December 22, 2022

#08-267: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray and his painting in a 1945 film (Wikipedia)

Note: Few novels explore the nexus of esthetics and morality--with a little magic thrown in--like Oscar Wilde's masterpiece.

Get Ready: Do you think our acts of kindness or cruelty have effects beyond the everyday? That is, do our choices affect a realm beyond this one?

The Irish writer Oscar Wilde was versatile and prolific. He wrote poems, stage plays, fairy tales (mainly for adults), short stories, and this surprisingly chilling novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

As the story begins, the opinionated British Lord Henry Wotton speaks of esthetics while observing an artist named Basil Hallward painting a portrait of the handsome Dorian Gray. Listening to Lord Henry, Dorian he begins to wish that he could remain young, and that the painting could age in his place.

And so it happens, by a mechanism never quite explained. Believing he will now live forever, Dorian sets off on a course of self-indulgence, enjoying every aspect of hedonism.

He courts and wins the affection of Sibyl Vane, a talented stage actress born to the lower class. He rejects her after she delivers a poor dramatic performance in front of his friends, and when he returns home, notices that his portrait has changed: it now bears a cruel sneer, reflecting his arrogant mistreatment of the woman.

This rattles him, and he decides the honorable thing to do would be to reconcile with Sybil. Sadly, Lord Henry informs him that Dorian's rejection has caused Sibyl to kill herself.

The hardened youth decides to give himself fully to his negative impulses. He locks the portrait away where he can't see it and, taking tips from an immoral French novel given to him by Lord Henry, lives a completely decadent life.

When the artist, Basil Hallward, comes to question Dorian about his evil ways, Dorian shows him the portrait. It has gotten uglier with each of Dorian's sins, and Basil recognizes it only because it bears his signature. When Basil begs Dorian to pray for salvation, Dorian in a fit of anger stabs him to death. He has reached the nadir of morality: murder.

Escaping the scene, Dorian goes to an opium den, where Sybil's brother James, intending to kill him in revenge for Sybil's suicide, catches up to him. But Dorian--whose face has not changed--convinces James that he is too young to be the man that mistreated Sybil, and James leaves. He soon realizes his error, and begins to pursue Dorian again.

When James is accidentally killed, Dorian vows to live a virtuous life. The portrait, however, remains ugly, making him realize that his "reformation" is just another way to keep from getting bored.

At last, he stabs the portrait in the heart. He cries out, and when his servants enter the room, they find an ugly old stranger stabbed through the heart--and a portrait of the handsome young Dorian Gray.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. decadent
  2. esthetics
  3. hedonism
  4. mechanism
  5. opinionated
  6. prolific
  7. rattles
  8. reconcile
  9. self-indulgence
  10. suicide

  1. lack of personal discipline
  2. having strong ideas
  3. the philosophy of beauty
  4. the means by which something happens
  5. the belief that happiness is the highest good 
  6. get back together again
  7. producing a lot of work
  8. lacking morals
  9. upsets; disturbs
  10. the taking of one's own life

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 22, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. c; 3. e; 4. d; 5. b; 6. g; 7. i; 8. f; 9. a; 10. j