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Oh, Dorian! Dorian Gray Analysis Part 1

Hello! I am trying to keep a better schedule, but to be honest, I wasn't prepared to have so much to talk about in the first two chapters, so I wanted to make sure all my thoughts were organized and my passages were cut in the way I thought was best. Now, let's get on with the first part of my literary analysis!

I'm going to try to summarize the first two chapters of The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray, and then I'm going to go into my analysis of certain passages, ending with a summarization of my thoughts so far.

The story begins with a very detailed passage that sets the scene for us, immediately showing off Oscar Wilde's flair for the aesthetic. We meet Basil Hallward in his studio, looking intently at his latest portrait of Dorian Gray. We also meet Lord Henry, a friend (?) of Basil's who is also admiring the portrait. He asks Basil why he won't exhibit it, and we learn of Basil's love and possible obsession for Dorian Gray. He doesn't name Dorian at first, keeping the name to himself until Lord Henry accidentally gets him to admit it. Lord Henry and Basil discuss Dorian, explaining that Basil met him at a party at Lady Agatha's and was immediately smitten with him. Lord Henry is fascinated by the hold Dorian has on Basil and asks to meet him. Basil is reluctant, but as they are discussing it, Dorian himself arrives at Basil's studio. Basil tries to shoo Lord Henry away, but he refuses to leave. Basil asks Lord Henry not to spoil Dorian, saying that Lord Henry's influence could taint the young man.

Chapter 2 introduces us to the elusive Dorian Gray, and the first impression of him is that despite his good looks, he presents himself as very needy and almost whiny, craving validation from Basil Hallward. Lord Henry meets Dorian and immediately begins to flatter him, which Dorian appreciates. Dorian asks Lord Henry to stay while he sits for another portrait with Basil, and they converse. Lord Henry impresses upon Dorian the importance of his youth and good looks, which are fleeting and will disappear as he ages. Dorian, who shows himself to be somewhat naive, contemplates this process of aging and is ultimately distressed, which negatively affects his view of Basil's newest portrait. He laments the fact that he must age while the painting stays forever young and wishes that the roles were reversed. This annoys Basil, who tries to cut up the painting, but Dorian stops him, saying that it would be like murdering a part of himself. Lord Henry diffuses the tension by inviting Dorian to the theatre, which Dorian is all too happy to accept. He tries to invite Basil to join them, but Basil decides to stay with the painting (the "real Dorian" as he says). Basil insists that Dorian stay and dine with him, but Dorian refuses, deciding to join Lord Henry for the night. Before they leave, Basil asks Lord Henry to remember what he told him (about not spoiling Dorian), but Lord Henry has already forgotten. After they leave, Basil throws himself onto the sofa, pain in his face.

So, here is a summary of what is happening so far. Already, there is so much to write about. Wilde's portrayal of Basil's obsession with and worship of Dorian is fascinating to read about so quickly (though, I shouldn't be surprised given how short the story actually is). I originally wanted to write about the first three chapters, but the writing is so dense and interesting that I knew I could only talk about the first two. Let's get started with some analysis!

Firstly, I want to talk about Wilde's use of aesthetics. I have to admit, when I was first reading the contextual introductions, I was internally wincing at the thought of reading overly-descriptive descriptions. I was pleasantly surprised at how intentional and selective Wilde was with these descriptions, allowing them to flow seamlessly into the overall story so far. For example, the opening of the book is very ornate, describing the sights, sounds, and smells of Basil's studio. In modern terms, I would call it cinematic, using the senses as a way to put the reader right into the story before introducing our first two characters. One of my favorite parts of this first passage was the description of the trees: "Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of the laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flame-like as theirs..." (The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray, p. 57). To me, this seems to foreshadow the tremendous beauty of Dorian Gray and the perceived "burden" this has on him and those around him. He is seen as an object of worship by Basil, who sees his beauty as the very essence of his artwork (p.66). Wilde uses aestheticism as a way to posit the perceived perfection and godlike qualities seen in Dorian Gray, who is shown the fleeting nature of human beauty through his discussion with Lord Henry.

The themes of aging and beauty are made obvious from the very beginning, calling back to Oscar Wilde's view of the "moral" of the story being very obvious (almost too obvious). Lord Henry's conversation with Dorian about his youthful beauty and the concept of aging taking that away shows how naive Dorian really is, giving us insight into how much his beauty must have benefitted him up to this point in his life. Lord Henry says to Dorian,

"Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you. But what the gods give they quickly take away. You have only a few years in which to really live. When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats. Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful. Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed. You will suffer horribly" (p. 78).

This conversation distresses Dorian greatly, and he wishes for his portrait to age while he stays youthful forever (foreshadowing? I know the basics of this story but have never actually read it), and it almost seems that Basil, who has wanted to please Dorian up to this point, actually wants the opposite, calling the youthful portrait of Dorian "the real Dorian" and saying that Dorian is "like it in appearance" but that the painting "will never alter" (p. 85-86). This is an interesting dynamic between the two of them, and I am interested to see how this progresses.

Finally, I want to talk about the romantic and somewhat sexual descriptions of Dorian's looks and personality and how this affects Basil's view of him. Basil admits almost right away that he worships Dorian Gray, surprising Lord Henry, who seems to think this notion ridiculous, at least at first (p. 66). Basil equates Dorian to his art, intertwining them until they are one and the same, calling Dorian "all [his] art to [him] now" (p. 66). This is how Basil describes his first meeting with Dorian:

"When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious instinct of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself" (p. 62).

This is an intense description of a first meeting, seeming to evoke the introduction of two lovers, given the physical and psychological symptoms that come over Basil at the mere sight of Dorian Gray. Basil also expresses a need for secrecy when it comes to his love for Dorian Gray, calling back to the repressive and oppressive times that Wilde was living in, and having to keep his homosexuality a secret. When Lord Henry asks Basil why he won't exhibit his portrait of Dorian, Basil says that he has "put into it all the extraordinary romance of which, of course, [he] never dared to speak to [Dorian]...But the world might guess it; and [he] will not bare [his] soul to their shallow, prying eyes" (p. 67). Basil knows that he loves and is devoted to Dorian, but he refuses to let the world see it and judge him--or condemn him, as would happen to Oscar Wilde a few years later.

Honestly, I could go on, but there is much more of this book left to read and discuss, so I will leave you with this conclusion. I am thoroughly enjoying the book so far, though I was surprised at how dense the material is, especially for a novella. I am so delighted to get into an even deeper analysis as we move further into the story, however, and I hope you will join me for the next few chapters. I plan on reading chapters 3-6 for the next chunk, and if this first part was any indication, there will be plenty to write about and discuss. I already feel like I could write a whole college thesis just about this short novella, and that is an exciting feeling.

I'm not going to make any promises on the timeline, especially since I will be going on a trip in about a week. I will try to get the next post out before the end of May. Hope you enjoyed this first part of my analysis/review of Dorian Gray, and I will see you when I see you! Bye!


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