Humanities › Literature 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' Book Review Share Flipboard Email Print Ericxpenner / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain Literature Classic Literature Study Guides Authors & Texts Top Picks Lists Terms Best Sellers Plays & Drama Poetry Quotations Shakespeare Short Stories Children's Books By Ernest Dempsey is a writer and a former contributor to ThoughtCo's literature section. our editorial process Ernest Dempsey Updated March 05, 2019 Oscar Wilde's only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) is a classic instance of the aestheticism of the late 19th century's English literature. The maxim of aestheticism "art for art's sake" is reflected in the opening of the novel, which specifies art's aim to "reveal the art and conceal the artist." For greater emphasis, Wilde defines the artist as free of ethical sympathies and morbidity. Even books are seen as only "well written" or "badly written" and not as moral or amoral. Following this prelude on art and beauty, Wilde weaves a plot that explores the issue to its core. The plot of The Picture of Dorian Gray, if seen apart from the wit and epigrams of Lord Henry is serious and, at times, even somber. Dorian Gray is a young and handsome man whose well-off friend Lord Henry takes him to an art-loving painter, Basil Hallward. The painter makes a picture of Dorian Gray, a fascinating piece that makes Dorian wish to stop aging. His wish is fulfilled and the picture starts aging instead of young Dorian. The consequence is a disaster. Oscar Wilde has created an amusing tale that does not end very happily but ends beautifully with our easy-going Lord Henry still chirping. Style and Setting Anyone who has read dramatic fiction (Oscar Wilde in particular) will not find it hard to see the style of the story's narrative as closer to drama than a novel. Wilde is not obsessed with describing settings in detail as a novelist with a constructive bent would be. But the brevity of description is masterfully covered in the warm and witty conversations that fill most of the novel. The epigrams of Lord Henry shoot arrows of gentle satire on different elements of society. Women, America, faithfulness, stupidity, marriage, romance, humanity, and weather are just some of the numerous targets of Wilde's criticism, which the readers receive from the sharp but sweet tongue of Lord Henry. The twittering lord is thus made an indelible character for his ease of expression and his envied indifference. Yet, the author does not rely solely on spoken words to impart his impression. He describes some scenes in words that evoke a vivid image in the reader's mind. Perhaps the best of these is Dorian Gray's brief journey through the dark and filthy streets that stand in an obtrusive contrast to his luxurious entourage but which also bear a remarkable resemblance to the kind of life he has embraced. Characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray Like his stories and plays, Oscar Wilde does not employ many characters to run the story of his novel. Nearly the entire plot is nucleated around Dorian, Lord Henry, and the artist Basil. Minor characters like the Duchess of Harley serve the purpose of initiating or furthering topics that would ultimately be the butt of Lord Henry's repartees. The character description and motivation are again left mainly to the perceptual capacity of the readers. Wilde is always testing the aesthetics of his readers and the easier you go with his characters' disposition, the greater insight you gain. Self-Love and the Vulnerability of Beauty The Picture of Dorian Gray addresses more than one theme. The primary appeal of the subject of beauty, as it appears to eyes, is the main focus of the novel. Wilde reveals the tenderness of self-love, or narcissism, which sometimes fails to find an object outside itself. Dorian's beauty, unlike Basil's art and Lord Henry's social status, is more vulnerable to decay with time. But it is not this weakness of beauty to age that brings the disaster upon our protagonist. It is the consciousness of the owner of beauty to his own wealth that triggers the boundless fear of perishing--fear that causes his doom. Unlike Lord Henry's ease about his rank, Dorian's angst about the ephemeral nature of his beauty is shown as the true enemy of a person's self. The philosophical boundaries of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray are too deep to track to their ends. The novel addresses the issue of self-concept as portrayed in art. Further, it connects a person's emotional response to his/her own image. While Dorian remains young and beautiful, the mere sight of an aging picture of him is unbearably painful. It would be too presumptuous to conclude that The Picture of Dorian Gray is a work of beauty with no moralistic purpose. Wilde was not a moralist (as many of us already know) and within the book, there is not much to emphasize a moral code or right conduct. But the novel, in its covert meaning, is not without a moral lesson. We can easily see that beauty is ephemeral and any attempt to deny this fact is amoral. It brings ruin as shows the case of Dorian Gray.