The Picture of Dorian Gray

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The Picture of Dorian Gray Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Oscar Wilde
Wilde grew up and studied in Dublin, before moving to Oxford to further his studies. He became a fashionable and intellectual writer, involved in the London scene, where the philosophy of Aestheticism was becoming popular. The wit of his language and the tightly wrought themes and plots of his stories gained him a literary reputation whilst his personal life also attracted attention. His homosexuality and controversial views were targeted by his detractors and in1895, he was imprisoned for many years and wrote his most tragic poems. After his release, he moved to France, and died there.
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Historical Context of The Picture of Dorian Gray
The novel’s depiction of Victorian London seems to draw a lot from the historical events and fashions of the era. Dorian’s excursion into the seedy world of opium dens especially relates to an underground city obsession.
Other Books Related to The Picture of Dorian Gray
Other works of the 19th century that deal with Gothic settings and spooky, supernatural events, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, remind us of Dorian Gray. For its dark portrayal of opium and temptation-filled London, Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood also creates a similar atmosphere. We also know that Wilde was inspired by the themes of Faust and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and there are allusions to these texts in The Picture of Dorian Gray's plot.
Key Facts about The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Full Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • When Written: Some time between 1889, when the story was commissioned, and 1890
  • Where Written: London
  • When Published: It was initially published in a magazine called Lippincott’s Monthly in July of 1890.
  • Literary Period: Aestheticism
  • Genre: Aestheticism, Philosophical Fiction, Gothic Fiction
  • Setting: London
  • Climax: Dorian becomes so tormented by the portrait that he stabs it with a knife, but when the scene is discovered, it is Dorian himself who lies dead on the floor.
  • Antagonist: Dorian and the other characters are surrounded by antagonistic influences, which seem to be a part of day to day life in the high society of London. These influences, fashion, classism, obsessions with aesthetics and reputation are embodied by Lord Henry Wotton, making the man and his ideas seem like the main antagonist of the book.
  • Point of View: An omniscient narrator; this narrator guides us in the past tense between one place and another, able to show us the interior workings of the main characters
Extra Credit for The Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray Syndrome. Dorian Gray’s name still haunts popular culture but it also has a more serious legacy. Dorian Gray Syndrome is now a common term to describe a cluster of narcissistic qualities. It often refers to severe mental illness and can be diagnosed from symptoms reminiscent of Dorian’s in the novel.

The real Dorian? It has been suggested that the inspiration for Dorian Gray was a man called John Gray, who, though very handsome and a good poet, was dropped by Wilde in favor of his new love Lord Alfred Douglas. He apparently signed his love letters “Dorian”, after an ancient tribe called “The Dorians”.