The Picture of Dorian Gray, the only full-length novel ever written by the legendary playwright Oscar Wilde, is one of the most notorious books of the 19th century. With its overtones of supernaturalism, its refusal to satisfy popular morality, and its portrayal of homoerotic culture, The Picture of Dorian Gray was met with harsh criticism when it wasfirst published in 1890. Many considered the novel dangerously influential, with one offended critic calling it “a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odors of moral and spiritual putrefaction.
” Many of the themes and innuendos of homosexuality and moral corruption that Wilde so intricately weaved throughout the book have stirred up countless controversies and scandals. Ultimately, however, although the book seems to be a gothic twisted tale of pain and indifference, as it portrays the decay of the main character, Dorian, into a seedy underworld that is characterized by murder and quite often visits to opium houses, it is really a refinement of aestheticism.
Wilde, who was intrinsically involved in the aesthetic movement and is even given credit by Richard Ellman to have been the sole reason for the artistic character of the 1880’s (305), wrote the book as a reflection not of the moral decay of the time, but rather of beauty and the influence and importance of art. Ultimately, The Picture of Dorian Gray is perhaps the most comprehensive Aesthetic work of all time managing to portray through it’s characters, the true wonder of the aesthetic movement. The ways in which aestheticism is so intrinsically reflected throughout The Picture of Dorian Gray can best be recognized by examining the characters and the ways that they react with one another.
The Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray is a collection of epigrams that aptly sums up the ideals of the artistic and philosophical movement known as aestheticism. Aestheticism, which found its foot…