So here are some notes on ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ from the Preface through to Chapter 2! Hope these help if you’re studying ‘DG’ too!
There will be references to the WHOLE of the book so if you haven’t finished the book and don’t want the ending spoiled then read no further!!
- The preface is basically a retaliation to the critics of the book, with Wilde’s observations on art and the meanings of art.
- “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim” – This shows immediately that this book was not meant to be about Wilde. Many people suggested that the book was near autobiographical.
- “Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming” – Thus those who claim the book had latent homosexual messages are themselves the ones thinking the ‘corrupt’ thoughts, as they are the ones who noticed the homosexual messages that were ‘not meant to be there’
- Wilde speaks of the ‘dislike of Realism’ which he suggests is like “the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.” Caliban is an ugly and ignorant character from ‘The Tempest’, and thus Caliban would be upset to see how he really looks, just how the people of the 19th century would be upset to see how they really act.
- Wilde also speaks of the ‘dislike of Romanticism’ which he suggests is like “the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.” This suggests that people disliked Romanticism as they thought it was too much like fantasy, and couldn’t see anything of real life in it, however this was obviously the point of Romantic works.
- “No artist desires to prove anything” – thus Wilde never intended to offend or insult anyone by the themes of the book that were shocking at the time.
- “All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.” – Again Wilde shows how the homosexual themes were laid very deep under ‘symbol’ and thus if the critics dug that far down then it’s their own fault if they disliked what they read. The findings of the critics reflects the mind of the the readers not the mind of Wilde, as THEY interpreted it that way, he didn’t present it openly.
- “All art is quite useless” – art is there to be admired only, no deeper meaning is necessary, reflecting the ideas of the aesthetic movement of the time.
- This chapter opens with artistic artisan imagery, especially of nature: “rich odour of roses”, “light summer wind”, “heavy scent of the lilac”, “more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.” Gives idea of Eden, and thus later on Lord Henry tempts the innocent Dorian out of this heavenly place, and this reflects the fall of man, the first sin, and the tempting snake. Talk of nature seems ironic in a place that is so full of art.
- “The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.” gives an industrial feel to London, the word “organ” especially giving the idea of machinery.
- “Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago caused, at the time, such public excitement and gave rise to so many strange conjectures.” This former scandal lends itself almost perfectly to the ending where Basil gets murdered. It is merely assumed that he has disappeared again, just like the last time.
- “a smile of pleasure passed across his face” – is this a smile of pleasure because of his masterpiece or due to Dorian himself?
- “You must certainly send it next year to the Grosvenor. The Academy is too large and too vulgar.” immediately shows his judging and opinionated nature
- “No, I won’t send it anywhere.” The painting was painted for himself alone, just like he wants Dorian for himself alone.
- “thin blue wreaths of smoke that curled up in such fanciful whorls from his heavy, opium-tainted cigarette.” this sentence gives a sense of heaviness and effort to everything.
- “I have put too much of myself into it.” – Does this phrase also relate to the novel itself? Has Wilde put too much of his own sexuality in the themes of the book? Is the book almost autobiographical in nature? The painting could condemn Basil like the book eventually condemns Wilde.
- “we shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly.” – Our lives are in the hands of ‘the gods’, Wilde is almost saying that if he is homosexual then it is God’s fault, not his.
- “When I like people immensely, I never tell their names to any one. It is like surrendering a part of them.” This is similar to Sybil later on, who only ever refers to Dorian as “Prince Charming”
- “the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.” Lord Henry is a very witty and cynical person
- “I believe that you are really a very good husband, but that you are thoroughly ashamed of your own virtues. You are an extraordinary fellow. You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing. Your cynicism is simply a pose.” Basil always thinks the best of everyone, Lord Henry is the immoral tempter in the book, yet Basil has nothing bad to say about him.
- “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.” This could reflect Wilde’s opinions being reflected in the book. The attitude of this passage seems to contradict the preface directly, suggesting that art reveals the artist.
- “With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stock-broker, can gain a reputation for being civilized. Well, after I had been in the room about ten minutes, talking to huge overdressed dowagers and tedious academicians” – Basil doesn’t seem to like the times he’s living in, making such comments on society.
- “Yes; she is a peacock in everything but beauty,” appears rude, but Basil thinks his cynicism is a pose
- “oh, yes, plays the piano–or is it the violin, dear Mr. Gray?” Dorian presented as educated
- “I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects.” Seems very shallow in his opinions of people,
- “My elder brother won’t die, and my younger brothers seem never to do anything else.” His speech is almost always orientated with the aim to shock.
- ‘ “Tell me more about Mr. Dorian Gray. How often do you see him?” “Every day. I couldn’t be happy if I didn’t see him every day. He is absolutely necessary to me.” ‘ Basil seems obsessed and besotted with Dorian.
- “As they entered they saw Dorian Gray. He was seated at the piano, with his back to them, turning over the pages of a volume of Schumann’s “Forest Scenes.” “You must lend me these, Basil,” he cried. “I want to learn them. They are perfectly charming.” “, the fact that Dorian has his back to them causes suspense. The inclusion of the “Forest Scenes” gives a sense of nature and innocence.
- ” “That entirely depends on how you sit to-day, Dorian.” “Oh, I am tired of sitting, and I don’t want a life-sized portrait of myself,” answered the lad, swinging round on the music-stool in a wilful, petulant manner.” Basil seems like a parent chiding Dorian, and Dorian seems like a sulky child throwing a tantrum.
- When Dorian sees Lord Henry a “faint blush coloured his cheeks”, giving Dorian a feminine character and showing that he is already slightly attracted to Lord Henry
- “I promised to go to a club in Whitechapel with her last Tuesday, and I really forgot all about it.” shows that Dorian is essentially good but is weak minded and willed and this will be weak willed.
- ” “That is very horrid to her, and not very nice to me,” answered Dorian, laughing.” Dorian is shocked but amused by Lord Henry’s quips about Lady Agatha
- Dorian described like a young Adonis/Narcissus and this shows why he is trusted by many and why he gets away with things: “Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity.”
- ” “Would you think it awfully rude of me if I asked you to go away?” Lord Henry smiled and looked at Dorian Gray. “Am I to go, Mr. Gray?” he asked. “Oh, please don’t, Lord Henry. I see that Basil is in one of his sulky moods, and I can’t bear him when he sulks. Besides, I want you to tell me why I should not go in for philanthropy.” ” Basil is very protective of Dorian, and Lord Henry knows that he can use Dorian to manipulate Basil. Dorian is already fascinated by Lord Henry.
- “If Dorian wishes it, of course you must stay. Dorian’s whims are laws to everybody, except himself.” Basil is battling Lord Henry for Dorian’s affection.
- “He has a very bad influence over all his friends, with the single exception of myself.” Warning Dorian Gray subtly about the influences of Henry, and then as if on cue Henry begins influencing Dorian with a long speech, “Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed.”
- “People are afraid of themselves, nowadays.” reflects how people are afraid to be themselves, especially if they’re homosexual.
- Basil is almost always referred to as “the painter” in the rest of this chapter as that is now all he is, Dorian’s affections have been taken by Lord Henry.
- In that day many people would be Christian, yet Lord Henry talks about the powers of the “brain” – showing his scientific and anti-religious side.
- “Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them!” This shows how much of an influence Lord Henry has had over Dorian, as his “mere words” have gotten him into a confused stupor, contemplating life and death and all in between.
- “Why had it been left for a stranger to reveal him to himself? He had known Basil Hallward for months, but the friendship between them had never altered him.” Lord Henry has now shown Dorian that he is homosexual. Dorian wonders why he’s attracted to Lord Henry but not Basil.
- Henry starts to show Dorian that beauty and youth are the only things worth having, saying it would be “unbecoming” to get sunburnt, and that “youth is the one thing worth having.” He continues to talk to Dorian, persuading him that he needs to live while he has youth: “But what the gods give they quickly take away. You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully. When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it,”
- Lord Henry exaggerates the effects of aging to show Dorian how youth is the most vital thing: “Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!”
- “A furry bee came and buzzed round it for a moment. Then it began to scramble all over the oval stellated globe of the tiny blossoms.” Very childish language ‘furry bee’ to represent the youthful and innocent nature of Dorian. There are sexual overtones however as the bee is pollinating.
- When Dorian sees the picture he has a shocking realisation: “Yes, there would be a day when his face would be wrinkled and wizen, his eyes dim and colourless, the grace of his figure broken and deformed. The scarlet would pass away from his lips and the gold steal from his hair. The life that was to make his soul would mar his body. He would become dreadful, hideous, and uncouth.” This description is very like Henry’s over-dramatic interpretation of what aging does, showing how much Dorian has been influenced.
- Dorian still seems childish: “a mist of tears” and Basil is concerned, ” “Don’t you like it?” cried Hallward at last, stung a little by the lad’s silence,”
- Dorian expresses how the Dorian in the painting will never be older “than this particular day of June”, this day could have been the summer solstice, a day of magic, which could explain the supernatural element. He states that he “would give everything” for the painting to grow old and himself to stay young forever. He then states “I would give my soul” which seals the deal and is reminiscent of Faustus.
- Dorian seems to become bitter and jealous of the painting and starts to think that Basil only likes him for his art, “I am less to you than your ivory Hermes or your silver Faun. You will like them always. How long will you like me? Till I have my first wrinkle, I suppose.” Art is immortal and man is not, and Dorian realises this. He grows rather over-dramatic, almost like a hormonal teenager when he states “When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself.”
- Basil blames Henry, ” “This is your doing, Harry,” said the painter bitterly.” and Henry defends himself. Basil has already resigned himself to the fact that Dorian has changed.
- Basil goes to stab the painting, despite the fact that it’s his masterpiece – this shows how much he loves Dorian. However Dorian realises that there’s life in the painting and stops him, ” “Don’t, Basil, don’t!” he cried. “It would be murder!” “. Dorian is in love with the painting as he is now vain and loves himself.
- Dorian pours out the tea, a woman’s role in that day and age, showing his feminine nature
- We can see that Lord Henry is not a loyal person when he discusses cancelling his meal with his old friend, “I have promised to dine at White’s, but it is only with an old friend,”
- Basil calls the painting the real Dorian, as the painting was painted before Dorian was negatively influenced by Lord Henry. Basil bites his lip, something he does constantly in this chapter as he is worried that Dorian is being stolen from him by Lord Henry. Basil then explains that Dorian and the painting are alike in “appearance” – suggesting that Dorian’s soul has been tainted by Lord Henry’s influence.
- Basil begs Dorian not to go as he is besotted with him and cannot bear the idea of losing him: “He won’t like you the better for keeping your promises. He always breaks his own. I beg you not to go.” Lord Henry looks on “with an amused smile” as he has caused this argument.
- When Dorian and Lord Henry leave together a “look of pain” came into Basil’s face, as he has been rejected and has lost Dorian.
This was a long blog post but I hope you got something out of it! I know I did!!
Thanks for reading,