Lord Henry’s Character and Oscar Wilde

 

“(…) beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid”(pg 2)

Oscar Wilde is one of the most important members of the aesthetic  literary movement. This is a movement that was created in response to the Victorian period. Aesthetes believed in the importance of beauty, art, individualism and self-expression. In the novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray the character that gives a voice to the aesthetic movement is, in fact Lord Henry. Authors who believed in this movement believed that art should not convey a moral message, it rather should  just be a mere pleasure to the “spectators”.

Lord Henry is the character that gives a voice to the movement, in more then one occasion he expresses opinions that are quite questionable. All that matters to him is the beauty of things, or the pleasure that one can receive from things. Henry’s character is interesting for mainly for two reasons. First of all, throughout the book it is never clear to the reader if Henry lives after the aesthetic values he so much professes. Almost all he says seems to be some kind of aphorism, short and (apparently) highly convincing, which takes me to the second reason why I consider Henry’s character so interesting. So as mentioned earlier it is never clear if Lord Henry conducts his life following the principles behind all of his aphorisms, but he does a marvelous job in influencing Dorian Gray. He becomes the person Dorian goes to for advice, Dorian ends up basing all his life choices on the aesthetic principles. So where Lord Henry is the voice of the aesthetic movement, Dorian Gray is the guinea pig who shows readers what happens when aesthetic principles are applied to life choices. Dorian’s life becomes a life dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure and beauty.

Oscar Wilde supposedly is one of the advocates of the aesthetic movement, but did he really believed that aesthetic principles where good principles to follow in order to have a happy life? It is a well known fact that the ending of the novel is a tragic ending. If Dorian Gray was supposed to be the incarnation of the aesthetics values, than why did the novel end in such a tragic way? I believe Oscar Wilde did not actually believe that basing your life exclusively on aesthetic values was a good way to conduct your life. By ending the novel the way he did, he was trying to send a moral message to the readers, and that’s another element in the novel that’s completely against the aesthetic principals. Lord Henry and Oscar Wilde both don’t mean what they say but say what they mean. They both prays aesthetic values, but do they really believe in them?  Maybe not.

 

The Immorality of Influence

“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. He becomes an echo of some one else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self.” (13)

In this passage, Henry Wotton’s philosophy begins to seduce Dorian Gray, part of Wotton’s ultimate quest to become indispensable to Gray, just as Gray is to Basil Hallward. Wotton eventually seizes Gray’s character and then projects his hedonistic ideals and criticisms of morals and duties onto him, which lead to Gray’s tragic downfall.

Henry Wotton often speaks so profoundly of Hedonism and moral views that his confidence both intimidates and amazes Dorian. It is ironic that Wotton, a man who preaches the immorality of influence and the importance of self-development, becomes the influence from which Gray’s sins are borrowed. But from their first meeting, Wotton saw Gray’s naiveté and sought to take advantage of it and dominate his self-development.

When Wotton and Gray first meet, Gray is praised for his shocking beauty and powerful presence. Hallward is so unwilling to share his muse with the rest of humanity, especially with Wotton, because he is afraid of corruption of his muse, which would result in a loss of inspiration for him. Hallward also criticizes Wotton for his dodgy and radical opinions that make it difficult to infer whether they are his genuine opinions. However, Gray is so enthralled by Wotton’s confidence that he becomes attached to him. But once Gray accepts Wotton’s influence, his sordid evolution begins.

As Wotton dictates an influence on Gray, Gray loses the power over his own thinking and decision-making, a theme also seen in Nora Helmer’s character in A Doll’s House. Both characters are governed by the morals of their caretakers and have their opinions shrouded by the rules their superiors have set forth. However, Gray is stuck in this power dynamic because Wotton attacks his youth, which is Gray’s most valuable quality. Gray is driven into Wotton’s ideals by his fear of not only losing his youth, but his lack of knowledge up to this point in his life. Wotton intimidates Gray so much that he entrusts his life in Wotton, which will eventually lead to his demise.

What is Art, Really?

“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.”  (Page 4)

In the beginning of the novel, the identity of Dorian Gray is explained by Basil, a character who is infatuated by Dorian. Basil speaks nothing but praise of this character and rambles on and on of how inspirational this man is.  At first, it would seem that Basil wanted to capture the beauty of Dorian Gray in the portrait he painted. After all, Dorian is the subject of the painting. This, however, is not the case. Instead of trying to portray Dorian’s winning personality in a painting, Basil puts his own “soul” into the painting. At first, Basil’s motive of the painting does not make any sense. Why would one draw their own personal feelings when it is not the subject of the painting? Dorian is not the embodiment of Basil’s feelings, so why draw him in the first place? This train of thought is expected when thinking of art rationally. Basil did not mean this in a literal sense. He meant that he was painting what he felt instead of what he saw. Dorian was simply inspiration physically as well as emotionally.

This concept of being able to put a “soul” in a painting is rather intriguing. One cannot see a soul. In fact, it is a bit odd that Basil will not show his picture of Dorian because he is worried others will see his soul in the painting. No one knows what a soul looks like. Even if Basil’s soul was in the painting, it is not something anyone could see. There may be, however, a different implication  Basil’s use of the word “soul”. As stated in the passage, he is afraid of people seeing the secret that is in his soul. This statement is rather vague and leaves the implication that Basil is more than intrigued by Dorian Gray’s personality and dashing good looks. It is possible that Basil is hiding a crush and is afraid it is shown in his painting.  Maybe that is what is meant by putting his soul into his work.

 

The Preface of Art

Before I delved into Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, I took a few moments to absorb Wilde’s preface regarding his thoughts of art. Within the preface he states a myriad of different tenants that an artist should follow. While many of them are useful and in accordance with that of an artist, the last few pillars of an artist were a little unclear to me. In the last few lines of his preface he states “we can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” It seems rather uncanny to me that he might finish his preface on this note. To a first time reader of Dorian Gray, this is the first taste that they would get, a first impression of the novel before delving into it. Is Wilde trying to tell us that our journey through his novel will be a useless endeavor, or simply that all of art has no rhyme or reason to it. And what about this man who makes art? We cannot forgive him for admiring his art? In my opinion, much of art is meant to be admired. For it is a reflection of the artist’s soul, opening themselves to the harsh eyes of the world and a form of self expression that is meant to be seen by others. An artist would not simply create something and not be proud of his accomplishments and not hope that other denizens would see the hard work and dedication that it took to bore a little piece of their imagination into the world. While it may seem that other pieces of art may seem useless, all art should be admired and celebrated, for it is the greatest symbol of humanity in the world: the willingness and drive to create and innovate. Art is not useless; it might not be understood, it might not be comprehensible, it might not be the most aesthetic object of the earth, but it is still important. Because we make it that way, it is whatever we want it to be, and that is why it is so important.

Greta’s Transformation

“‘ It must be gotten rid of’ cried the sister; ‘that is the only way, father. You must try to get rid of the idea that this is Gregor. The fact that we have believed so long, that is truly our real misfortune. But how can it be Gregor? If it were Gregor, he would have long ago realized that a communal life among human beings is not possible with such and animal and would have gone away voluntarily.’” (69)

By the end of Part III of the narrative we see that Gregor’s physical condition brings about numerous problems for his family. Since he is no longer working, it forces the rest of his family to work to make up for the loss of income. Gregor later drives away the lodgers and causes a lot of tension within the home. Also because Gregor cannot communicate with his family, due to his increasing inability to speak as time progresses, the family does not know his desires or what he is thinking.

It appears to the reader that although Gregor is still a member of the family, because he no longer can assist in the family’s financial situation, he was of no use to them. After overhearing his sister’s request Gregor feels unwanted and depressed, and dies the next morning. This is especially sad because not only was he stressed about his family’s financial burden when he was still a man, but also when he is an insect. He expresses that he planned on sending his sister to conservatory regardless “the great expense, which that must necessitate and which would be made up in other ways” (35).

I think that it is significant to recognize that it is Gregor’s sister, Grete who makes the suggestion to get rid of Gregor. Initially it was Grete who was taking care of Gregor and providing him with food. She even argues with her mother that altering Gregor’s room was the best option for him, as that would allow him to climb up the walls and across the ceiling. But as the story continues the one person in the family who appears to be the most compassionate towards Gregor, his sister Grete, becomes frustrated and loses hope that Gregor will return to the brother she once knew. Although Gregor’s transformation is the focus of the narrative, Grete’s transformation is also significant. In the beginning she is the only one there to assist Gregor, but at the end she gives up hope, and convinces her parents that they do not need him.

 

50 Follies of Gray

“’Can you remember any great error that you committed in your early days, Duchess?’ [Lord Henry] asked, looking at her across the table. 

‘A great many, I fear,’ she cried. 

‘Then commit them over and over again,’ he said, gravely. ‘To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies.’ (Ch. 3 Pg. 37)”

 

            As the dinner guests gather round and listen to Lord Henry, he outlines a philosophy riddled with selfishness and hedonism. Henry’s claim is basically that the fountain of youth can be found in one’s own attitude toward their past actions. He believes that one should not look upon past errors with disdain. Furthermore, he suggests that they should repeat these “follies” in order to feel young again. Mistakes are not about regret and self-loathing. To Lord Henry, mistakes are what exemplify the beauty and happiness of youth. In addition, the consequences of one’s actions are irrelevant. Lord Henry’s selfish notions appall the guests, however, both they and Dorian are fascinated by his thoughts. They speak directly to Dorian’s desire to preserve his youth and happiness. Ironically, it is this same philosophy that turns Dorian from an optimistic young man into a colder and more cynical one.

This passage is important because it foreshadows the emotional train wreck that will become of Dorian. This is one of the first times in the story Lord Henry is able to sink his thoughts into Dorian. In this passage, Henry plants the seeds in Dorian’s mind for the self-indulgence that will eventually consume him. Dorian’s lack of regard for his actions and their consequences, namely when he calls things off with Sybil Vane and is not bothered by her suicide, can all be attributed to this exchange. At one point in time he was convinced he was in love with this woman. However, her death ceases to affect him because at that point remorse for him is obsolete. Thanks to Lord Henry, Dorian is convinced that remorse for his actions is to be avoided at all costs in order to maintain his precious youth.

Little Songbird

In Act I of A Doll’s House, we are immediately forced to form an opinion of Miss Nora, and an unfavorable one at that.  Her husband Torvald repeatedly patronizes her using words such as “pretty little,” “spendthrift,” and various comparisons to birds (a trope pertaining to women found often in literature, suggesting that Nora is somehow caged).  Nora does nothing to change our initial impression of her, if not she worsens it in her lie to Mrs. Linde.  In speaking of her trip to Italy, Nora tells Mrs. Linde that she procured all of the funds for said trip by herself.  At first she attempts to tell the truth, she got a loan in secret despite the legal issues it could possibly bring, but in hearing her friend’s response she fabricates a lie.  This lie paints her in a better view in the reader’s eyes (Nora is a strong woman, working to keep her family), yet nevertheless, she is later outed to us by Krogstad.

In the reveal that she owes Krogstad the entire sum of money spent on the Italy trip, we learn why her husband comparing her to birds is not just a term of endearment (at least metaphorically).  Nora is in debt and, putting it bluntly, she is being blackmailed by this man.  There is no clear way for her recover from this, especially with her husband refusing to listen to her forced pleas about allowing Krogstad to keep his position at the Bank.