Oscar Wilde – Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

The young and beautiful Dorian Gray becomes Basil Hallward’s artistic muse. Lordy Henry meets and corrupts him with his deacadent cynicism. Dorian wishes that he will never age, and after some time, the Basil’s portrait begins to shown the signs of his age. He falls in love with Subyl Vane, gets engaged, but when she fails to act well in front of Basil and Lord Henry, he withdraws his offer and scorns he. She commits suicide. Dorian becomes increasingly decadent but never ages. Rumors spread about his infamy. Basil comes to give advice. Dorian show him the now gruesome portrait before violently murdering him. Dorian calls his friend Campbell to melt the body down…and threatens to reveal his “secret” if he does not. He goes on an opium binge outside of London. He encounters James Sibyl, who tries to kill him, but is fortuitously shot during a hunting outing. Dorian can’t bear his guilt, vowing to be good, he tries to slash the portrait but is found, a withered old man, stabbed to death.

Time/Portrait/Narrative – One way to frame Dorian’s fear of aging is a fear of narrative in general. Couch within a broader discussion of portraiture around the turn of the century. Commitment to static, non-literary form begins usurp 19th-century forms of plotting. Contrast with James’ Portrait of a Lady and Joyce’s Portrait/Stephen Hero. Also, the form of the novel is epiphanic, a collection of moments, strung together by social episodes, letters, etc….the formalities requires by the social and plot itself. One can see both deteriorating.

Actor/Spectator – Several times, Dorian suddenly becomes a spectator rather than actor in his own affairs. Read this as a perfected and perverted form of Smith and Hume’s early development of the impartial spectator. What does it mean to be entirely impartial to your own and other’s actions? Couch within discussion of decadence and aesthetic distance.

Art/Life – Dorian conceptual categories are dominated by theatrical and literary clichés, which mediate his relation to both himself and to others. Sibyl exhausts her potential by performing, consecutively, all the Shakespearean heroines. Simialrly, Basil represents Dorian in a variety of poses, dressed up as Hellenistic, Roman, etc..

More broadly, Paterian, Jamesian and Huysmanian ideas about relationship between art and life surface. Is art a separate sphere? What is the harm of making one’s life into a work of art? Wilde’s philosophically rich aesthetics foreshadows discussion of modernist aesthetics of autonomy in works like Portrait/Hero, Tarr, Eliot-Pound-Hulme-Ford essays, etc.

Concealment – an updated for of 19th-century concealment. No longer the secret that needs to be decoded for the plot to unfurl and become transparent, but secrets become “open” (Sedgewick, ALF)—and they are not benign, rather, they can be forced on others and used for the purposes of manipulation. Further, portraits are concealed, faces, etc…

Sensorium – Lord Henry and Dorian become exemplars of Paterian decadence in their pursuit of bodily sensation. At one point, Dorian, to relive himself of boredom, explores perfume, drapery, etc. in order to satisfy all the senses. Actively unseats vision as the primary mediator of outside world.

Society – Important plot moments are narrated off-scene through dialogue

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