Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray, review

I. Theme

Damaging of the pure human soul and living the life without inner limits, living only for the passion and not for further, deeper aim.

II. Subject

Art for the sake of art, beauty, youth, friendship, passion, human soul, unhapiness

III. Plot and structure

Story is told in chronological order, it is development of the soul, or decay of the soul and life of Dorian Gray.

  1. Lord Henry sees beautiful portrait of Dorian Gray in the Basil Hallward’s studio and asks why he doesn’t want to exhibit it.

  2. Lord Henry meets Dorian Gray as a pure person and during painting tells him that youth is the most worthy thing in the life and Dorian believes him

  3. When picture is done, Dorian wishes he was young forever and the picture grow older

  4. Lord Henry learns who is Dorian Gray from his uncle Lord Fermor and wants to recreate him

  5. Dorian Gray fall in love with Sibyl Vane and stops engagement she commits suicide

  6. Harry sends Dorian book without plot which interests him very much and he lives according to it

  7. Dorian reveals his secret to Basil and kills him

  8. Dorian tries to smear his past, Basil corpse, recollections of Sibyl Vane

  9. He is attempted to kill by James Vane

  10. Dorian wants to be good – cannot bear his state of soul

  11. Tear the picture

  12. Servants find beautiful picture but ugly man beneath it

Conflict: Between person and the fate or nature. Dorian Gray wishes to stay forever young but forgets that he will look only young that his inner self will change. He wishes someone else to take ugliness of age taking on himself, the painted picture. It is story about deprivation of responsibility in life. And thus Dorian Gray acts as Devil in the skin of Angel.

  1. Exposition – Basil Hallward talks with his friend Lord Henry Watton about pictures. Harry likes one portrait of young man and wants to know, why Basil doesn’t want to exhibit it. Basil thinks there is expressed part of his soul and everyone can see beauty somewhere else. Harry laughs at him but wants to meet the young man. He meets him and during painting persuades him that youth is the most important thing in life.

  2. Complication – Dorian Gray influenced by Lord Henry expresses strange will to stay forever young and the picture grow older instead of him. Lord Henry is surprised by the purity of Dorian, he also likes him and goes after his uncle Lord Fernor to ask something about his ancestors. He learns about Dorian’s beautiful mother but his unhappy fate from which grace and purity grew. Lord Henry decides to change Dorian, he talks with him at aunt’s Agatha party. Dorian fall in love with Sibyl Vane, and wants to marry her, she is prepared but Harry persuades him that she is only actress of low society. Dorian takes his friends for performance, Sibyl is horrible due to huge love towards Dorian so she could not play. 

  3. Crises – Dorian at home mentions changes on the picture, expressing cruelty. He recollects the odd will from the past end decides to retrieve what had he done to Sibyl, but it is too late, she commited suicide. He wants to be good but Harry visits him persuading him that it wasn’t his fault. Then Basil is surprised over Dorian’s cynism. After Basil’s visit Dorian locks the picture in the schoolroom. Reads book that Harry sent him and finds out it is about sin of the world, novel without plot. Many years he lives according to the book as the young Parisian devoting himself to doctrines of materialism, Darwinism, music, jewellery, embroidery etc. Everything he had done he done for imagination. He also hung the picture on the wall and went to see decay of his soul. He was poisoned by the Book.

Dorian is 38 and meets Basil who is going to Paris, Basil tries to find out what changed Dorian so much. Dorian sees opportunity to get rid of his burden and reveals him his secret who tries to help Dorian. However he doesn’t want to pray so he kills Basil and calls Alan Campbell to destroy Basil’s corpse. Dorian tries to forget what had happened but faces of Basil are appearing to him and opium treatments didn’t help, furthermore, James Vane brother of Sibyl Vane, tries to kill him. Once during hunt Sir Geoffrey Clouston killed unknown man but later Dorian found out it was James. Personal stage of Dorian is unbearable he tries to be good, but Lord Henry doesn’t believe him. Also the picture is not changing.

  1. Climax – Dorian decided to end his disaster and took the knife with whom he killed Basil and to tore the picture (his own portrait) – strange loud

  2. Resolution – when schoolroom in the attic was opened servants discovered nice portrait of their master and death body underneath with wrinkled face. Only rings on the fingers told them who the death man was. Finally, Dorian took his responsibility on himself

IV. Setting

Manufactured things – buildings, rooms,

London, The studio of Basil Hallward, garden, Myfair  - Lord Henry’ House, Bristol,


V. Characters

Main characters:

  1. Lord Harry Henry Watton – generally described as natural, good husband, nosy but he has contradictory opinions and bad influence on society. For example he thinks that brute force is good but brute reason is bad. He is immoral in his soul, uses cynic opinions and is nosy what the life and sin will create from pure Dorian Gray.

  2. Basil Hallward – painter who painted Dorian Gray, he believes in morality and tries to prevent Dorian from Harrys influence because pure Dorian is inspiration for his art. As soon as Dorian starts to befriend with Harry his art falls down, he lost inspiration.

  3. Doriad Gray – at first he is clear and pure but later and gradually as his friendship grows with Lord Henry he becomes sanctimonious and lives only for passion and experience, he is shallow in his senses and for good grow colder. He thinks everything is possible and allowed.


Minor  - stereotype (flat) characters:

  1. Lord Fernor – Henry Wotton’s uncle, Tory – he retold story about to Harry about Dorian Gray, who he is. Who was his mother (Lady Margaret de Veteux). She was extremely pretty. Uncle tells him, that in Dorian Gray is grace and purity of boyhood, which Harry admires.

  2. Lady Victoria Henry – Harry’s wife

  3. Sibyl Vane – actress to whom Dorian is in love. She is an actress but hates her work. Announces her engagement to Dorian, and her brother James Vane who leaves to Australia. They agree if he is rich.

  4. Alan Campbell – chemist, former friend of Dorian. Dorian forced him to get rid of him of Basil’s corpse. Later Alan couldn’t bear his deed and commited suicide.

  5. Dutches of Monmouth – she likes Dorian although she is married

VI. Point of view

3rd person omniscient changes to 1st person it is authorial voice but Dorian talking

VII. Style

Middle / neutral – most of the story is presented in the form of dialog

VIII. Tone

Irony – Harry advises Dorian not to marry straw-coloured woman although he married one

Cynism, contradictions

IX. Symbolism, allegory

Valet – symbol of higher society

X. Genre (type) - fiction

Psychological realism – we observe what happens with the human soul

XI. Own interpretation

This story is like story of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr Hyde. Dorian Gray is a pure untouched person, medium through which Basil Hallward creates his art that is so good that he created second living creature identical with real Dorian, who under bad influence of Lord Henry had chosen to appear forever young but hide his decayed soul in the picture.

Thus Dorian is Jeckyl and Hyde at the same time. He looks as Jeckyl however behaves as Hyde and thus spoils everyone end everything he comes with in touch. The question is why it happened. The reason is that he liked to listen to older Harry who can be named as seed of Hyde, creation of everything bad. Basil only tried to use the good from Dorian’s ancestors but Dorian himself had chosen the bad way. He had chosen developing desire and passion for their own so that Lord Henry could see what was going on. The same aim had later Dorian when he revealed his secret to Basil. He let him investigate the picture and observed what the life was going to do. He was just doing everything for pleasure (dandysm, aesthetism, hedonism).