The Picture of Dorian Gray notes- characters, quotes, themes and criticism

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  • Created by: Emma
  • Created on: 04-09-13 19:54


·         Wilde, himself leading a double life- Catholic upbringing but Protestant beliefs, married homosexual etc. - enjoyed mocking the standards of contemporary society. This was clearly reflected through the fact he substituted the name ‘Hubbard’ for ‘Ashton’ for the picture-framer who visits D.G. Because ‘Ashton is a gentleman’s name’, whereas ‘Hubbard particularly smells of the tradesman’. The theme of a double life, outwardly caring about one’s reputation, while secretly transgressing society’s moral codes is central to the plot of the novel. When D.G. returns from killing B.H. we are told he “felt keenly the terrible pleasure of a double life”, he then progresses to an opium den that same evening, effectively conveying his divided existence. The opium den itself establishes a socio-economic and topographical distance between Mayfair and Ratcliffe, ruling class and outcast. Yet, Wilde’s novel suggests that such divisions are not rigid or absolute. High life and low life are often conflated in “Culture and corruption” they are not disparate but congruent areas of experience. D.G. passes easily through this. L.H. makes this idea explicit when he asserts to D.G. “Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders. I don’t blame them in the smallest degree. I should fancy that crime was to them what art is to us, simply a method of procuring extraordinary sensations” The criminal and the aesthete (combined in the figure of D.G.) stand together in the novel. By suggesting duplicity is an essential part of existence in late-Victorian society, and that D.G. is an extreme version of an unacknowledged norm, Wilde’s novel resembles the ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.

·         D.G. speculates on the “inheritance of sin and shame”- powerful, intriguing suggestion, with Gothic explanation for D.G.’s actions. D.G. describes how mans “very flesh was tainted with the monstrous maladies of the dead.” Wilde supernaturalises scientific belief of evolution- enhanced through inclusion of chapter 3, describing D.G.’s heritage.

·         Physiognomy- widespread belief that an individual’s appearance reveals character- plays an important part in the novel; this was a materialistic and plausible contemporary thought. As B.H. asserts “sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed.”

·         Wilde also presents art as extremely subjective mirrors, with B.H. seeing himself in the portrait “I have put too much of myself into it”, D.G. seeing the hero of the yellow book as “a kind of prefiguring type of himself.” This reflects the views of Wilde himself who asserts “It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.”

·         For Wilde, art is superior to nature and life, aesthetics are always higher than ethics. D.G. brings his moral life to the portrait, confusing art with life and ethics with aesthetics- the result is disastrous for the work of art. As Wilde says “Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.” A similar illustration of confusing ethics with aesthetics is found


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