The trouble starts when Henry warns Dorian that his extraordinary beauty and youth will fade, and tells him to make the most of it. Dorian’s beauty is such that people are astonished by it and all of his advantages seem to come from it, even if he has got an interesting personality and wealth. With Henry’s words ringing in his ears, Dorian immediately views Basil’s portrait of him in a new light. Rather than immortalize him, the picture suddenly seems to mock him for not being immortal—the picture won't change, but Dorian himself will. Dorian then becomes aware of time, and aware of his own beauty as a thing that will fade. Before Dorian's realization, when his beauty seemed to him simply a part of him, he was only vaguely aware of it. But once he realizes that it is not something he can hold on to, that it will be taken from him by time, he wants desperately to keep it. In this way, mortality doesn't just destroy beauty and youth, it makes them things to treasure and obsess over because eventually they will be destroyed.
Throughout the novel, beauty and death are linked. Dorian loves Sybil because he gets to watch her die onstage in all her passion and then, miraculously, be alive backstage. Her art makes her immortal each and every night. Sybil's actual death by suicide is tragic, but it also gives her a kind of eternal beauty because she was never allowed to age. Dorian, meanwhile, is similarly saved from aging by the supernatural transformation of his portrait, but while his appearance is now beyond mortality this freedom seems to drive Dorian to try to experience every kind of excess, to not care about consequences, to destroy lovers and friends through his influence and callousness. In this way that novel suggests that while mortality will always destroy beauty and youth, that beauty and youth in fact need to be destroyed—that immortal youth beauty, such as is preserved in art, is in fact monstrous in the real world. And, in fact, as Dorian's soul shrivels and he begins to seek and admire ugliness, his own beautiful face comes to seem to him just a hateful reminder of the innocence he has lost.
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth ThemeTracker
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Quotes in The Picture of Dorian Gray
“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul”
“If it were only the other way! If it were I who was always young, and the picture that was to grow old!”
“So I have murdered Sybil Vane,” said Dorian Gray, half to himself, “murdered her as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife. Yet the roses are not less lovely for that.”
“The girl never really lived and so she never really died.”
What was that loathsome red dew that gleamed, wet and glistening, on one of the hands, as though the canvas had sweated blood?
If the tapestry did but tremble in the wind, he shook. The dead leaves that were blown against the leaded panes seemed to him like his own wasted resolutions and wild regrets.
His beauty had been to him but a mask, his youth but a mockery. What was youth at best? A green, unripe time, a time of shallow moods and sickly thoughts.