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The Picture of Dorian Gray

This is a quick guide to The Picture of Dorian Gray. It has info on the text, some key info...

Anna Wright

on 20 March 2014

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Transcript of The Picture of Dorian Gray

YouTube video which summarisies everything you need to know!
Plot Summary
Consider how the following themes are presented in the novel:
The purpose of Art
Youth and beauty
Superficial nature of society
The role of influence
The double

Motifs - recurring structures, contrasts or devices that inform the theme:
The picture of Dorian
Homoerotic male relationships
Nature as an indicator of good or bad
Colour - white and yellow

Symbols - objects, characters,etc that represent ideas or concepts:
The opium dens - Dorian's degraded side
James Vane - Dorian's conscience
The yellow book - the profound and damaging influence art can have
1973 adaptation of the novel - perhaps worth a look!
Dorian Gray
Basil Hallward
Lord Henry Wotton
Sibyl Vane
James Vane
Mrs Vane
Alan Campbell
Lady Agatha
Lord Fermor
Duchess of Monmouth
Victoria Wotton
Mrs Leaf
By Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde
Written for the second publication of the novel
Is Oscar Wilde addressing some of the criticisms of the novel
Is a series of EPIGRAMS - witty and quotable phrases
Raises some of the ideas and themes presented in the novel
Brief Intro...
Oscar Wilde’s sole novel The Picture of Dorian Gray remains to this day a classic example of Gothic horror. While initially rejected by a morally-rigid Victorian England, the novel has lived on and been elevated so that it, as well as Oscar Wilde himself, have become mainstays of the English canon. We celebrate Wilde and his work, and mourn the injustices he suffered in his life. While many called this novel obscene, the opposite is true. As Wilde put it, while the work presented moral issues it never demonstrated a morality itself. Instead, Wilde's goal was to depict and not to judge.
The novel’s titular character, Dorian Gray, stays young and unaffected by his immoral actions, thanks to a supernatural picture painted of him in his youth. After the painter Basil, who admires and loves his friend Dorian, paints a portrait of Dorian, Dorian wishes that he could stay young and untouched forever like the painting. As the character’s inner self degrades, so does the picture. Though his moral degradation remains at times vague, at other times it becomes explicit. Dorian Gray gives in to decadent pleasures, and even controls and destroys others, at one point leading a girl to commit suicide when he spurns her. This event starts him down a dark road of manipulating and taking advantage of other characters, and when he is confronted by Basil, Dorian murders his old friend.
This evil, which should take its toll, leaves Dorian completely unaffected and instead it is the painting which shows the evidence of his life-style, a commentary on the part of the author which challenges traditional ideas of beauty. Finally Dorian, horrified by his own actions, destroys the painting and, as an effect, destroys himself.

The legend of Faust - context and background for TPODG:


Moral Degradation

The response to The Picture of Dorian Gray at the time was abysmal. The work, which depicted the underground Victorian culture that Wilde was a part of, was famously used at trial to prove his homosexuality. The homosexual allusions in the novel as well as his other work ended up dooming Wilde. That this novel helped to kill him, puts it into a different, and more insidious light. Wilde’s life echoed that of the character Dorian, as Wilde felt he too was living a dual-life, thus proving his assertion that life imitates art

Beauty and Art:

Still, despite the sad circumstances around the novel, it remains an important and beautiful piece of literature. That Oscar Wilde risked his own reputation to depict what he saw as true, and to do so beautifully, speaks volumes about the new ground that he ventured onto with his novel. Its excellent prose and literary significance demands a read if you have so far ignored it. Even if you have read it before, it is a novel which is best enjoyed a second, even a third time. For every time you read it you are assured to find something new, something deeper and something more important.
Audiobook - Listen to it!


Birthname: Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde

Birth date: October 16, 1854
Birth place: Dublin, Ireland
Death date: November 30, 1900
Death place: Paris, France
Burial: La Pére Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Hair color: Brown
Eye color: Grey

High school: Portora Royal School
College: Trinity College, Magdalen College
Occupation: Playwright, novelist, poet, editor

Parents: Sir William Wilde and Jane Francesca Elgee
Siblings: Henry, Emily, Mary, William, Isola
Spouse: Constance Lloyd
Children: Cyril and Vyvyan

Did you know?

• Although a proficient and versatile writer, Wilde only wrote one novel during his lifetime: “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” published in 1891.

• Possessed three middle names at birth.

• Went on a lecture tour throughout the United States, London and Canada to teach aesthetic values in 1879.

• Regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of the Victorian Era, Wilde wrote and produced nine plays.



"No man is rich enough to buy back his past."

"Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account."

"Men become old, but they never become good."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"I delight in men over seventy, they always offer one the devotion of a lifetime. "
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"How many men there are in modern life who would like to see their past burning to white ashes before them!"
-- “An Ideal Husband”

"A man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralizes is invariably plain."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"Nowadays all the married men live like bachelors and all the bachelors live like married men."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"I don't like compliments, and I don't see why a man should think he is pleasing a woman enormously when he says to her a whole heap of things that he doesn't mean."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”


"People who count their chickens before they are hatched, act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately."
-- Letter from Paris, dated May 1900

"The more one analyses people, the more all reasons for analysis disappear. Sooner of later one comes to that dreadful universal thing called human nature."
-- “The Decay of Lying”

"The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing."
-- “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”

"Most men and women are forced to perform parts for which they have no qualification."
-- “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime”

"It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one's back that are absolutely and entirely true."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”


"One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who would tell one that, would tell one anything."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"Men know life too early. Women know life too late. That is the difference between men and women."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood."
-- “The Sphinx Without a Secret”

"It takes a thoroughly good woman to do a thoroughly stupid thing."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"I don't know that women are always rewarded for being charming. I think they are usually punished for it!"
-- “An Ideal Husband”

"I don't think there is a woman in the world who would not be a little flattered if one made love to her. It is that which makes women so irresistibly adorable."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"My dear young lady, there was a great deal of truth, I dare say, in what you said, and you looked very pretty while you said it, which is much more important."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Women give to men the very gold of their lives. But they invariably want it back in such very small change."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"I am sick of women who love one. Women who hate one are much more interesting."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"I prefer women with a past. They're always so damned amusing to talk to."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”


"Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it."
-- Lady Windermere's Fan, 1892, Act I

"The Book of Life begins with a man and woman in a garden. It ends with Revelations."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Life is never fair...And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not."
-- “An Ideal Husband”

"You must not find symbols in everything you see. It makes life impossible."
-- “Salome”

"We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell."
-- “The Duchess of Padua”

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."
-- “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime”


"Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humor in the woman - or the want of it in the man."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"One should always be in love. That is the reason one should never marry."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance."
-- “An Ideal Husband”

"A kiss may ruin a human life."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"A man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"Young men want to be faithful and are not; old men want to be faithless and cannot."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect - simply a confession of failures."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”
Character Analysis
Dorian Gray

At the opening of the novel, Dorian Gray exists as something of an ideal: he is the archetype of male youth and beauty. As such, he captures the imagination of Basil Hallward, a painter, and Lord Henry Wotton, a nobleman who imagines fashioning the impressionable Dorian into an unremitting pleasure-seeker. Dorian is exceptionally vain and becomes convinced, in the course of a brief conversation with Lord Henry, that his most salient characteristics—his youth and physical attractiveness—are ever waning. The thought of waking one day without these attributes sends Dorian into a tailspin: he curses his fate and pledges his soul if only he could live without bearing the physical burdens of aging and sinning. He longs to be as youthful and lovely as the masterpiece that Basil has painted of him, and he wishes that the portrait could age in his stead. His vulnerability and insecurity in these moments make him excellent clay for Lord Henry’s willing hands.
Dorian soon leaves Basil’s studio for Lord Henry’s parlor, where he adopts the tenets of “the new Hedonism” and resolves to live his life as a pleasure-seeker with no regard for conventional morality. His relationship with Sibyl Vane tests his commitment to this philosophy: his love of the young actress nearly leads him to dispense with Lord Henry’s teachings, but his love proves to be as shallow as he is. When he breaks Sibyl’s heart and drives her to suicide, Dorian notices the first change in his portrait—evidence that his portrait is showing the effects of age and experience while his body remains ever youthful. Dorian experiences a moment of crisis, as he weighs his guilt about his treatment of Sibyl against the freedom from worry that Lord Henry’s philosophy has promised. When Dorian decides to view Sibyl’s death as the achievement of an artistic ideal rather than a needless tragedy for which he is responsible, he starts down the steep and slippery slope of his own demise.
As Dorian’s sins grow worse over the years, his likeness in Basil’s portrait grows more hideous. Dorian seems to lack a conscience, but the desire to repent that he eventually feels illustrates that he is indeed human. Despite the beautiful things with which he surrounds himself, he is unable to distract himself from the dissipation of his soul. His murder of Basil marks the beginning of his end: although in the past he has been able to sweep infamies from his mind, he cannot shake the thought that he has killed his friend. Dorian’s guilt tortures him relentlessly until he is forced to do away with his portrait. In the end, Dorian seems punished by his ability to be influenced: if the new social order celebrates individualism, as Lord Henry claims, Dorian falters because he fails to establish and live by his own moral code.

Character Analysis
Lord Henry Wotton

Lord Henry is a man possessed of “wrong, fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories.” He is a charming talker, a famous wit, and a brilliant intellect. Given the seductive way in which he leads conversation, it is little wonder that Dorian falls under his spell so completely. Lord Henry’s theories are radical; they aim to shock and purposefully attempt to topple established, untested, or conventional notions of truth. In the end, however, they prove naïve, and Lord Henry himself fails to realise the implications of most of what he says.
Lord Henry is a relatively static character—he does not undergo a significant change in the course of the narrative. He is as coolly composed, unshakable, and possessed of the same dry wit in the final pages of the novel as he is upon his introduction. Because he does not change while Dorian and Basil clearly do, his philosophy seems amusing and enticing in the first half of the book, but improbable and shallow in the second. Lord Henry muses in Chapter Nineteen, for instance, that there are no immoral books; he claims that “[t]he books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” But since the decadent book that Lord Henry lends Dorian facilitates Dorian’s downfall, it is difficult to accept what Lord Henry says as true.
Although Lord Henry is a self-proclaimed hedonist who advocates the equal pursuit of both moral and immoral experience, he lives a rather staid life. He participates in polite London society and attends parties and the theater, but he does not indulge in sordid behavior. Unlike Dorian, he does not lead innocent youths to suicide or travel incognito to the city’s most despised and desperate quarters. Lord Henry thus has little notion of the practical effects of his philosophy. His claim that Dorian could never commit a murder because “[c]rime belongs exclusively to the lower orders” demonstrates the limitations of his understanding of the human soul. It is not surprising, then, that he fails to appreciate the profound meaning of Dorian’s downfall.

Character Analysis
Basil Hallward

Basil Hallward is a talented, though somewhat conventionally minded, painter. His love for Dorian Gray changes the way he sees art; indeed, it defines a new school of expression for him. Basil’s portrait of Dorian marks a new phase of his career. Before he created this masterwork, he spent his time painting Dorian in the veils of antiquity—dressed as an ancient soldier or as various romantic figures from mythology. Once he has painted Dorian as he truly is, however, he fears that he has put too much of himself into the work. He worries that his love, which he himself describes as “idolatry,” is too apparent, and that it betrays too much of himself. Though he later changes his mind to believe that art is always more abstract than one thinks and that the painting thus betrays nothing except form and color, his emotional investment in Dorian remains constant. He seeks to protect Dorian, voicing his objection to Lord Henry’s injurious influence over Dorian and defending Dorian even after their relationship has clearly dissolved. Basil’s commitment to Dorian, which ultimately proves fatal, reveals the genuineness of his love for his favorite subject and his concern for the safety and salvation of Dorian’s soul.

Minor Characters
Sibyl Vane - A poor, beautiful, and talented actress with whom Dorian falls in love. Sibyl’s love for Dorian compromises her ability to act, as her experience of true love in life makes her realize the falseness of affecting emotions onstage.

James Vane - Sibyl’s brother, a sailor bound for Australia. James cares deeply for his sister and worries about her relationship with Dorian. Distrustful of his mother’s motives, he believes that Mrs. Vane’s interest in Dorian’s wealth disables her from properly protecting Sibyl. As a result, James is hesitant to leave his sister.

Mrs. Vane - Sibyl and James’s mother. Mrs. Vane is a faded actress who has consigned herself and her daughter to a tawdry theater company, the owner of which has helped her to pay her debts. She conceives of Dorian Gray as a wonderful alliance for her daughter because of his wealth; this ulterior motive, however, clouds her judgment and leaves Sibyl vulnerable.

Alan Campbell - Once an intimate friend, Alan Campbell is one of many promising young men who have severed ties with Dorian because of Dorian’s sullied reputation.
Lady Agatha - Lord Henry’s aunt. Lady Agatha is active in charity work in the London slums.

Lord Fermor - Lord Henry’s irascible uncle. Lord Fermor tells Henry the story of Dorian’s parentage.

Duchess of Monmouth - A pretty, bored young noblewoman who flirts with Dorian at his country estate.

Victoria Wotton - Lord Henry’s wife. Victoria appears only once in the novel, greeting Dorian as he waits for Lord Henry. She is described as an untidy, foolishly romantic woman with “a perfect mania for going to church.”

Victor - Dorian’s servant. Although Victor is a trustworthy servant, Dorian becomes suspicious of him and sends him out on needless errands to ensure that he does not attempt to steal a glance at Dorian’s portrait.

Mrs. Leaf - Dorian Gray’s housekeeper. Mrs. Leaf is a bustling older woman who takes her work seriously.
Some useful quotes - add to this!

Full transcript