” The Picture of Dorian Gray ” is one of the most famous works of Oscar Wilde, the well-known Irish writer, poet, aphorist, playwright, journalist and essayist. Born in 1854 in Dublin, he inherited several characteristics from his mother, including his peculiar eccentricity and the habit of hiding his true age. What characterizes Wilde is that he is a perfect ” dandy ”, cynical and impertinent, an ironic and refined provocateur; he scoffs at all that is common sense and cliché. Wilde had been thinking of writing a higher-level novel for some time; in 1884 he often visited the studio of one of his painter friends, Basil Ward. One day the model to be painted was a very young and very handsome boy who impressed Wilde immensely; when the work was done the writer told his friend that it was really a pity that such a wonderful creature had to suffer the effects of old age, the painter agreed and added that it would have been truly magnificent if the boy could have remained that way forever, while the portrait aged in his place. From this episode Wilde’s idea of composing his first and only novel grew. ” The Portrait of Dorian Gray ” was published in July 1890 in an American monthly magazine, which brought him a large number of readers. The story was immediately subjected to criticism that highlighted its immorality, but Oscar Wilde responded to the negative comments of other magazines with elegance and reserve. However, the ensuing scandal only increased the novel’s fame, to which Wilde added several chapters and the Preface before publishing it as an actual book. The narrator is always external, his point of view never changes in the course of the story; the text is rich in detailed descriptions even if it is mainly composed of narrative and dialogic parts. The author’s style is perfectly in tune with the character of the author himself, as well as the topics covered. Particular are the French words used, which emphasized the nobility of the characters described, as at that time French was a very cultured and elite language.
The story is set in the London (and surroundings) of the nineteenth century, takes place over a period of forty years, even if a certain period of history in which Dorian leaves for a long journey is omitted to go directly to the events of some decades later. London’s landscapes are described in an impeccable way, in fact a clear distinction can be drawn between the places most usually frequented by the protagonist and his friends of noble social rank (the club, the palaces, the villas, squares and famous streets inhabited by characters of relief) and the places where Dorian, now aware of his dark soul, goes to ” let off steam ” without being judged by the English bourgeois gossip of those years.
Dorian Gray is a young man of 17, pure, handsome and charming, but perhaps too naive; in fact, he falls into the hands of Lord Henry Wotton, a noble man of title, but not of spirit. Cynical, vain, expert in corruption and skilled mind manipulator, he chooses the young Dorian for his experiment: Lord Henry in fact undertakes to kill the soul of the protagonist-victim. The two know each other through the painter who loves to portray Dorian, Basil Hallward; he is aware of the terrible influence that Lord Henry exerts on the people who frequent him and had warned Dorian from the beginning, but the boy is too young and pure to escape the fascination exercised by the Lord; it is in fact during the creation of a portrait of Dorian that Lord Henry shows up in his friend Basil’s studio to see for himself the immense beauty of the model so praised by the painter. From that fateful meeting begins the long journey of the death of a soul, which drags with it all the good intentions and the noblest virtues, leaving behind only a shell of external beauty, without any moral value.
Dorian’s astonishing physical beauty designates him as chosen, because Beauty allows him to substitute dizzying freedom for moral norms. ” The purpose of life is the development of ourselves, the perfect realization of our nature: this is our reason for being ”. But the realization of such fullness lived in the name of beauty, which sacrifices the soul in favor of the body, reason in favor of the senses, is no longer possible: in fact, the verification of this would lead to a failure which is, first of all , self destruction. Lord Henry Wotton is the aesthetic and amoral guide in this education to egotism.
Thus begins Oscar Wilde’s novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.
While Lord Henry is pleased with the control he exerts over that beautiful and awkward boy, Dorian does not realize that he is only an instrument, a puppet, and begins to inhale the poisons of that master who reveals the secrets of pleasure and inculcates him ” the irrepressible desire to savor life to the fullest ”, poisons for which there is no antidote. As hypnotized, he becomes what the other wants him to be: a contemptuous idolater of his own beauty. For this manipulation exercised by Lord Henry from the first day, the prayer with which the modern Narcissus begs for the “ diabolical exchange ” in front of the finished faithful portrait is granted: the picture, mute but disturbing (also a character despite being a object, or perhaps even the protagonist) agrees to surrender his blissful eternity and take physical decay in its place. Over the years, the evolution towards evil is unstoppable. Not even the miracle of love can do anything; in fact, when Dorian met Sibyl Vane and fell in love with her, he believed that, by marrying her, he could realize all the good intentions that flashed in his mind the evening he saw her acting in the theater and leading a life of goodness . Sibyl, an almost adolescent actress, is willing to give up theater, her only world, for Dorian’s sake; but when he humiliates her with monstrous brutality, for that one fault of having played badly (but in good faith) one night, she knows she can’t survive her abandonment and she kills herself. Having played badly is an affront to aesthetic perfection that Dorian has elevated to a belief in him, a wound to an ideal that she or no other woman will ever be able to embody. Dorian does not actually kill Sibyl, but it is as if she did: her is a mental murder.
The suicide of the lover marks a decisive turning point. The disappearance of the girl, forgotten as quickly as she was conquered, closes every path of forgiveness for the one who, loving only himself, cannot give love to anyone else. We are now surrendering to a diabolical thirst for absolute self-love. Now Dorian no longer stops at nothing, not even in the face of crime. With a macabre crime he gets rid of a dear friend like Basil Hallward, the painter of what had now become his worst nightmare, the only one who could have saved him from the abyss. The haughty Dorian, who does not make a meeting without increasing the list of his misdeeds (to which he barely mentions out of pure modesty), does not care about witnesses and hostile looks. He got lost in the labyrinth of pleasure and in the excesses of sensations, which lead him to feel the heat of the infernal flames, right into those dark forms of vice which must also be part of the experience. At this point Wilde would like to absolve Dorian, considering him as a fallen angel, dissolute and heroic, but the awareness of violating the foundations of the Christian religion stops him from doing so. The tragic end chosen for Dorian restores troubled order and common justice; Wilde punishes the damned with the epilogue that his readers would surely have approved. Dorian dies, he must die because this is how the rules of a literary genre that Wilde used to disguise an elitist discourse on pleasure and egotism dictate. The moral dimension triumphs. The portrait obliges its original to reverse the parts and take back the burden of unmentionable sins that Dorian, in order to preserve intact the value of his youth, had wanted to place on the face of the painted image.
In the last scene, the portrait takes its ferocious revenge, giving Dorian back his dissipated life and his old age; and immortality to himself. The servants who enter the room in the attic of the house will be faced with the evidence of the guilt and its verdict.
In the novel in which Wilde takes pains to intensify the subjective perception of the protagonist, we find the faithful mirror of a perfectly defined reality and of the class he knows best. Wilde does not want Lord Henry Wotton’s aphorisms to be underestimated. He demolishes, as a critical and satirical commentator, vulgarity, stupidity, intellectual leveling and hypocrisy: all depressing results of a virtuously organized society. Lord Henry, however, pays no price for the verbal impertinence he shows off and, in his impunity, he stops being Oscar Wilde’s alter ego: physical and psychological humiliation awaits the author relentlessly at the end of the period. of imprisonment. Unlike his character, Wilde paid a very high price for his proudly selfless and sensual art. The author of the scandalous Dorian Gray would have sworn that eternal beauty exists and for this dogmatic conviction his life was at stake. Wilde lived his last days in the consolation that ‘the most beautiful lines are always about death, because the artist’s message is to make us understand the beauty of defeat.’
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