Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Oscar Wilde is regarded as one of the most iconic characters in literary culture. His poetic and literary accomplishments won him widespread recognition and admiration. He was able to compose poetry, novels, criticisms, and short stories during his lifetime. His greatest achievement as an author was his ability to link the aesthetic and literature. His efforts provided insight into the relationship between art and literature. Many people admired him after reading his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was an extension of his dedication to the connection of art and literature. Thus, it was an emphasis on the notion that art served only the purpose of projecting beauty. The Picture of Dorian Gray was a reflection of Aestheticism in the literary world.

Aestheticism in The Picture of Dorian Gray

The thematic elements in The Picture of Dorian Gray reflect Oscar Wilde’s preoccupation with the aesthetics in literature. The novel documents the story of three men who were devoted to art. To begin with, the themes of sensuality and forbidden passions provide a medium through which the Oscar Wilde sought to emphasize on beauty above morality. According to Wilde, the analysis of an artistic creation ought to be predicated on its beauty rather than the moral connotations it inspires. When Lord Henry accorded Dorian Gray the yellow book, a literary compilation, he had hoped that it would grant the latter peace and reinforce the essence of beauty in his life. On reading the book, Dorian Gray discovers immense beauty within the passionate documentaries that are captured within the book. Subsequently, “it seemed to him that in exquisite raiment, and to the delicate sound of flutes, the sins of the world were passing in dumb show before him. Things that he had dimly dreamed of were suddenly made real to him. Things of which he had never dreamed were gradually revealed” (Wilde 155). The yellow book, in reflecting the passionate journeys of the main character, provides a reflection of the essence of aesthetics in artistic creations.

The main character in the novel, Dorian Gray, was intended by Oscar Wilde to be a reflection of beauty in the artistic disciplines. By comparing Gray to the Greek sculptures, Wilde subtly establishes a correlation between art and literature. His description of Gray determines that “What the invention of oil-painting was to the Venetians, the face of Antinous was to late Greek sculpture, and the face of Dorian Gray will someday be to me. It is not merely that I paint from him, draw from him, model from him” (Wilde 16). Gray’s beauty in the novel provides the major point of reference. Thus, beauty gives life to any literary text.

The Novel and the Moral Times

The development of The Picture of Dorian Gray was completed and published in 1890. Moral correctness provided an intrinsic element of the British society at the time. Thus, the book was adjudged on the mantles of morality rather than its aesthetic elements of its characters and themes. The book challenged the prevailing moralistic inclinations. Some of the immoral elements in the novel included the purported Gray’s perversion and degeneration. Hedonism and aestheticism provide the ideological mantles by which Gray ratified his actions. His commitment to the principles that are encouraged in the yellow book lead him to the understanding that religion is feigned. Gray infers that “those words mean nothing to me now” (Wilde 206) when Basil suggests that they pray for redemption. In an era when Christianity provided the major religion in the British community, such an allusion was frowned upon greatly by the society.

Against the Romanticists

Wilde’s aestheticism did not correspond with English Romanticism. Aestheticism was committed to the promotion of values in the society over moral pillars. Through The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde demanded an inquiry into the predominant moral practices. While Aestheticism encouraged the involvement of both reason and intuition in the assessment of literature, the adherents of the Romanticist movement used A priori intuition to determine the elements of literature. Still, both the schools were guided by the principles of intuition over science. While Romanticism encouraged the translation of emotive responses into poetry, Aestheticism went further to reflect on the implications that such a translation would have on the political and social settings.

Differences Between Wilde and the Victorians

Unlike the Victorians, Oscar Wilde sought to question the extent of Christian morality in the influence that it had over the social behavior. Whereas the other Victorian artists avoided scandal by committing themselves to conventional values, Wilde’s deviation in The Picture of Dorian Gray pitted him against the religious and political leaders of his time.


Oscar Wilde is a notable author who inspired the element of aesthetic in literature. His work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, marked the beginning of artistic inquiry into the relevance of morality in the assessment and creation of poetry, painting and stories among other artistic ventures. Unlike other Victorians, Wilde was not afraid to bear the consequences that came with the analysis of social and political issues that threatened the stability of the traditional Victorian setting.

Work Cited

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Collector’s Library, 2003.

September 11, 2021



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