The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Oscar Wilde's fabulous The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1980.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde's only novel, published in an American magazine on 20 June, 1890. It was criticized by many as immoral and heavily censored. Wilde later wrote a revised edition of the novel, making several additions and adding new characters to the novel, in an attempt to salvage the situation. However, the explicit sexual references and allusions were still plentiful, and so this novel was banned almost immediately after publication in all English-speaking countries, with no exception.

In 1930, a stolen copy of the book was translated into Arabic, and it began to become exceeding popular again, regaining its notoriety as a decadent and immoral book. The book was then translated into a plethora of languages, due to excitingly sensual individuals wanting to spread the excitingly sensual material. It was not long until the League of Nations convened to put a stop to the book's dissemination, and all countries, with the exception of Saudi Arabia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, banned publication of the book. The book has been termed as 'poisonous', 'dangerous', and 'potentially threatening to international security' due to its strong sexual motifs.

Now, it is often used in schools as a literary text for analysis, due to its alleged literary merits. It is also used in biology lessons as a text for analysis, due to its inherent biological merits. The book has since been translated into over 200 languages, and over 200 million copies have been sold worldwide.


The novel begins on a beautiful summer day. Lord Henry Wotton and artist Basil Hallward are in Basil's bedroom, engaging in sensual discourse. Their vigorous actions, however, are disrupted by the arrival of a very surprised Dorian Gray. Not wanting to disturb them, Dorian leaves to sit down elsewhere, but Lord Henry makes an advance on him, and attempts to invade him. Dorian eventually succumbs to Lord Henry's suggestive actions, and groans as Lord Henry enters him. Dorian does not like what comes upon him. He finds it disgusting and hard to clear up.

A modern rendition of the immoral, and very obviously decadent Dorian Gray

However, he begins to accept the concept of aestheticism and egotistical hedonism, the decadent ideas that Lord Henry had put into his head.

Afterwards, Dorian decides that he wants to pursue aesthetics in life, rather than anything else. He then negotiates with a painting Basil painted of him, and after an intense discussion, they finally come to an agreement, whereby the painting will grow old in Dorian's place. It is felt to be a win-win agreement. The two shake hands and part ways.

Dorian then begins to explore himself. He finds a shady place in a dark alley, and the Greek bouncer lets Dorian in with the exchange of a few coins. It is there that Dorian sees Sibyl Vane, one of the many performers. She does not notice him, for she is too busy entertaining the crowd, but Dorian's eyes are fixated on her. He wants her. He wants her everything, and he wants to be her everything. He is too shy to approach her, though, and comes back day after day to ogle at her.

It takes much courage for Dorian to finally approach her, whilst she entertains him in the same manner she entertains everybody else. However, Dorian realizes that it is not her art that he wanted, rather he wants her. He does not want her to be in him, he wants her to be with him. He then decides not to ask her to entertain him and instead proposes to her. Sibyl is taken aback, for she had never had such an experience, and that night was the first time that she had met him.

She agrees, naturally. The next day, Dorian goes back and asks Sibyl to entertain him. She fares extremely poorly, for she was experiencing true love with Dorian. Dorian decides that he does not want to marry her, and takes off hastily. Sibyl is heartbroken that Dorian has left her after being with her for one night, and commits suicide.

The next 18 years are extremely taxing on Dorian. He purchases all sorts of items in the pursuit of pleasure, such as jewels and drums and pearls and harps and Indians. The taxes incurred are exuberantly high, especially since he is in the top percentile of the society, and so has to pay much more money in the form of taxes. Furthermore, he travels frequently, and had to pay a substantial amount of transport-related taxes. Economists estimate the amount of taxes that Dorian paid to be approximately ₤620 (or about €6,200,000 today, due to inflation).

Dorian becomes extremely touchy and sensitive. One day, he meets Basil, the person who had introduced Dorian to Lord Henry, and who introduced him to the idea that pleasure the only meaningful thing about existence. Gray stabs Basil to death, and, in a moment of folly, stabs the picture that Basil painted of him. Moments too late, it dawns on Gray that he has forgotten about the contract that he had made with the painting, and thus accidentally killed himself.

The story ends with a depiction of a policeman.


There are three main themes in the novel, namely that of Hedonism and Aestheticism, Age and Maturity, and Sex. The theme of sex will not be further elaborated on as it is a very straightforward theme.

Hedonism and aestheticism

Aestheticism and Egotistical Hedonism are strong motifs in the novel, and are intrinsically intertwined albeit ostensibly separated in the novel. However, literary analyses have been unable to analyze the two themes together, due to their ostensible separation.


Hedonism, or the belief that pleasure is the only good, is seen throughout the entire novel.

The egotistical hedonist in action.

It is believed that Dorian Gray is a shopaholic, and engages in retail therapy very frequently, for it is depicted that it is only through shopping that Dorian feels happy. In the novel, several pages were dedicated to describing what Dorian bought. One small paragraph describing Dorian's purchased items is as follows:

He had a special passion, also, for ecclesiastical vestments, as indeed he had for everything connected with the service of the Church. In the long cedar chests that lined the west gallery of his house he had stored away many rare and beautiful specimens of what is really the raiment of the Bride of Christ, who must wear purple and jewels and fine linen that she may hide the pallid macerated body that is worn by the suffering that she seeks for, and wounded by self-inflicted pain. He had a gorgeous cope of crimson silk and gold-thread damask, figured with a repeating pattern of golden pomegranates set in six-petalled formal blossoms, beyond which on either side was the pine-apple device wrought in seedpearls. The orphreys were divided into panels representing scenes from the life of the Virgin, and the coronation of the Virgin was figured in colored silks upon the hood. This was Italian work of the fifteenth century. Another cope was of green velvet, embroidered with heart- shaped groups of acanthus-leaves, from which spread longstemmed white blossoms, the details of which were picked out with silver thread and colored crystals. The morse bore a seraph’s head in gold- thread raised work. The orphreys were woven in a diaper of red and gold silk, and were starred with medallions of many saints and martyrs, among whom was St. Sebastian. He had chasubles, also, of amber-colored silk, and blue silk and gold brocade, and yellow silk damask and cloth of gold, figured with representations of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ, and embroidered with lions and peacocks and other emblems; dalmatics of white satin and pink silk damask, decorated with tulips and dolphins and fleurs de lys; altar frontals of crimson velvet and blue linen; and many corporals, chalice-veils, and sudaria. In the mystic offices to which these things were put there was something that quickened his imagination.

Literary scholars believe that Dorian Gray gained pleasure through the purchase of items. His extensive shopaholic tendencies are often the impetus of arguments as to why the novel espouses hedonism.


Aestheticism, or the belief that art is the only good, is seen throughout the entire novel. L'art pour l'art, as described by Gautier, or Aestheticism, was one of the biggest trends in Victorian society at that time, and therefore it is argued that this novel contains and espouses Aestheticism.

Another prominent example would be the stabbing of the painting. It is believed that the stabbing of the painting of Dorian resulting in the death of Dorian is symbolic, for it represents what happens when art is damaged. Many believe that this represents Wilde's beliefs that art is the only good, and therefore it should not be damaged.

Age and maturity

Literary scholars have come to a consensus that the main reason why Dorian still engaged in debauchery was the ability of his to never grow old. This effectively means that Dorian was stuck at the same age as he was, and so he was as immature as he was when he signed the contract with his painting.

He was therefore very immature, and unable to understand and decipher problems, the same way a mature adult would. This can very easily explain everything that the novel cites, such as the lack of emotional control, the teenage angst, and his playful attitude.


Directly after publication, the book was banned in America and England, due to allegedly explicit sexual content. France and Australia quickly followed suit, followed by the rest of Europe, all of which somehow managed to attain a copy of the book. The book, of course, was still read privately by many an individual, but talk about it largely died down.

In 1930, a stolen copy of the book, allegedly from Wilde's son Cyril, was translated into Arabic. After that, it began to become exceeding popular, regaining its notoriety as a decadent and immoral book. The book was then translated into a plethora of languages, due to excitingly sensual individuals wanting to spread the excitingly sensual material.

However, the League of Nations decided to clamp down on these activities, and forced member nations to ban publication of the book, at the risk of having sanctions imposed on them. All nations under the League cooperated, and nations not in the League also followed suit. Ultimately, every single state with access to the book banned its publication with the exception of Saudi Arabia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, both of which not in the League of Nations at the time.


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