Doan Thanh Phuong
Nguyen Ngoc Nha Trang
Luong Le Khoa
Pham Ho Thanh Hien
Course: English Literature 1
Supervisor: Tran Phuong Hong
May 12, 2009
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) was a poet and also a famous playwright in Ireland. He was well known for his flamboyance and wit, but rejected by many for his unorthodox views and bohemian lifestyle. However, during the height of the Victorian Era sweeping through London in late 19th century, Oscar Wilde wrote a lot of short stories, plays, and poems, which were his rich and dramatic portrayals of the human condition, to inspire million people around the World.
Even when he was young, he already exposed to be a genius. Oscar Wilde studied classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874, and was an outstanding student. And then, he won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the highest award available to classics students at Trinity. What’s more, he was awarded a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he continued his studies from 1874 to 1878 and where he became a part of the Aesthetic movement, one of its tenets being to make an art of life. In 1878, he continued to win Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna. In November in the same year, he graduated with a double first in classical moderations and Literae Humaniores, or 'Greats'.
In 1881, Oscar Wilde published his first collection of poetry, “Poems”. It received mixed reviews by critics, but helped to move his writing career along.
In 1884, he married Constance Lloyd with two sons. With a family to support, Oscar accepted a job revitalizing the Woman's World magazine, where he worked from 1887-1889. The next six years were to become the most creative period of his life. He published two collections of children's stories, “The Happy Prince and Other Tales” (1888), and “The House of Pomegranates” (1892). His first and only novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, was published in an American magazine in 1890. Oscar's first play, “Lady Windermere's Fan”, opened in February 1892. Its financial and critical success prompted him to continue to write for the theater. His subsequent plays included “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “An Ideal Husband” (1895), and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895). These plays were all highly acclaimed and firmly established Oscar as a playwright.
In the summer of 1891, Oscar Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, the third son of the Marquis of Queensberry. This engagement was an event which either ruined or left a deep impression in his life as well as his literary career. They soon became lovers and were inseparable until Oscar Wilde's arrest four years later. Lord Alfred Douglas was well acquainted with his novel “Dorian Gray”, which was published to a storm of critical protest. He expanded the story and had it published in book form the following year. Its implied homoerotic theme was considered very immoral by the Victorians and played a considerable part in his later legal trials.
Blending with homo-sexual relationship between a painter and a young man, “The picture of Dorian Gray” helps readers realize the profound and complexity of human destiny. This novel is about a youth whose features, year after year, retain the same youthful appearance of innocent beauty while the shame of his hideous vices become mirrored on the features of his portrait. Even until now is the life journey of Dorian Gray the riddle for readers to contemplate and appraise.
Dorian Gray is the center character of the story and surrounded by various types of people, and among them, two people that leave great hallmark in Dorian’s soul are painter Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton with two contradictory philosophy of life. All of these three people and the string that links them together will sure have a deep impression in the hearts of readers.
The story begins with the event in which Basil first meets Dorian, and then he becomes obsessed with Dorian’s pure beauty. Being a naive and untarnished man, Dorian brings Basil a new wind of inspiration and helps him realize not only a new kind of art but also his own potential talent, as the portrait of Dorian that Basil paints proves to be his masterpiece.
At first, Basil, through his artistic eyes, helps readers imagine and then adore the beauty that Dorian possesses:
“His beauty is such that art cannot express it”. [Chapter 1]
“'A dream of form in days of thought' …… it is what Dorian Gray has been to me”. [Chapter 1]
“Unconsciously he defines for me the lines of a fresh school, a school that is to have in it all the passion of the romantic spirit”. [Chapter 1]
“Some subtle influence passed from him to me, and for the first time in my life I saw in the plain woodland the wonder I had always looked for and always missed”. [Chapter 1]
Later, Basil is the first one who tries to catch Dorian when he is falling into the abyss of losing himself:
“I want you to lead such a life as will make the world respect you … Don't be so indifferent. You have a wonderful influence. Let it be for good, not for evil.” [Chapter 12]
“You have your position, and your wealth, and all that kind of thing. But position and wealth are not everything. Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man's face. It cannot be concealed.” [Chapter 12]
“It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we cannot remember a prayer. Isn't there a verse somewhere, 'Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white as snow'?” [Chapter 12]
And at last, it is also Basil who lays bare the rotten soul of Dorian through the portrait:
“This is the face of a satyr.” [Chapter 13]
“It has the eyes of a devil.” [Chapter 13]
Basil Hallward is a talented painter although he is somewhat conventionally minded. He always follows rigid principles, as Lord Henry remarks: “Basil puts everything that is charming in him into his work. The consequence is that he has nothing left for life but his prejudices, his principles, and his common sense.” [Chapter 4]. Therefore, while he tries his best to catch Dorian from falling into the abyss of sins, all he received back is just a cold shrug, or even a glacial look from Dorian.
“’Stop, Basil. You are talking about things of which you know nothing’, said Dorian Gray, biting his lip, and with a note of infinite contempt in his voice.” [Chapter 12]
Eventually, the love and the admiration that Basil has for Dorian not only cannot save Dorian’s soul but also results in pain when he sees with his own eyes the tortured portrait of Dorian painted by all his heart and mind. But the utmost misery for Basil surely is when he is killed by the one he adores the best:
“Dorian Gray glanced at the picture, and suddenly an uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Hallward came over him, … The mad passions of a hunted animal stirred within him, and he loathed the man who was seated at the table, more than in his whole life he had ever loathed anything … He rushed at him and dug the knife into the great vein that is behind the ear, crushing the man's head down on the table and stabbing again and again.” [Chapter 13]
The nature of youth is curiosity. They are always willing to discover anything new and they are scared to be chained by social morals. That’s why the philosophy of life said by Basil seems to become obsolete and fiendishly tedious to Dorian, and it cannot have a great influence on him as those from Lord Henry.
It must be a shortcoming if not mentioning Lord Henry Wotton, who leaves a great impact on Dorian’s life. The theories of Lord Henry keep in themselves a combination of rebellious, uncontrollable, and unbridled styles; however, it is able to wake the instinct in Dorian’s nature. With frivolous, superficial but polished words, Lord Henry has led Dorian to new ways of enjoying life:
“Realize your youth while you have it. Don't squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar… Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing... Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!" [Chapter 2]
From this very moment, Dorian is really obsessed by what Lord Henry says to him. He is haunted with the fear of being old and wrinkled: “Youth is the only thing worth having. When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself”. Hence, by the time he contemplates the picture of himself, he bursts into tantrum “I am jealous of everything whose beauty does not die. I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me”, and this does lead to a foolish wish of Dorian Gray, which absolutely changes his entire life: “If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”
Youth turns up to have the black magic which leads people to the wrong way, and Dorian is not an exception. The words of Lord Henry touch his utmost private thinking and then make him chase blindly the beauty and cherish the illusion of youth. Lord Henry indirectly aims Dorian’s thoughts at the world of things which remain forever; things that model the life ideally. With Lord Henry’s philosophy, Dorian becomes strongly believed in the real beauty of permanent youth.
More than that, while Dorian is floating in the fiendish anguish of losing his first love and diving in an utmost torment of being extremely cruel to Sybil, Lord Henry, on the contrary, forcefully states that “The girl never really lived, and so she has never really died … don't waste your tears over Sibyl Vane” [Chapter 13]. Lord Henry soothes Dorian’s emotion with extraordinary experience, makes his mental pains eventually fades away. Unfortunately, Dorian recovers and comes back to his normal life with an abnormal way of thinking.
From this time, he changes his lifestyle completely. He becomes apathetic and iron-hearted. Nothing can occupy him rather than depraved life and platonic appearance. He tries to experience his lifetime by all he possesses. And, he also wishes to preserve his beauty. Time has no right to do anything on him. Everyone has to praise his innocence; they are going to jealous and envy his permanent elegance. And he will look at them with his contemptuous compassion, and merely thinking of it could be enough to satisfy him. Occasionally, he laughs at himself in the portrait, as if it has gathered all the guilt in this world, but he has not.
“The very sharpness of the contrast used to quicken his sense of pleasure. He grew more and more enamoured of his own beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his own soul. He would examine with minute care, and sometimes with a monstrous and terrible delight, the hideous lines that seared the wrinkling forehead or crawled around the heavy sensual mouth, wondering sometimes which were the more horrible, the signs of sin or the signs of age. He would place his white hands beside the coarse bloated hands of the picture, and smile. He mocked the misshapen body and the failing limbs.” [Chapter 11]
Why does Dorian become that kind of person?
Which causes deform the pure and holy nature of Dorian?
Who ruins his life?
A mass of questions runs across the readers’ minds. Is Basil, or Lord Henry, or Dorian himself the answer for those questions? Is Dorian just the victim of the vanity of human ambition at that time?
From the early pages of the story till the last ones, as the readers can see, Dorian’s thinking surprisingly changes. Every time he conducts his thought, there is always one person by his side; that is Lord Henry. The day Dorian meets Lord Henry through a mutual friendship makes a dramatic turning point in Dorian’s soul. This is the beginning of the end for Dorian because Lord Henry’s influence pollutes his mind.
Lord Henry is a dandy who has sung the praise of the Individualist theory. “He played with the idea and grew wilful; tossed it into the air and transformed it; let it escape and recaptured it; made it iridescent with fancy and winged it with paradox”. He advises Dorian to enjoy life to its fullest, to give way to every temptation, to realize his every fantasy — but not to allow any experience to arrest the pursuit of his pleasure.
However, above all, Lord Henry should not be convicted of being the origin of all sins. He prizes individualism, which allows one to live one's life boldly, freely, and according to one's own edicts. Frankly, Lord Henry is just a person who can penetrate Dorian’s intrinsic characteristics and make him dare to look straight into his true feelings.
Dorian Gray, at the opening of the novel, exists as something of an ideal: he is young and appealing. His pure beauty gives Basil an inspiration in art, and it also provokes the curiosity in Lord Henry’s nature. Dorian might have had a bright future if he does not venerate the vanity of beauty and youth too much, and then slipping along erroneousness.
The platonic beauty in Dorian raises an interesting experiment to Lord Henry which makes him decides to discover how far he can dominate this young boy by his own theory of life. And this is the very time Dorian says good-bye to the part of saint and comes along with the part of devil existing simultaneously in his soul. He is too feeble to deny the attractiveness of youth.
At the time he notices the nuances in his portrait, far from improving himself to be a better one, he uses it to hide his true colors. Little by little, while Dorian is being satisfied with his lustful longings, the picture becomes nauseating and nasty:
“The surface seemed to be quite undisturbed and as he had left it. It was from within, apparently, that the foulness and horror had come. Through some strange quickening of inner life the leprosies of sin were slowly eating the thing away. The rotting of a corpse in a watery grave was not so fearful”. [Chapter 13]
Dorian, from this time on, gradually turns into a totally different person. His life is full of self content, ill thinking, and lustful desires. Dorian does not know that, day by day, he unconsciously let the devil nibble his soul. He dives in the extremely large life of sin, vanity and illusion. He bursts into laughter ironically on all the immoral things he has done, which no one can find out. This secret which only he holds the key will never be exposed. He lives to fulfill the life which originally is tedious to him. Nevertheless, what will come will have to come. In hypocrisy has Dorian worn the mask of goodness for a long time, and in the end, he decides to put it off. He no longer wants the portrait to go after him as a horrible haunt. The picture must be demolished to give him freedom in mind. It will die, taking with it the past, the bad and sin. Therefore, the knife which was once cruelly used to kill Basil, now is taken again to kill the very monstrous soul-life of Dorian. And, concurrently, it is the slash of knife that brings him to death, ending a life bewildered in conscience and greed.
Dorian Gray is the spirit of the story. Through his journey of life, the modernist thinking of Oscar Wilde is revealed evidently.
In his own work, Oscar Wilde has given prominence to the principle of aestheticism, or the philosophy of art. Throughout “The picture of Dorian Gray”, the beauty displays its latent power. It unintentionally plays very well its own role as a dumb, invisible actor. No one can see it; none has a chance to touch it; but the readers are able to “feel” it. It puts its influence on each character: make them feel the extreme euphoria, force them to contemplate the value of themselves, and then torment them in the despair of not being capable of preserving their beauty. The beauty and youth seem to be the place in which Dorian Gray, the protagonist, wants to hide his head in the sand. He evades the facts that when time goes by, the beauty and youth also slowly lose their halo. He makes an attempt to go against that principle of nature. He dedicates himself into vanity interests of studying beautiful things. Dorian Gray is sunk in debauchery, cherishes illusions of a permanent beauty. The youth blinds Dorian with its bright shine. In a society that compliments the beauty so highly, youth and beauty become a charisma worth appreciating. They remain to be definite essence of life. In spite of how much one has to pay for, people still spend what they have just to possess a “forever youth” and an “everlasting beauty”. Dorian gains both, although he must repay an exceedingly high price, the soul and conscience of his own. The pen of Oscar Wilde has carved out a perfect portrait of human being in which he has to fight with himself on the way of finding the real nature of beauty. That is the struggle with no happy ending as the whimsy of fate.
The tragedy of Dorian Gray can make a big question for the readers. From an innocent and pure man, Dorian becomes degenerated into the depths of despair and lust. It is claimed that Lord Henry is the root cause of that deterioration. Lord Henry is blamed for the role he might have played in the downfall of his audience. Under Lord Henry’s influence, he begins corrupting other youth himself. Dorian Gray tends to depend on flowery words Lord Henry speaks out. Is it Lord Henry who involves Dorian in paradox situation of beauty and youth? The answer is absolutely not. Lord Henry, a nobleman, a sophisticated man with experiences in his life deliberately evoke the curiosity sleeping deeply in Dorian’s instinct. But Henry only helps Dorian open the secret door to see through the mind, not results in misdeed behaviors of Dorian afterwards. Oscar Wilde spares a question for all the readers. Even though the impacts of others people do whatever on you, it is you who have to be responsible for our own actions. The author would like to get the message across to human beings, especially the youth, that: “You have to stand on their own feet by any costs. Things surrounding: beauty, youth, sexual sensation,… are all vanity. Do not let them blight your soul. Do not be dead even when you are alive.”
The attraction of the story lies not only behind the human ideology but also in the language Oscar Wilde used. Language, in Oscar Wilde’s work, is capable of transmitting practically any kinds of information. It is the material substance of literature which consists of colors and sounds due to the existence of expressive means and stylistic devices.
Reading each work of Oscar Wilde, readers cannot deny his talent and cleverness in terms of using beautiful language. The beauty does not stay in giving complexity to the simplicity of the emotions and motivations but in his individual and creative choice of the resources of language. Oscar Wilde wrote a lot of works and paid considerable attention to the means of expressing emphasis, especially literary devices, and this explains why his style is unforgettable and recognizable as a unique and original one.
The most famous short story of Oscar Wilde we would like to mention is “The Happy Prince”. He used literary devices, such as image and simile to describe the statue on a tall column that was called Happy Prince: “He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires and a large red ruby glowed on his word-hilt”, and “The ruby shall be redder than a red rose, the sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea”. The way the writer described impresses profoundly the readers. Besides, he also used these devices to depict the street when it was covered in white snowflakes: “The street looked as if they were made of silver, they were so bright and glistening; long icicles like crystal daggers hung down from the eaves of the houses”. Through his use of original language, Oscar Wilde exposed the beauty of street under an imaginative and creative art view.
In addition, in this story, when Happy Prince “was alive and had a human heart” in the Palace of Sans Souci, everything appeared to him with excitement and euphoria. However, he saw all the poor families in his city. At that time, he said, “So I lived and so I died”. This sentence is a good example of one device: antithesis. This device is based on relative opposition that arises out of the context through the expansion of objectively contrasting pairs. Also, it is always accompanied by parallelisms. Through this device as well as the statue’ statement, we recognize that only when we live for others can we have real happiness. Life will absolutely become better if everyone knows how to share with people beside us.
Oscar Wilde’s literary devices were expressed in not only his novel and short stories but also his plays. With the production February 14th, 1895 of “The importance of being Earnest”, Wilde achieved his greatest theatrical triumph. This play was very witty with many epigrams and paradoxes. It was written without any pretension to the psychological depth. The play was the light and merry farce-comedy. All its intrigues are based on the homonyms, for example, “Earnest" - adjective means “serious” and the proper name - "Earnest". Through the play’s title and this example “Algernon: You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life”, we can see that his original pun is a special feature in the way Oscar Wilde used language.
As having been said above, in addition to the stylistic devices, the language beauty is also revealed in the existence of expressive meaning. Oscar Wilde sent us the sufficiently profound meanings through his literal terms while his each word, each sentence was more meaningful than whatever it was. One piece of evidence to prove this point is that in the novel “The picture of Dorian Gray”, Oscar Wilde wrote: "We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification… Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also" or “My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize. You will soon be going about like the converted, and the revivalist, warning people against all the sins of which you have grown tired. You are much too delightful to do that.... As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that. Art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
In addition, we can also find the expressive meanings of Oscar Wilde's works in his series of short stories; “The devoted friend” is such an example. This one is about the value of friendship which is explained in the recounting of the Water Rat about the tale of the Miller and Little Hans. The story, although it was intentionally oriented towards children, has appealed people of all ages because of the true friendship disclosed with its simple and easily understood words. While reading it, readers can imagine a beautiful scene in their minds thanks to his beautiful way of describing the sights, such as “Sweet-william grew there, and Gilly-flowers, and Shepherds'-purses, and Fair-maids of France. There were damask Roses, and yellow Roses, lilac Crocuses, and gold, purple Violets and white. Columbine and Ladysmock, Marjoram and Wild Basil, the Cowslip and the Flower-de-luce, the Daffodil and the Clove-Pink bloomed or blossomed in their proper order as the months went by, one flower taking another flower's place, so that there were always beautiful things to look at, and pleasant odours to smell” or “He had bright beady eyes and stiff grey whiskers and his tail was like a long bit of black india-rubber”...
Readers will certainly be interested in sentences which sound interesting and meaningful "Flour is one thing, and friendship is another, and they should not be confused. Why, the words are spelt differently, and mean quite different things", "Anybody can say charming things and try to please and to flatter, but a true friend always says unpleasant things, and does not mind giving pain. Indeed, if he is a really true friend he prefers it, for he knows that then he is doing good" or "Love is all very well in its way, but friendship is much higher."... From those things, there is no doubt that his way of using words and expressing ideas is another way that makes Oscar Wilde's language more beautiful.
Oscar Wilde, as an unconventional author of the late 19th century, made a considerable contribution to the literature of his time. Up till now, there have been a huge number of books and articles written on him, reflecting on his life and devotion since his death over a hundred years ago. Being a celebrity in his own time, Oscar Wilde’s indelible influence will remain as strong as ever and keep the audiences captivated in perpetuity.
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