To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

The saying “be careful what you wish for” genuinely applies to Wilde’s novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ in a profound way. When the young Victorian protagonist Dorian Gray is influenced by Lord Henry Wotton’s warning that he only has “a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully”. Due to the transiency of his youthful beauty, he wishes for his portrait to change time. However, it is not all plain sailing, as he ends up down the path of moral corruption and vanity, destroying relationships and any good reputation he used to possess.

The mannered society of the late 1800s may seem far removed from today’s society however the novel still has many links to modern day. The obsession with self-image which leads to Dorian’s wish in the first place can easily be reflected with people on social media’s dependence on appearance and need to seek for validation to build their reputation and reinforce their confidence. As Dorian remarks, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing” the increasing materialistic nature of modern society can overlook the value and beauty of simple pleasures. Dorian also wants to increase his social rank by going to the most fashionable dinner parties and associating with the highest-class people, the way Dorian’s social aspirations lead to his downfall therefore make the novel an interesting moral commentary. Rather than pursuing, as Dorian does, pleasure for its own sake with no regard for any people he may harm – such as his first love, the actress Sybil Vane – Wilde presents in Dorian’s exploits an example of a man whose hedonistic principles should not be followed. 

The Philosophical boundaries of the novel are too deep to track to their ends. The novel addresses the issue of self-concept at portrayed in art. It also connects a person’s emotional response to his/her own image. For while Dorian remains young and beautiful, the mere sight of an aging picture of him is unbearably painful.

Wilde has created an amusing tale that doesn’t end very happily but ends beautifully with our easy-going Lord Henry still chirping. 

The description within the novel is often brief in parts however is masterfully covered in witty and warm dialogue and conversation, with the epigrams of Lord Henry which provide comments of gentle satire on different elements of society. Women, America, stupidity, marriage, romance and humanity are just some of the humorous targets of Wilde’s criticism, which the reader receive from the sharp but sweet tongue of Lord Henry. The characters description and motivation are left mainly to the perpetual capacity of the readers. Wilde is testing the aesthetics of his readers, the deeper you read into it, the greater insight you get. 

That being said, the novel provides the reader with many invaluable and witty quotes which are still applicable and influential in today’s modern society. Here are a few of my favourites: 

  • A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent one.
  • If we women did not love you for your defects, where would you all be? 
  • Genius lasts longer than Beauty.
  • If one hears bad music, it is one’s duty to drown it in conversation.
  • To define is to limit.
  • Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.
  • The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. 
  • But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself. 
  • People are very fond of giving away what they need most themselves. It is what I call the depth of generosity.
  • Beauty is a form of Genius – is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation.
  • Every impulse we strangle will only poison us.

And we should live as Dorian says, “We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible.” 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde sourced from GoodReads

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