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The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray is a novel telling the rather Gothic story of a young man whom the book owes its name to. Dorian is introduced to the readers as being the adored subject of a painter named Basil Hallward who paints his best work in the opening chapters – Dorian's portrait. However also present in these first scenes is a character named Lord Henry Wotton who encourages Dorian to seek a more hedonistic life, based on beauty and self fulfillment. It is at this point that Dorian exclaims his wish that the picture should take all of the knocks of the world and he himself should never age.

Dorian's rather rash wish becomes true and what follows is a series of events that show how Dorian is living up to the debauched life Lord Henry has suggested for him. However this lifestyle comes with a price and Dorian becomes obsessed with is portrait, often being impressed with the evil of his soul but also committing several odd behaviours in order that no one else should ever set eyes on it. Furthermore everyone around him seems to die or fall under some great misfortune and it soon becomes obvious to society that even though Dorian has money and therefore status, he is still a character to be avoided. The central protagonist's ultimate act of evil is when he murders Basil, the very man who painted the picture and whom Dorian believes is the cause of all the fiendishness  in his soul. Finally however, Dorian decides that he is being silly and that he shouldn't allow himself to be ruled over by a portrait and so he stabs it but in doing so, restores the portrait to its original appearance and unintentionally takes his own life.

Oscar Wilde himself comments that this novel is based on the Faustian themes which would have been very well known to all of the educated men of his time, and it is very easy to see parallels between the legend and this story.

Dorian himself would represent the character of Faust, who gives up his soul in order to have beauty forever, as he cries 'Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!' page 28 Dorian however the difference between Dorian and Faust is that Dorian is a truly innocent character, shown through his beauty which is described as 'pure' and has religious connotations. The actions that Dorian carries out are also reminiscent of Faust's, for example he travels the world, although as Wilde must have wanted to make the work his own, the travels are not physical travels around the world, but instead collections of small parts of the world in order that Dorian can experience them, ' he would now study perfumes.... he devoted himself entirely to music... he took up the study of jewels...he turned his attention to embroideries...he had a special passion, also, for ecclesiastical vestments..' page 124-135. Furthermore, Dorian's knowledge of the world and indeed desire to gain knowledge, doesn't begin until after his soul has been sacrificed as he tells Lord Henry 'you filled me with a wild desire to know everything about life' page 48 Dorian. Of course, this quote itself leads directly to Lord Henry as the perpetrator behind this evil bargain, very much like the Faustian Mephistopheles.

Lord Henry is very similar to Mephistopheles as it is his very words that tempt Dorian into selling his soul into this immoral life to begin with. He encourages Dorian to 'live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream - ' page 21 henry adding that 'the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it' page 21 henry. Furthermore, he admits to the audience his wish to have Dorian's soul for himself as the narrator tells us 'He would seek to dominate him – had already, indeed, half done so. He would make that wonderful spirit his own.' page 38 henry. This particular line could easily be read differently, as it could be taken to mean that Lord Henry merely wants to mold Dorian towards his own theories  take on some of Dorian;s youthful qualities as his own, however because of the previous devilish suggestions from Lord Henry, it becomes obvious that this is not how it should be read. Indeed, it is Lord Henry who first puts the idea of Souls into Dorian's head during his first theory when he states 'to influence a person is to give him one's soul' page 20 henry and he gives the final suggestion that he is a Mephistophelian character when he asks Dorian at the very end of the novel 'By the way Dorian,' he said after a pause, '”what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world an lose- how does the quotation run? - his own soul”?' page 205 henry. This final insight gives the audience an uncanny feeling that Henry knows a lot more then he should do.
 In stark contrast to Lord Henry however,  is the painter of the portrait, Basil Hallward. Basil doesn't seem to be a direct character taken from Faust, but more an amalgamation of all the good characters from both Marlowe and Goethe. He could be seen as the good angel in Marlowe that directly contrasts the bad angel, or in this case, Lord Henry, or else he could be seen as all of those friends that Faust had that encouraged him to repent. Either way, similar scenes and situations reoccur in Dorian Gray. To begin with, following Lord Henry's speech on the benefits of a hedonistic lifestyle, it is Basil who asks 'But, surely, if one lives merely for one's self, Harry, one pays a terrible price for doing so?'page 76 Basil. Also, there is one moment in the novel when Basil, after seeing the painting, begs Dorian 'It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we cannot remember a prayer' page 151 Basil and Dorian himself admits that 'Yes, Basil could have saved him.' page 115 Dorian but just like Faust, Dorian is either too scared or too stubborn to undo the bargain he's made.

The themes and ideas that The Picture of Dorian Gray presents emulate the ideas that the Faust myth present. For example, there is a key idea that it is not only Dorian whose soul can be so easily tainted but every man alive, 'here was an ever-present sign of the ruin men brought upon their souls' page 93 and yet every man has the choice to save himself, 'each of us has heaven and hell in him' page 150 Dorian, and by the end of the novel when the idea of a soul is challenged by Lord Henry, it is made clear that knowledge of the human soul and the human condition are truly the only lessons that Dorian has gained, 'The soul is a terrible reality. It can be bought and sold and bartered away... There is a soul in each one of us. I know it' page 205 Dorian

Other potential relevant comparative quotes
'I had a passion for sensations' page 48 Dorian
'It is the face of my soul' page 150 Dorian
'It can only be the next world. This world and I are on excellent terms' page 170 Henry
'There goes the devil's bargain!' page 180, old woman