The Picture of Dorian Grey – Oscar Wilde: Gothic novel or not
The picture of Dorian grey, was the one and only novel written by Oscar Wilde; born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland. The first edition was initially published in 1890 in Lippinicot?s Monthly Magazine but due to its bad reception and claims of being immoral by many critics, it was revised by Wilde and republished the following year. He began his writing career by publishing mediocre poems but later gained fame and reputation for his comic plays, most famous of all being ?The importance of being earnest? (1895).
Wilde was not unfamiliar with the Gothic genre of literature as he had previously written a short-story? The canterville ghost` which had many of the main characteristics of Gothic fiction. Along with this, it is said that he had based `The Picture of Dorian Grey` on one of the most famous pieces of Gothic fiction Melmoth the wanderer??™ written by his Great-uncle, Charles R. Maturin, whom he took great pride in being related to. Having had this Gothic novel as inspiration is a reasonable explanation to why many Gothic elements appear throughout Dorian Grey.
It is without a doubt that there were several instances throughout this book in which Gothic elements appeared and my aim is to support this claim by analysing events that took place in the novel and elaborating on the atmosphere of certain parts of the novel which I thought were of Gothic nature. I will begin by giving a brief introduction on what Gothic fiction entails and later on relate this to The Picture of Dorian Grey.
THE GOTHIC NOVEL
The Gothic novel, also known as Gothic romance, is a literary genre which was almost entirely invented by Horace Warpole, whose novel ???castle of Otranto?, a Gothic story (1764) contains all the essential elements and motifs of the Gothic genre. It was extremely popular in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century and its central attraction included tales of romance, horror and cruelty. The prominent features include:
??? Presence of the supernatural, inexplicable events.
??? An atmosphere of mystery and suspense: Darkness and Rain, horror and gloom.
??? Antagonist being much more interesting than the protagonist.
??? Death , murders and suicide.
??? The devil.
??? Characters that had interesting and mysterious pasts.
??? Omens and visions.
??? Extreme emotions (`from fear and horror to the sublime`).
Visions and omens
It becomes apparent early on in this novel that there are many of the above mentioned elements of gothic fiction present. For example, when Basil Hallward first mentions Dorian gray to Lord Henry, he says ? when our eyes met; I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me. ` He continues on to say ` then—but I don??™t know how to explain it to you. Something seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life. I had a strange feeling that fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows, I grew afraid and turned to quit the room.? (Wilde 1890, p 5) It??™s clear that Basil has some sort of a disturbing vision about the events that are to unravel in the future after having laid eyes on Dorian Gray. This left me rather curious and suspense filled over what was to occur next and who this mysterious Dorian Gray was. As well as this, after James Vane is killed, Dorian expresses to Lord Henry, with a heavy sigh, his views on his death saying, ? it is a bad omen, Harry. I feel as if something horrible were going to happen to some of us. To myself perhaps ? (Wilde 1890, p . On the other hand, Henry doesn??™t share the same perspective saying that his death was his own fault and that he didn??™t need to worry.
The ageing and transformation of the portrait of Dorian, while Dorian himself remains the same, is a supernatural event that best supports my claim of this novel having gothic elements. The fact that Dorian says he would sell his soul to retain his youth in the beginning of this novel isn??™t a rational explanation to such events happening. Even after trying to redeem himself but failing at the end of the novel, Dorian dies and his body becomes wrinkled and the picture goes back to the way it was before. Again, there is no reasonable explanation to how this could happen and can only be labeled as a supernatural event.
In many parts of the novel I sensed a lifeless, gloomy and dark atmosphere to the events that were going on, another feature used by Gothic fiction. An example of this would be when Dorian Grey was on his way to the opium den, ? a cold rain began to fall, and the blurred street-lamps looked ghastly in the dripping mist. The public-houses were just closing, and dim men and women were clustering in broken groups around their doors. From some of the bars came the sound of a horrible laughter. In others drunkards brawled and scream. ?
Representation of the Devil
As for the characters, Lord Henry Wotton, the charismatic antagonist, in some way represents the devil, a common motif found in gothic novels. He is able to draw in Dorian gray, the easily influenced protagonist, just by using vast amounts of aphorisms and charm in order to seduce him into living as a hedonist, a person who seeks for anything that brings pleasure to their lives. The down side however is that lord henry doesn??™t bother mentioning to him the consequences of living such a careless and immoral lifestyle and despite Dorian acknowledging that what Lord Henry preaches isn??™t always the greatest, ? Harry, you are dreadful! I don??™t know why I like you so much?, he cannot get enough of him. The negative effects of his newly shaped behavior are eventually seen as he losses whatever innocence he had and turns into a callous murderer.
Characters with mysterious pasts
Dorian Gray?s rather mysterious past is one that coincides with typical gothic motif: His wicked grandfather, who strongly disagreed with the elopement of his daughter with Dorian??™s father, ordered for the murder of Dorian??™s father and shortly after, his mother died. These events reflect a type of romance which is often applied by gothic writers in their novels.
Antagonist more interesting than the protagonist
Despite Lord Henry Wotton being the vicious antagonist who treated Dorian gray merely as a subject to be studied and not an actual human being, ` I hope that Dorian Gray will make this woman his wife, passionately adore her for six months, and then suddenly become fascinated by someone else. He would be a wonderful study. `, I couldn??™t get over how he seemed to be much more appealing to me than Dorian Grey. He managed to take a hold of every corner of Dorian?s mind to the point where he could no longer think for himself and relied on Henry to provide him with an explanation for his actions and the crimes he committed. Although Dorian grey is the protagonist, he eventually falls behind the shadows of Lord Henry, completely under his control. This can be seen when Sibyl Vane commits suicide and Dorian, feeling guilt and remorse, turns to Lord Henry for advice on how to act next, following his every word.
Unexpected death and Murder
The most frightening part of this novel for me was the lack of remorse Dorian grey felt after murdering Basil Hallward. It occurred very suddenly, ?Dorian glanced at the picture and suddenly an uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Hallward came over him, as though it had been suggested to him by the image on the canvas, whispered into his ear by those grinning lips?, and was explained in great detail in the book, ? he could hear nothing but the drip, drip on the threadbare carpet?, which created this feeling of evil overtaking Dorian. The death of Sibyl Vane also occurred unexpectedly and even though Dorian felt guilty after hearing the news of her death, this feeling was short-lived and he quickly forgot about it.
It??™s interesting how Oscar Wilde managed to incorporate all of the mentioned above into the plot to produce a novel that had me wondering, in suspense, what would happen next. In conclusion, although I felt that The Picture of Dorian Grey wasn??™t exactly what you would consider a typical Gothic novel as in the likes of Mary Shelly?s `Frankenstein`, I think that I have shown that there are clearly many Gothic elements ingrained in this novel.