A Selection of Quotes From 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

Oscar Wilde's Famous (and Controversial) Novel

The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray. W.W. Norton & Company

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is Oscar Wilde's only known novel. It first appeared in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890 and was revised and published as a book the following year. Wilde, who was famous for his wit, used the controversial work to explore his ideas about art, beauty, morality, and love.

The Purpose of Art

Throughout the novel, Wilde explores the role of art by examining the relationship between a work of art and its viewer.

The book opens with the artist Basil Hallward painting a large portrait of Dorian Gray. Over the course of the novel, the painting becomes a reminder that Gray will age and lose his beauty. This relationship between Gray and his portrait is a way of exploring the relationship between the outside world and the self.

"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." [Chapter 1]

"I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself."
[Chapter 1]

"An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them."
[Chapter 1]

"For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able to follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors.

As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul." [Chapter 8]

Beauty

While exploring the role of art, Wilde also delves into a related theme: beauty. Dorian Gray, the novel's protagonist, values youth and beauty above all else, which is part of what makes his self-portrait so important to him.

The worship of beauty also shows up in other places throughout the book, such as during Gray's discussions with Lord Henry.

"But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face." [Chapter 1]

"The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play." [Chapter 1]

"How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that-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!" [Chapter 2]

"There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realise his conception of the beautiful." [Chapter 11]

"The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history." [Chapter 20]

Morality

In his pursuit of pleasure, Dorian Gray indulges in all number of vices, giving Wilde the opportunity to reflect on questions of morality and sin.

These were questions that Wilde, as an artist writing in the Victorian era, struggled with his whole life. A few years after the publication of "Dorian Gray," Wilde was arrested for "gross indecency" (a legal euphemism for homosexual acts). The highly publicized trial led to his conviction and two-year imprisonment.

"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. 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." [Chapter 2]

"I know what conscience is, to begin with. It is not what you told me it was. It is the divinest thing in us. Don't sneer at it, Harry, any more-at least not before me. I want to be good. I can't bear the idea of my soul being hideous." [Chapter 8]

"Innocent blood had been split. What could atone for that? Ah! for that there was no atonement; but though forgiveness was impossible, forgetfulness was possible still, and he was determined to forget, to stamp the thing out, to crush it as one would crush the adder that had stung one." [Chapter 16]

"'What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose'-how does the quotation run?-'his own soul'?" [Chapter 19]

"There was purification in punishment. Not 'Forgive us our sins,' but 'Smite us for our iniquities' should be the prayer of a man to a most just God." [Chapter 20]

Love

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is also a story of love and passion in all of their varieties. It includes some of Wilde's most famous words on the subject. The book charts the fluctuation of Gray's love for the actress Sibyl Vane, from its inception to its undoing, along with Gray's destructive self-love, which gradually drives him to sin. Along the way, Wilde explores the distinctions between "selfish love" and "nobler passion."

"His sudden mad love for Sibyl Vane was a psychological phenomenon of no small interest. There was no doubt that curiosity had much to do with it, curiosity and the desire for new experiences; yet it was not a simple but rather a very complex passion." [Chapter 4]

"Thin-lipped Wisdom spoke at her from the worn chair, hinted at prudence, quoted from that book of cowardice whose author apes the name of common sense. She did not listen. She was free in her prison of passion. Her prince, Prince Charming, was with her.

She had called on Memory to remake him. She had sent her soul to search for him, and it had brought him back. His kiss burned again upon her mouth. Her eyelids were warm with his breath." [Chapter 5]

"You have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don't even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were marvellous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realised the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid."
[Chapter 7]

"His unreal and selfish love would yield to some higher influence, would be transformed into some nobler passion, and the portrait that Basil Hallward had painted of him would be a guide to him through life, would be to him what holiness is to some, and conscience to others, and the fear of God to us all. There were opiates for remorse, drugs that could lull the moral sense to sleep. But here was a visible symbol of the degradation of sin. Here was an ever-present sign of the ruin men brought upon their souls." [Chapter 8]