The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Women and Men Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Women and Men Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Picture of Dorian Gray, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Women and Men Theme Icon

Lord Henry’s philosophies frequently criticize women and marriage, and the era of Dorian Gray’s London society, and indeed Oscar Wilde’s, becomes vivid to us in his dialogue. He says that women are a “decorative sex”, and that there are always only a few worth talking to. We see his marriage with Lady Victoria Wotton as a very separate affair, both parties leading distinct lives and meeting the other occasionally. When Victoria dies, Henry expresses sadness and misses her company. Though his description of sadness is far from a romantic declaration, it does seem that a lot of the women provide the male characters with essential and distracting company, and actually, it is the hostesses that at times enable the lifestyles of connection and fashion that men like Henry and Dorian boast of. Ladies like Lady Narborough and the Duchess are the connectors. Henry says of the Duchess Gladys that her clever tongue gets on his nerves, which is comically hypocritical. And she has the same disregard of her husband as the men have for women when she falls in love with Dorian. In this way, she is used to illuminate the actions and paradoxes of the men’s world.

With women taking somewhat of a back seat in Dorian’s tale, the romantic energy between the men takes center stage. Though there are no explicitly homosexual relationships, there are definitely homoerotic ones, and words like "admiration" and "fascination" begin to acquire a double meaning in the text. In a world where beauty is the ideal and knowledge is attractive, the older gentlemen’s longing for Dorian and his admiration of them adds another layer of taboo to the secrecy of the characters’ private lives.

Women and Men ThemeTracker

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Women and Men Quotes in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Below you will find the important quotes in The Picture of Dorian Gray related to the theme of Women and Men.
Chapter 15 Quotes

“She is very clever, too clever for a woman. She lacks the indefinable charm of weakness. It is the feet of clay that make the gold of the image precious.”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker), The Duchess of Monmouth
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

Dorian and Lord Henry have spent an evening with the Duchess of Monmouth, a smart, beautiful woman who adores Dorian. The next day, Lord Henry tells Dorian that her husband is incredibly boring, and remarks that the Duchess herself is "too clever for a woman." This passage highlights the disdainful view Lord Henry has of women (even the few women he likes). None of the various female characters play a significant role in the novel, and the narrative itself thus reflects Lord Henry's view that most women are unappealing and uninteresting. Furthermore, Lord Henry's comment that the Duchess is "too clever" and that she does not have the "charm of weakness" shows that he believes it is desirable for women to seem vulnerable and inferior. 

At the same time, it is possible to interpret his comment as applying not just to women but to people in general; if so, this has negative implications for Dorian. After all, Henry argues that it is charming for women to have "feet of clay," before saying that the Duchess's feet are more like porcelain, hardened by her experiences. Clay is often symbolically connected to human flesh, a solid foundation even for an attractive surface like gold, whereas the image of hardened, white porcelain brings to mind Dorian's pure exterior, beneath which lies the sinful experiences that have hardened his soul. 

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