According to the literary theory of cultural studies, it is crucial to examine novels from the perspective of socio-cultural context and the author’s biography. The Picture of Dorian Gray, written by Oscar Wilde, is an excellent example of a story that encompasses the author’s values and aspirations. In his letter in 1894, Oscar Wilde wrote, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am; Lord Henry what the world thinks of me; Dorian Gray what I would like to be” (Hackett par. 10). It is evident that The Picture of Dorian Gray has a substantial emphasis on characters, and it is important to analyze the novel from the perspective of the author’s life. Ultimately, the current essay examines the narrative of the story and presents a biographical criticism.
Dorian Gray and Beauty
One of the underlying themes of the novel is beauty and associated hedonism. This concept implies that all person’s actions should maximize their pleasure, and beauty is an effective instrument to achieve this goal. Throughout the story, Dorian Gray – a handsome person on the outside – commits horrendous acts without regard for other people’s lives. This approach relates to the author’s life and Victorian society in the late 19th century. In the 1880s, London was obsessed with aestheticism – a perspective that art exists only for the sake of art and no other objectives (Beckson par. 4). Oscar Wilde supported this idea and was widely known for his flamboyance in the higher circles of London’s elite. Ultimately, Oscar Wilde was similar to Dorian Gray due to their luxurious fashion sense and a preference for fine arts.
Morality of Art
Wilde advocated for the movement of aestheticism in the story by commenting that art should be separated from morality. Despite the abrupt ending for Dorian Gray, the author claimed that “there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book” in the preface (Wilde 5). In his perspective of aestheticism, the death of Dorian Gray was not his punishment but rather a natural ending to life with no sacred meaning. Even though many readers understood the ending as a message of morality, the author never planned to achieve this objective.
Controversy and Pleasure
The central theme of Dorian Gray as a character is the pursuit of pleasure or hedonism. Similar to the protagonist, Oscar Wilde was a highly controversial author who was imprisoned based on the claim of gross indecency (Beckson par. 9). At the time, homosexuality was a societal taboo, and any sign of “indecency” could be perceived as a danger to the traditional way of life. Wilde, on the other hand, advocated for freedom of love and expression which eventually led to his imprisonment. Similarly, The Picture of Dorian Gray has received immense criticism for homosexual allusions and the romantic context between the main characters (Gates par. 4). Gray, Lord Henry, and Hallward had a complex relationship, and many of the readers in the late 19th century were shocked by this perspective on life.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is an excellent novel that demonstrates the vast impact of the author’s life on the narrative of the story. The main characters have a powerful connection to Oscar Wilde and his beliefs. The essence of beauty, freedom of love, and the importance of art are significant themes in the story narrative and the author’s life. Ultimately, The Picture of Dorian Gray represents the author’s beliefs and aspirations in the form of the characters’ actions and dialogues.
Beckson, Karl. “Oscar Wilde.” Britannica, 2021.
Gates, Barbara. “Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray.” Victorian Web, 2012.
Hackett, Amy. “Your Handwriting Fascinates Me and Your Praise Charms Me.” National Library, 2014.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, 1890.