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NA307412 - WILDE, O.: Picture of Dorian Gray (The) (Abridged)
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Murder, intrigue, decay of the body and soul — The Picture of Dorian Gray is far removed from the popular view of Oscar Wilde as a writer of delicate social comedy. It is also difficult to avoid the view that Dorian Gray, Wilde’s only novel, is heavily autobiographical, in a metaphorical, if not literal sense. While none of its male characters can be said to be Wilde himself, each occasionally reveals a mood, or expresses a thought, which feels quintessentially to be of the man himself.
The main idea for the story came from an actual episode. In 1884, Wilde used often to drop in at the studio of a painter, Basil Ward, one of whose sitters was a young man of exceptional beauty. Incidentally, Wilde must have been a godsend to many painters of the time, as his conversation kept their sitters perpetually entertained. When the portrait was done and the youth had gone, Wilde happened to say ‘What a pity that such a glorious creature should ever grow old!’ The artist agreed, adding ‘How delightful it would be if he could remain exactly as he is, while the portrait aged and withered in his stead!’ Wilde expressed his obligation by naming the painter in his story ‘Basil Hallward’.
First published in Lippincott’s Magazine in 1890, then revised and expanded when published in book form in 1890, Dorian Gray mixes elements of grand guignol with dastardly deeds in the mode of supposedly decadent, late 19th century French fiction. Handfuls of epigrams are tossed in, like diamonds scattered in a coal cellar.
This tale of moral decay and social opprobrium, laced with macabre supernatural touches, is chillingly distinct from Wilde’s plays, where witty glitter holds together unlikely plots. Dorian Gray still has the power to disturb, even though today’s bourgeoisie is much less shocking than in Wilde’s day.
Oscar Fingall O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin on October 16, 1854. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1878. His espousal of the fin de siècle Aesthetic movement, which preached devotion to art above all else, resulted in acclaim from some, deep hostility from others. In 1882 Wilde arrived in North America to give a lecture tour, announcing as he landed that he had “nothing to declare but my genius.”
Wilde insisted that art had nothing to do with morality, though paradoxically the central plot of Dorian Gray can be interpreted as establishing precisely the opposite — a conundrum Wilde himself would have undoubtedly have relished. The comedies Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) established his reputation as a major writer for the stage.
But in May 1895 he was sentenced to two years hard labor, serving the bulk of that at Reading Gaol. Wilde had been found guilty of homosexual conduct, of which the Marquess of Queensberry, father of Lord Alfred Douglas, one of Wilde’s closest friends, had publicly accused him. Wilde sued the Marquess for libel, but his action collapsed when the evidence went against him.
He served the full term of his sentence and on release in May 1897 went to France. By now bankrupt, he was joined in France by Douglas, dying in Paris on November 1900 of inflammation of the brain brought on by an ear infection. Before he died, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church.
Wilde’s reputation today, rests on his two theatrical masterpieces, but The Picture of Dorian Gray stands as a major contribution to the English novel; its brooding, dissolute central figure almost a perfect caricature of Wilde himself.
Notes by Gary Mead
Michael Sheen is one of Britain's most exciting young actors. Since leaving RADA, he has appeared at Manchester’s Royal Exchange in Osborne's Look Back in Anger and as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, in the world première production of Harold Pinter's Moonlight, taken the title role of Peer Gynt in Ningawa's world tour production, in the Royal National Theatre’s Ends of the Earth, and has played Henry V for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Sheen’s film credits include Mary Reilly, Othello and Wilde.
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his
impression of beautiful things.
The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.
This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated.
For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his
own face in a glass.
The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not
seeing his own face in a glass.
The moral life of man forms part of the subject matter of the artist, but
the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No
artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an
unpardonable mannerism of style.
No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.
Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.
Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.
From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the
musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator and not life that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion of a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.
The only excuse for making a useful thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.
— OSCAR WILDE
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