Though Oscar Wilde is more famous for his witty one liners which are abundantly present in ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’,what makes this work memorable for me is the exploration of the inner psyche of the eponymous protagonist.
Basil Hallward, an artist, paints a very beautiful portrait of his friend Dorain Gray.
Gray himself develops a narcissistic kind of appreciation for his own portrait & thinks:
& his wishes do indeed come true. So it follows that whatever vile thoughts he thinks & deeds he does his face remains innocent & stays as handsome as ever.He becomes too hedonistic & stops caring for the feelings of others. He starts ignoring the effect of his actions on people close to him. When his fiancee Sybil Vane commits suicide because Dorian decided to dump her for a frivolous reason, he remains nonchalant. Then he goes n murders his friend, Basil n also Sybil’s brother James. The painting becomes uglier n uglier with each misdemeanor.
Now this is really interesting a human face is indeed a mirror of the inner self of the person. Beauty or ugliness is not just physical features but also reflects the person’s inner life & the quality of thoughts. (Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed.)
Sadly this fact is not at all accounted by our beauty n youth obsessed society. Many people act like Dorian Gray(“Youth is the only thing worth having. When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself.” “I know, now, that when one loses one’s good looks, whatever they may be, one loses everything.”~Dorian Gray) n make huge efforts (even resorting to painful n expensive surgeries) to remain ever youthful. But, alas their inner emptiness is reflected in their face despite impeccable features.
To continue with the plot of the story, finally inner demons begins to catch up with Dorian n one day he himself is disgusted by the ugliness of his portrait & decides to destroy it. As he stabs his painting, Dorian becomes ugly n old n dies n the portrait returns to it’s initial beauty & splendor. The message is quite clear: As Ayn Rand once said, ‘One can evade reality, but one can never evade the consequences of evading reality.
P.S. : It is widely regarded that Dorian became irresponsibly hedonistic n degraded under the influence of his friend Lord Henry Wotton. I’ve totally ignored that aspect because I believe in ultimate responsibility of an individual for his own thoughts & action. One cannot blame others. One should be mature & wise to understand what advice to follow & what to ignore.
Okay, now having dealt with the story n it’s nuances,let’s sample the signature Oscar Wilde Witticism, which peppers the book throughout especially through Lord Wotton:
“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
“Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the cave-man had known how to laugh, History would have been different.”
“we always misunderstood ourselves, and rarely understood others”.
“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
“Some things are more precious because they don’t last long.”
“Always! That is a dreadful word. It makes me shudder when I hear it. Women are so fond of using it. They spoil every romance by trying to make it last for ever.”
“It is perfectly monstrous,’ he said, at last, ‘the way people go about nowadays saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.”
“It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”
He thought for a moment. “Can you remember any great error that you committed in your early days, Duchess?” he asked, looking at her across the table. “A great many, I fear,” she cried. “Then commit them over again,” he said, gravely. “To get back one’s youth one has merely to repeat one’s follies.” “A delightful theory!” she exclaimed. ” I must put it into practice.”