The Picture of Dorian Gray

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: Genre 1 key example

Chapter 2
Explanation and Analysis:

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a work that blends the characteristics of Gothic fiction with the aestheticism movement's eye for literary and visual beauty.

The sumptuous imagery and invocation of every sense possible in Wilde’s writing aligns with the standards of the aestheticism movement, which privileged the visual, verbal, and musical arts over all others. Consider the description of Dorian’s struggle with the philosophy of Lord Henry in Chapter 2:

Music had stirred him like that. Music had troubled him many times. But music was not articulate. It was not a new world, but rather another chaos, that it created in us. Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?

Over the course of this short quote, language and music are repeatedly conflated, with the power of Henry’s ideology conveyed with the imagery of a stringed instrument's “sweet” music. As is typical for aestheticism, multiple forms of art—in this case literature and music—are overlayed, and as Dorian gradually succumbs to Henry’s hedonism, the joys of consumption—of art, of music, and of language—take precedence even over morality itself.

Wilde takes his own stance on aestheticism, however, by wrapping it in a Gothic bow. By tapping into the suspense and horror of the Gothic genre, he is able to warp the aestheticist view into something dark and sinister rather than sumptuous and enjoyable. This much is apparent at the moment, in Chapter 7, when Dorian first realizes that his portrait is liable to change:

He rubbed his eyes, and came close to the picture, and examined it again. There were no signs of any change when he looked into the actual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expression had altered. It was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing was horribly apparent.

Where a work of pure aestheticism might merely privilege the arts over less pleasant things like politics, ethics, or morality, Wilde’s synthesized Gothic Aestheticism sees Dorian experiencing the consequences that could result from such a worldview.

Chapter 7
Explanation and Analysis:

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a work that blends the characteristics of Gothic fiction with the aestheticism movement's eye for literary and visual beauty.

The sumptuous imagery and invocation of every sense possible in Wilde’s writing aligns with the standards of the aestheticism movement, which privileged the visual, verbal, and musical arts over all others. Consider the description of Dorian’s struggle with the philosophy of Lord Henry in Chapter 2:

Music had stirred him like that. Music had troubled him many times. But music was not articulate. It was not a new world, but rather another chaos, that it created in us. Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?

Over the course of this short quote, language and music are repeatedly conflated, with the power of Henry’s ideology conveyed with the imagery of a stringed instrument's “sweet” music. As is typical for aestheticism, multiple forms of art—in this case literature and music—are overlayed, and as Dorian gradually succumbs to Henry’s hedonism, the joys of consumption—of art, of music, and of language—take precedence even over morality itself.

Wilde takes his own stance on aestheticism, however, by wrapping it in a Gothic bow. By tapping into the suspense and horror of the Gothic genre, he is able to warp the aestheticist view into something dark and sinister rather than sumptuous and enjoyable. This much is apparent at the moment, in Chapter 7, when Dorian first realizes that his portrait is liable to change:

He rubbed his eyes, and came close to the picture, and examined it again. There were no signs of any change when he looked into the actual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expression had altered. It was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing was horribly apparent.

Where a work of pure aestheticism might merely privilege the arts over less pleasant things like politics, ethics, or morality, Wilde’s synthesized Gothic Aestheticism sees Dorian experiencing the consequences that could result from such a worldview.

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