The Picture of Dorian Gray

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: Tone 1 key example

Definition of Tone
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical, and so on. For instance... read full definition
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical... read full definition
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical... read full definition
Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The Picture of Dorian Gray is written with a tone typical of Oscar Wilde's writing: sardonic—which is to say dry, mocking, and borderline cynical—and at times outright witty, with elements of a darker and more Gothic tone prevalent in the depictions of Dorian Gray's inner torment, his hedonistic impulses, and eventual physical violence.

The bulk of Wilde’s cynicism is directed at the immensely vapid characters of London high society and, especially, at Lord Henry’s extraordinarily amoral sensibilities. It is especially clear in snippets of Henry’s dialogue in which he purports to offer sage advice: “the one charm of marriage,” Henry offers, “is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.”

In Chapter 3, Wilde crafts a party’s conversation to simultaneously carry his witty tone and reveal the duplicity that underlies so much of the conversation in the novel:

“Dry-goods! What are American dry-goods?” asked the duchess, raising her large hands in wonder and accentuating the verb.

“American novels,” answered Lord Henry, helping himself to some quail.

The duchess looked puzzled.

“Don’t mind him, my dear,” whispered Lady Agatha. “He never means anything that he says.”

Henry’s snarky take-down of American literature embodies Wilde’s humorous tone, while the inclusion of Lady Agatha’s line of advice adds another layer: even as Wilde revels in the mimicry of society conversation, he emphasizes its deep-set disingenuousness.

Eventually, Wilde abandons this lighter tone for a decidedly Gothic grimness. As could be expected, this primarily arises at Dorian’s darkest moments and in situations involving the increasingly hideous painting. In one striking instance in Chapter 20, Dorian returns to observe his painting after superficially performing a good deed—letting Hetty down easy—in an effort to stop the deterioration of his visage:

He went in quietly, locking the door behind him, as was his custom, and dragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain and indignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome—more loathsome, if possible, than before—and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilled.

Where elsewhere in the novel Wilde’s tone tends to celebrate objects of beauty—including visual art—there is no solace to be found in aestheticism any longer. The painting takes on an almost murderous character, replete with the sinister scarlet dew. Wilde’s tone builds suspense, intrigue, and even horror around the painting, and sets up a Gothic strain to stand in sharp contrast with his vibrant wit and extravagant language.

Chapter 20
Explanation and Analysis:

The Picture of Dorian Gray is written with a tone typical of Oscar Wilde's writing: sardonic—which is to say dry, mocking, and borderline cynical—and at times outright witty, with elements of a darker and more Gothic tone prevalent in the depictions of Dorian Gray's inner torment, his hedonistic impulses, and eventual physical violence.

The bulk of Wilde’s cynicism is directed at the immensely vapid characters of London high society and, especially, at Lord Henry’s extraordinarily amoral sensibilities. It is especially clear in snippets of Henry’s dialogue in which he purports to offer sage advice: “the one charm of marriage,” Henry offers, “is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.”

In Chapter 3, Wilde crafts a party’s conversation to simultaneously carry his witty tone and reveal the duplicity that underlies so much of the conversation in the novel:

“Dry-goods! What are American dry-goods?” asked the duchess, raising her large hands in wonder and accentuating the verb.

“American novels,” answered Lord Henry, helping himself to some quail.

The duchess looked puzzled.

“Don’t mind him, my dear,” whispered Lady Agatha. “He never means anything that he says.”

Henry’s snarky take-down of American literature embodies Wilde’s humorous tone, while the inclusion of Lady Agatha’s line of advice adds another layer: even as Wilde revels in the mimicry of society conversation, he emphasizes its deep-set disingenuousness.

Eventually, Wilde abandons this lighter tone for a decidedly Gothic grimness. As could be expected, this primarily arises at Dorian’s darkest moments and in situations involving the increasingly hideous painting. In one striking instance in Chapter 20, Dorian returns to observe his painting after superficially performing a good deed—letting Hetty down easy—in an effort to stop the deterioration of his visage:

He went in quietly, locking the door behind him, as was his custom, and dragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain and indignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome—more loathsome, if possible, than before—and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilled.

Where elsewhere in the novel Wilde’s tone tends to celebrate objects of beauty—including visual art—there is no solace to be found in aestheticism any longer. The painting takes on an almost murderous character, replete with the sinister scarlet dew. Wilde’s tone builds suspense, intrigue, and even horror around the painting, and sets up a Gothic strain to stand in sharp contrast with his vibrant wit and extravagant language.

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