By Oscar Wilde

Released : 07/11/2020

Reviewed : 03/11/2020

Reviewed by : Khoirom Pamil Mangang

Art for art’s sake” is the first thing that comes to mind while describing \’The Picture of Dorian Gray\’.This highly controversial and only novel of Oscar Wilde is an aesthetic treat for the Gothic literature lover .It is a dramatic tale of a flamboyant dandy who sells his soul in exchange for a life of eternal youth and extravagance. The story\’s theme of hedonistic pleasures and decadency, sprinkled with heavy homoeroticism did not sit well with the audience of that time and every copy of the July 1890 issue of the novel had to be withdrawn.
But for me, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not just a defense of the Aesthetics Movement nor is it a vicarious reading of an entertaining story of unimaginable vices, it is a reflection of truth and of decay. With wit and cutting sarcasm made pretty in a way only Wilde can, the short novel perfectly encapsulates the irony of society and raises the question, “What makes a man moral?”

The actual plot begins when Basil Hall ward, Dorian’s admirer and a renowned painter presents Dorian his Magnum Opus, a life like portrait of the beautiful boy. Dorian, who was newly made aware of his extraordinary beauty, is distraught by the realisation that while his youth and beauty would fade away with time, the painting of him would remain the same. In despair, he wishes that the painting would age in his stead and his wish gets granted. For every sin he commits and for every year he ages, the painting would bear it\’s mark and his face would retain the innocence of youth. Filled with a perverse joy in seeing the painting become twisted and gnarled with every sin he commits, and yet not wanting any one else to see the true reflection of his soul, Dorian hides the painting in his attic and leads a life of indulgence and sin.The novel deals with the philosophical question of what binds a man to morality and good. Is it only the judgement of fellow human beings that forces a man to be moral? If so, how moral (or immoral) will a person be if all his vice and sins would never see the light of day?Do humans feel remorse without fear of judgement?
Dorian’s corruption begins with his introduction to Lord Henry Wotton, an enigmatic character, who opens his eyes to the philosophy of self indulgence and hedonism. Lord Henry is perhaps my all time favorite character. He is an aristocrat with charming wit and eloquence, and a love for influencing and misleading his acquaintances. He is best described in Basil Hallward’s words, “You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing.” and in his own, “The man who could call as pade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.”

Lord Henry endorses the philosophy of hedonism and yet he does not seem to observe his own hedonistic advice. He takes great pride in his ability to present decadency as attractive. Henry is temptation personified but he is never tempted. The characters perhaps are presentation of the temptations that open up to newly acquired fortune. But my love for the character is, in this instance, a case of art for art’s sake, for the character is attractive to me for his form and expression rather than for the greater moral representation in the story. Lord Henry\’s wit and his ability to convince even established untruths as true makes him a character I hate to love, but do.

Lord Henry tells Dorian in their first meeting, “The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the Secret of religion-these are the two things that govern us.” While most people do not have a hideous painting granting them eternal youth, the good fortune of becoming rich and popular is enough ticket for a temporary escape from the clasp of society’s judgement and the novel is an enthralling literary exaggeration of the said reality. Wilde’s \’The Picture of Dorian Gray\’ itself is a twisted portrait reflecting the hidden sins of those rich and powerful enough to escape the terror of society and we are left to wonder if conscience is enough to govern morality in a state free from restrain or judgement.

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