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.


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