The Picture of Dorian Gray

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: Mood 1 key example

Definition of Mood
The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes in the reader. Every aspect of a piece of writing... read full definition
The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes in the reader. Every aspect... read full definition
The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes... read full definition
Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrative of The Picture of Dorian Gray is carefully strung between two worldviews: the hedonism represented by Lord Henry's philosophy and the earnestness represented by Basil's understanding of his own art and Dorian Gray's beauty. To that end, the mood oscillates between a typically Wildean wittiness surrounding Dorian Gray's descent into hedonism and a more somber and sobering—and distinctly Gothic—mood surrounding Dorian Gray's corruption and violence.

On the one hand is the typically sophisticated and luxurious mood that sees Wilde in full form demonstrating his intimate knowledge of both London society and aestheticist literary technique. This mood suffuses Dorian Gray’s introduction to the reader and his arrival at his adopted hedonistic worldview and his exploration of the opportunities of such a lifestyle. It is evident in Basil’s own introduction to Dorian in Chapter 1:

Two months ago I went to a crush at Lady Brandon’s. You know we poor artists have to show ourselves in society from time to time, just to remind the public that we are not savages. With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stock-broker, can gain a reputation for being civilized. Well, after I had been in the room about ten minutes, talking to huge overdressed dowagers and tedious academicians, I suddenly became conscious that some one was looking at me. I turned half-way round and saw Dorian Gray for the first time.

With passages like this one, Wilde is able to adopt a patrician mood that feels “in” the extravagant world of London society but not “of it”—the typical Wildean wit, as evidenced here by the sarcastic comment about stock-brokers, keeps things lighthearted.

On the other hand is a dark, somber, and distinctly Gothic mood surrounding the consequences of Dorian Gray’s corruption and violence on himself, his portrait, and his friends. Over the course of the novel, this mood arrives more and more frequently as Dorian’s sanity begins to collapse and his portrait begins to occupy more and more of his mind. By Chapter 20, the delightful luxury of the opening chapters has disappeared, and the Gothic mood is all that remains:

He looked round and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward. He had cleaned it many times, till there was no stain left upon it. It was bright, and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter’s work, and all that that meant. It would kill the past, and when that was dead, he would be free. It would kill this monstrous soul-life, and without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it.

In place of Wilde’s knowing wit is all the suspense, even horror, of the Gothic genre. The mood accelerates with an anxious, almost frantic, energy. Wilde’s use of alternating moods throughout the story and his eventual embrace of the Gothic mood cleverly mirrors the content of the plot.

Chapter 20
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrative of The Picture of Dorian Gray is carefully strung between two worldviews: the hedonism represented by Lord Henry's philosophy and the earnestness represented by Basil's understanding of his own art and Dorian Gray's beauty. To that end, the mood oscillates between a typically Wildean wittiness surrounding Dorian Gray's descent into hedonism and a more somber and sobering—and distinctly Gothic—mood surrounding Dorian Gray's corruption and violence.

On the one hand is the typically sophisticated and luxurious mood that sees Wilde in full form demonstrating his intimate knowledge of both London society and aestheticist literary technique. This mood suffuses Dorian Gray’s introduction to the reader and his arrival at his adopted hedonistic worldview and his exploration of the opportunities of such a lifestyle. It is evident in Basil’s own introduction to Dorian in Chapter 1:

Two months ago I went to a crush at Lady Brandon’s. You know we poor artists have to show ourselves in society from time to time, just to remind the public that we are not savages. With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stock-broker, can gain a reputation for being civilized. Well, after I had been in the room about ten minutes, talking to huge overdressed dowagers and tedious academicians, I suddenly became conscious that some one was looking at me. I turned half-way round and saw Dorian Gray for the first time.

With passages like this one, Wilde is able to adopt a patrician mood that feels “in” the extravagant world of London society but not “of it”—the typical Wildean wit, as evidenced here by the sarcastic comment about stock-brokers, keeps things lighthearted.

On the other hand is a dark, somber, and distinctly Gothic mood surrounding the consequences of Dorian Gray’s corruption and violence on himself, his portrait, and his friends. Over the course of the novel, this mood arrives more and more frequently as Dorian’s sanity begins to collapse and his portrait begins to occupy more and more of his mind. By Chapter 20, the delightful luxury of the opening chapters has disappeared, and the Gothic mood is all that remains:

He looked round and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward. He had cleaned it many times, till there was no stain left upon it. It was bright, and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter’s work, and all that that meant. It would kill the past, and when that was dead, he would be free. It would kill this monstrous soul-life, and without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it.

In place of Wilde’s knowing wit is all the suspense, even horror, of the Gothic genre. The mood accelerates with an anxious, almost frantic, energy. Wilde’s use of alternating moods throughout the story and his eventual embrace of the Gothic mood cleverly mirrors the content of the plot.

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