The Picture of Dorian Gray

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: Satire 1 key example

Definition of Satire
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of satire, but satirists can take... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians... read full definition
Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis—Victorian Ridicule:

Oscar Wilde makes frequent use of satire to lampoon the superficial nature of Victorian society, depicted in all its inauthentic glory throughout The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Wilde reveals his satirical lens early in the novel; it is especially visible in Basil’s blunt description of the London party scene 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.

Basil’s words exaggerate the conceited nature of his peers, sarcastically suggesting that all he needs is proper evening wear to convince others of his sophistication. "Savage" though a profession may be perceived—even as savage as an artist or stock-broker—the right appearance is what matters most.

Wilde’s satire of high society continues in his descriptions of the party circuit itself, in Chapter 3:

At last, liveried in the costume of the age, reality entered the room in the shape of a servant to tell the duchess that her carriage was waiting. She wrung her hands in mock despair. “How annoying!” she cried. “I must go. I have to call for my husband at the club[.] If I am late he is sure to be furious, and I couldn’t have a scene in this bonnet. It is far too fragile. A harsh word would ruin it. […] Good-bye, Lord Henry, you are quite delightful and dreadfully demoralizing.

The party, in Wilde’s wily language, presents an opportunity for the suspension of reality amongst the company of only the privileged few. That suspension is shattered, of course, by “the shape of a servant,” who brings reality back into the room. Every bit of conversation is performative and over-the-top, from the “mock” despair with which the duchess bids the group adieu to her hyperbolic observation that her bonnet is too fragile to withstand an argument with her husband. Even her final goodbye to Lord Henry underscores the detachment with which the ruling elite view their world: despite being “dreadfully demoralizing,” the duchess insists Henry is still quite delightful and later on even invites him over for dinner. As satirized by Wilde, this patrician class appears permanently aloof, vapid, and exempt from real responsibility.

Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Victorian Ridicule:

Oscar Wilde makes frequent use of satire to lampoon the superficial nature of Victorian society, depicted in all its inauthentic glory throughout The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Wilde reveals his satirical lens early in the novel; it is especially visible in Basil’s blunt description of the London party scene 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.

Basil’s words exaggerate the conceited nature of his peers, sarcastically suggesting that all he needs is proper evening wear to convince others of his sophistication. "Savage" though a profession may be perceived—even as savage as an artist or stock-broker—the right appearance is what matters most.

Wilde’s satire of high society continues in his descriptions of the party circuit itself, in Chapter 3:

At last, liveried in the costume of the age, reality entered the room in the shape of a servant to tell the duchess that her carriage was waiting. She wrung her hands in mock despair. “How annoying!” she cried. “I must go. I have to call for my husband at the club[.] If I am late he is sure to be furious, and I couldn’t have a scene in this bonnet. It is far too fragile. A harsh word would ruin it. […] Good-bye, Lord Henry, you are quite delightful and dreadfully demoralizing.

The party, in Wilde’s wily language, presents an opportunity for the suspension of reality amongst the company of only the privileged few. That suspension is shattered, of course, by “the shape of a servant,” who brings reality back into the room. Every bit of conversation is performative and over-the-top, from the “mock” despair with which the duchess bids the group adieu to her hyperbolic observation that her bonnet is too fragile to withstand an argument with her husband. Even her final goodbye to Lord Henry underscores the detachment with which the ruling elite view their world: despite being “dreadfully demoralizing,” the duchess insists Henry is still quite delightful and later on even invites him over for dinner. As satirized by Wilde, this patrician class appears permanently aloof, vapid, and exempt from real responsibility.

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