold from grief” (15.9) when her third husband died.

What’s Up With the Title?

You know how some titles are little mysteries in themselves, how they can make you wonder, “Man, what was that darn author thinking?” Well, rest easy, because this is not one of those titles.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” refers quite straightforwardly to two portraits: first of all, the very literal picture of Dorian painted by Basil Hallward, and secondly, the literary “picture” Wilde creates in the novel. Both of these works of art show us what the so-called “real” world can’t see – the truth of Dorian’s soul. The painting itself is at the center of the whole novel; while Dorian’s physical beauty remains untouched, the Dorian captured in the painting changes horribly to reflect the corruption of his soul. Just as this picture shows viewers (well, there’s really only one viewer – Dorian himself) the true nature of its subject, so too does Wilde’s novel reveal Dorian’s increasingly evil inner self to us, the readers.

What’s Up With the Epigraph?

Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.

Here we’d like to discuss the very famous “Preface” to The Picture of Dorian Gray. (Read the Preface here.) The Preface is a little confusing at first glance – we open a novel expecting to find something along the lines of “Once upon a time…” and instead, we’re met with the sweeping claim that “The artist is the creator of beautiful things.” This seems totally, totally random, but it actually is very appropriate, both to this novel in particular, and to Wilde’s body of work in general.

Critics at the time weren’t always the biggest fans of Wilde’s work – especially Dorian Gray, which was derided for its so-called “sham moral” at the time – so it’s understandable that he had a bone or two to pick with his detractors. One of the common complaints about Wilde’s novel was that it didn’t take a strong moral stance, and that it demonstrated the author’s own immorality (Wilde was a famously scandalous celebrity). Frustrated with these goody-two-shoes critics, Wilde responded that they had committed “the unpardonable crime of trying to confuse the artist with his subject matter.” This page-long preface, which appeared in the new and revised 1891 version of Dorian Gray (the first was published in 1890), succinctly sums up Wilde’s point of view about art: in a nutshell, the artist is not concerned with morals and ethics when creating his art, but simply attempts to make something beautiful. Readers see what they want to see in the novel, so they only have themselves to blame if they find it scandalous.

What’s Up With the Ending?

The novel ends, as it begins, with the painting. Dorian is finally forced to come to terms with his actions, and reaches a moment of crisis – is it too late for him to become good again and reclaim his innocence? After a fitful night of soul searching, the answer he reaches is no – it’s too late to turn back from the path he’s chosen. Furthermore, the image in the portrait reflects a new hypocritical side of his nature; even thinking about changing his ways was a denial of his true soul (which is rotten to the core).

Finally, Dorian attempts to destroy the portrait, the image of his disgustingly corrupted soul, which haunts him like a conscience. He slashes at it with a knife (appropriately the very same knife with which he murdered his ex-friend, Basil Hallward), hoping to do away with the evidence of his crimes. But the plan backfires dramatically – stabbing the portrait, Dorian inadvertently kills himself. The grotesque deformities of the picture come into being in Dorian’s own body, while painted Dorian is restored to its original image of spotless beauty. In the end, Dorian gets everything that was coming to him; his choices brought about his own doom.

Questions like “Why?” and “How?” aren’t really ours to apply to this ending – the magical element of this story is just one of those things that we’re asked to believe. What really matters about it is not its fairy-tale-gone-wrong turn of events, but rather the message that it conveys. The idea here is that nobody can get away with everything; even though Dorian thought that he could dodge earthly punishment and go about his evil business by destroying the portrait (the proof of how vile and corrupt he really was), his death actually comes as a kind of divine retribution for all of his crimes.

Notably, the painting is restored to its original pristine state by this act – this goes back to the statement Wilde makes about art in the “Preface.” The artwork is totally removed from questions of good or evil – once Dorian’s corrupt life-force is lifted from it, the painting reverts to its natural state of beauty, without a moral stance.

Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Dorian is (literally) a model of youth and beauty (Chapters 1-2)

Dorian’s nature is unspoiled and his exquisite outer beauty mirrors the pure inner beauty of his soul. He’s as innocent as the day he was born…until a certain young Lord enters the picture.

Conflict

Trouble in paradise – art conflicts with life in Dorian’s relationship with Sibyl Vane (Chapters 3-10)

To cut a long story short, Dorian idealistically falls in love with Sibyl, and, upon realizing the fact that she doesn’t live up to his expectations, he dumps her. She kills herself, and instead of mourning her and learning a lesson, Dorian reads the yellow book, listens to Lord Henry, and gets over the whole thing.

Complication

“Poisoned by a book” (Chapters 10-11)

We’re not exactly sure what Dorian’s up to over the next decade or so. He’s deeply influenced by the yellow book, and consequently changes his mode of living. Though things look peachy keen on the surface, rumors start to emerge about Dorian’s secret, evil deeds. We don’t know any details, but it seems like our hero has gone completely over to the dark side.

Climax

Dorian is now all evil, all the time (Chapters 12-15)

All bets are off – Dorian seems to have lost all vestiges of his former self. He doesn’t even have any feelings left for Basil, formerly his best friend; in fact, even after he kills Basil in a fit of passion, he pretty much feels like B. brought it upon himself. Like Lord Henry, Dorian seems mostly to be filled with a vague sense of pity and contempt for everyone else. To top it all off, he blackmails another ex-friend, Alan Campbell, into covering for his crime.

Suspense

Fear and self-loathing in London, then the countryside (Chapter 16-17)

Dorian is understandably shaken by Basil’s murder, but not for reasons we’d expect; rather, he’s terrified that he’ll get caught. To make matters worse, he discovers that James Vane (brother of Sibyl) is back in town and on the murderous prowl for him. Dorian is wracked with fear of death, first in London, then when James follows him to his country home at Selby.

Denouement

Life lessons from Oscar Wilde – if you’re stalking someone during a hunt, don’t hide out in the line of fire (Chapter 18)

It seems as though everything has worked out for old Dorian Gray – James Vane is accidentally killed at Selby, which means that there’s nobody out looking for him. He feels a profound sense of relief, and wonders if he should change his ways after all.

Conclusion

The inevitable happens (Chapter 20)

After thinking that he should turn over a new life, Dorian basically says, “Screw it!” and decides to keep on going the way he’s been going. He loves being evil, and realizes that even the thought of becoming good makes him a hypocrite, a new sin to add to his catalogue. However, morality triumphs, and Dorian finally gets his comeuppance – by trying to destroy his portrait (read: his soul), he kills himself.

Booker’s Seven Basic Plot Analysis: Tragedy

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type :

Anticipation Stage

Innocent Dorian meets Lord Henry (Chapters 1-2)

Dorian Gray is totally young, pure, and beautiful, and his only concerns at this stage seem to be related to staying young, pure, and beautiful. However, this idyll can’t last long with Lord Henry Wotton in the works – he seizes upon the young man, and immediately launches into a life-changing lecture about the merits of giving into desire.

Dream Stage

Everything’s coming up roses – for a brief while (Chapters 3-7)

It appears for a while that Lord Henry is wrong – Dorian is just loving life, and loving Sibyl Vane. Everything looks peachy, and Dorian seems to have found his own kind of happiness. He’s still intrigued by Henry (they hang out just about every day), but his inner innocence resists the corrupting influence of his friend. Dorian’s pure love for Sibyl Vane looks like it might be the antidote to the poisonous theories of Lord Henry…however, Sibyl’s last performance and her suicide put an abrupt end to this stage.

Frustration Stage

Let’s try things Lord Henry’s way – life never seems good enough, but Dorian keeps searching for new ways to make it exciting (Chapters 8-12)

After Sibyl’s death, Dorian is profoundly changed – he goes over to Lord Henry’s side and basically becomes a somewhat more evil version of Lord Henry himself. This begins with the yellow book – it “poisons” Dorian’s mind, and changes him completely. Dorian gets sketchier and sketchier, as his portrait grows more and more grotesque.

Nightmare Stage

Basil gets into trouble with Dorian; Dorian gets into trouble with James Vane (Chapters12-18)

Oh dear. Poor Basil forces Dorian to confront his own evil deeds, and Dorian really doesn’t like it. Things just get worse from here on out – Dorian’s sucked into a kind of vortex of evil deeds by a combination of factors (Basil’s murder, the appearance of James Vane, his own increasing paranoia).

Death Wish or Destruction Stage

Dorian thinks he can change – but ultimately, he can’t (Chapters 19-20)

Once Dorian’s troubles all subside (James is dead, and nobody knows he killed Basil), he reevaluates his life. His decision to become good again is basically a desire to eliminate the grotesquely ugly Dorian he sees in the portrait. Consequently, his modified wish to keep living as he did and just destroy the portrait is similarly a matter of destroying that other self. However, Dorian doesn’t realize that he and the painted Dorian are one and the same – so what begins as an impulse to destroy the evidence of his sins ends as a kind of unintentional suicide.

Three Act Plot Analysis

For a three-act plot analysis, put on your screenwriter’s hat. Moviemakers know the formula well: at the end of Act One, the main character is drawn in completely to a conflict. During Act Two, she is farthest away from her goals. At the end of Act Three, the story is resolved.

Act I

After dumping Sibyl and dealing (quickly) with her death, Dorian reads the yellow book for the first time, and is profoundly changed…for the worse.

Act II

Dorian kills Basil in a fit of moral-crisis-driven rage, and blackmails Alan Campbell into destroying the evidence.

Act III

Dorian’s close call with James Vane makes him reevaluate his life – should he in fact be trying to reform himself? He briefly thinks he can be good again, but, alas, he can’t. In an attempt to get rid of the evidence of his sins, he slashes the portrait, and dies.

Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

When Oscar Wilde went to court for holding an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, the prosecutor tried to quote Dorian Gray as evidence against Wilde.

Oscar Wilde’s famous last words: “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.” (Source)

Oscar Wilde also wrote fairy tales for children, some with conservative messages. (Source)

Oscar Wilde is buried in the same Paris cemetery as Jim Morrison and Gertrude Stein. (Source)

Steaminess Rating

Exactly how steamy is this story?

PG-13

So nobody actually has sex overtly in Dorian Gray, but the sexual implications are scandalous (or at least were scandalous to Wilde’s Victorian audience). We hear about well-bred young ladies who run away with penniless soldiers (i.e., Dorian’s mother, Margaret Devereaux), and player “gentlemen” who get girls pregnant and leave them (the Vanes’ father). Then there’s Dorian himself, who seems to be responsible for the moral corruption of about 95% of the female population of England. Also there are definite homosexual tensions lying beneath the surface here – Dorian seems to be a pretty much omnisexual creature. Sex isn’t out in the open here, but it is pretty much everywhere you look in the background.

Allusions

When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.

Literary, Mythological, and Philosophical References

 Historical References

 Art and Music References

Source: http://www.shmoop.com/ (here you can find some questions about the book, quizzes, quotes, essay writing tasks etc.)

Here is something we did at our English literature class:

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Bye, bye!

Luka R.

                 

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