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Creation of Gothic Suspense in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Pursuing of Superficial Beauty in the Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde has been prestigious in English literature. His novel The Picture of Dorian Gray reflects Wilde's pursuit of aestheticism with the peculiar plot, quick-witted language, and ingenious symbolization.① This novel was also one accomplishment in the Aestheticism Movement in the 19th century. The artists and writers of Aestheticism style tended to insist that the Arts should provide refined sensuous pleasure, rather than convey moral or sensuous messages. This book depicted us the whole process of the degeneration of one’s soul by describing the surrounding environment, evil’s inducement and the hero’s greed. It is said that the heart of loving beauty exists everywhere. In this novel, however, the pursuing of beauty became exaggerated, twisted even pathological. Because of this, initial critical reception of the book was poor, with the book gaining “certain notoriety for being “nawkish and nauseous”, “unclean”, “effeminate”, and “contaminating”.

In this

novel, the author demonstrated the beauty by using writing skills such as indirect foil, contrast and extremalization. The hero’s beauty became concrete, vivid, attractive and presentative.

The beauty of Dorian Gray in Others’ Eyes
Dorian Gray, the man who had astonishing beauty was also esteemed in the upper-class of the society as a hier of a prestigious Duke. His astonishing beauty could drive both male and female crazy-----The portrait painter Basil and the actress Sibyl Vane were both addicted to him and died for him. It is said that pretty women are dangerous, so were pretty men. The author did not spend much time describing Dorian’s delicate face and slim figure so that we could not infer how he looked like. However, we could imagine his beauty by other’s description and reaction.
① Wikipedia: The Picture of Dorian Gray
②Mark Nicholis: The importance of being Oscar

In the first chapter, the painter Basil told Lord Henry that Dorian Gray was the one who possessed unsurpassed beauty. He described Dorian as someone made out of ivory and rose leaves. He told the readers the thought he had the first time he saw Dorian Gray: “When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me.” And the author described in details to us how Sibyl Vane, another beautiful incarnation, was also deeply obsessed to Dorian Gray. In chapter five, the poor actress told her mother the reason she fell in love with Dorian Gray: “I love him because I love what love himself should be.” It is obvious that the girl was obsessed with the boy’s appearance instead of his personality. The truth is that her pursuing for his beauty is blind and frantic. She could not concentrate on acting and she became devastated when Dorian decided to dump her. It is not love that drives people insane, it is beauty. The pursuing of beauty destroyed intellect and conscience. Regardless of his soul, the Picture of Dorian Gray is also a picture of beauty.

The Contrast between Inner Beauty and Outer Beauty
There’s no doubt that Dorian Gray is charming. Unfortunately, his beauty did not bring him happiness. As the heir of the last Lord Kelso as well as the illegitimate child of the family, his mother, the only child of Lord Kelso, snatched away by death and left away her boy to solitude and tyranny of an old and loveless man. His unfortunate childhood did not teach him to judge and to decide. Also, his personality and soul became degraded during indulgence. In this way, the picture of Dorian Gray is also a picture of tragedy. It is clear that the aesthetic standard reflected in this novel is superficial. Different from Jane Eyre and other heroes or heroines who has inner beauty,Dorian Gray is beautiful outside but hideous inside. When he showed up, Lord Henry depicted him as “wonderfully handsome”. At that time, Dorian was a boy “with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, and his crisp gold hair.” And there was

something in his face that made one trust him at once. His delicate face is so pure that no one would relate it with ugliness and evilness. His beauty is so powerful that no one could resist it. In chapter 11, the author described the contrast elaborately. “For the wonderful beauty that had so fascinated Basil Hallward and many others beside him, seemed never to leave him. Even those who had heard most evil things against him---from time to time strange rumours about his mode of life crept through London and became the chatter of the clubs----could not believe anything to his dishonour when they saw him.” These people easily became incredulous because of his pure beauty. None of them except Dorian Gray himself could notice the evil and aging face on the canvas. They simply believed him because Dorian Gray had always the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world. They simply adored his beauty so that the room became silent when he came in. No one noticed that his soul is ugly and evil. Even if he indirectly made Sibyl Vane commit suicide, and killed Basil Hallward to keep the secret, people still adore his beauty. At the beginning of the story, his soul is also beautiful. He gradually became degraded because he lived a luxury and dissipation life. However, while he became much more skillful and tactful in socializing, he became much more charming and attractive than before as well. Luckily, the people did not pay attention to his personality, they were just perplexed by his look, his elegant lifestyle, and his unique taste towards architecture, clothing and fashion. None of them was willing to talk about something deeper. In this way, no one seemed to notice his soul.(Chap. 11) Beauty brought him reputation and respect from others, but it gave him loneliness and fear as well, for no one really cared about him. Instead of treating him as a person, they treated him as a portrait, as an encyclopedia about fashion. If someone was willing to save him before his degeneration, then the tragedy would not happen. But the people around him were indifferent somehow. As a symbol of beauty in others’ eyes, Dorian Gray was certain about one thing: once he lost his good look, he lost everything. For fear of losing everything, Dorian Gray indulged himself into

the worship of others and abandoned his soul.

Beauty brought Sin
While Dorian was enjoying in the vanity that his beauty had brought to him, he’s also busy concealing his unpresentable secret. Since no one was willing to be friend with him, he became evil. When his old friend Basil came to help him, he murdered him to keep his vanity. It seemed incredible to us that people would

exchange soul for beauty. Also, nobody would believe that someone would be so enamoured of his or her beauty. And this person would even commit a murder to conceal the unbelievable secret. The story is made-up, but thought-provoking. Beauty itself did not lead to destruction, but greed did. Beauty lured him to become cruel, to betray his conscience, and to kill his only bosom friend. Of course these things rarely happened simultaneously in the real world. The author exaggerated the whole story so that the plot became dramatically. In this way, the author discussed the situation extremely. We readers may ask ourselves: what would happen if these extreme assumptions became true. He exaggerated the hero’s greed and his vanity. In this way, we could deeply understand how beauty destroyed a man’s pure life.

Because of these writing skills, Oscar Wilde successfully presented us an unequalled beauty---Dorian Gray. Not only did his beauty attract us, but his legendary story. This portrait is a portrait of beauty, a portrait of tragedy, as well as a portrait of society. From this perspective, this novel is far beyond a mere narrative novel. Instead, it’s a reflection of Wilde’s aestheticism. He described an imaginary, even ridiculous story under a realistic background, which endowed symbolic meaning to the story.①

① 唯美主义的浪荡子—奥斯卡王尔德研究 112 页

Work Cited: The Picture of Dorian Gray and three stories Website: Wikipedia The Picture of Dorian Gray 唯美主义的浪荡子---奥斯卡王尔德研究 外语教学与研究出版社

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