Dorian Gray Links — Partner Work

The Handmaid’s Tale (Rebecca, Baptiste)

Love in the Time of Cholera (Madeleine, Daniela)

Sweet Bird of Youth (Debora, Maryam)

Intimate Apparel (Lana, Angelina)


A Stranger in the Village

Interpreter of Maladies

Frost (Adriana)



Epigrams continued

Pick any one of these epigrams and write a (perfect) paragraph in which you explain: what the statements mean, how they relate to the novel, and your opinion of them.

    • None of us can stand other people having the same fault as ourselves.
    • It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearance.
    • Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
    • Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.
    • There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating–people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing.
    • The secret of remaining young is never to have an emotion that is unbecoming.


Dorian Gray: Epigrams, title, and preface

Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), is a superb example of late-Victorian Gothic fiction.

The idea of a double life – of outwardly playing a respectable role while inwardly pursuing an existence that crossed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour – is central to the plot of the novel. 

The idea lying behind Aestheticism, the controversial theory of art that was newly fashionable at this time, was that art should be judged purely by its beauty and form rather than by any underlying moral message (‘art for art’s sake’). This is exemplified in the novel by the dandyish Lord Henry Wotton. Lord Henry advocates the hedonistic pursuit of new experiences as the prime objective in life. In his view, ‘one could never pay too high a price for any sensation’ (ch. 4). Dorian, although seduced by Wotton’s poisonous whisperings, is increasingly interested in the moral consequences of his behaviour.

Rather than an advocate for pure aestheticism, then, Dorian Gray is a cautionary tale in which Wilde illustrates the dangers of the aesthetic philosophy when not practiced with prudence. Aestheticism, argues Wilde, too often aligns itself with immorality, resulting in a precarious philosophy that must be practiced deliberately.

Wilde uses Dorian Gray not as an advertisement for aestheticism, but rather, he uses Dorian’s life to warn against aestheticism’s hostility toward morality when uncontrolled. Wilde himself admits, in a letter to the St. James’s Gazette, that Dorian Gray “is a story with a moral. And the moral is this: All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment” (Wilde 248). Aestheticism does well to condemn the renunciation of desires, but it is an excessive obedience to these desires that is subversively dangerous. Therefore, in the practice of Wilde’s aestheticism, forethought and constraint are necessities, yet too often lacking, and without them, one is doomed to suffer the same fate as Dorian Gray.

There is an argument, then, made by Wilde for a new aestheticism, approached with more constraint than Dorian employs. This argument is based not only in the moral obligation of the individual, but with the betterment of all of society in mind.

Despite Wilde’s publicly advocating the principles of aestheticism, Dorian’s demise illustrates Wilde’s recognition that aestheticism needs to be properly controlled. While the pursuit of beauty and happiness in life is always Wilde’s ideal, he also implies that the consequences of one’s actions must be thought out and the impact of one’s decisions, beyond oneself, must also be carefully considered before acting on any impulse.

Picture of Dorian Gray, explanatory presentation + videos



“An epigram is a short but insightful statement, often in verse form, which communicates a thought in a witty, paradoxical, or funny way.

Epigrams show that the truth can be conveyed concisely and wittily. Whereas many writers and speakers take time, effort, and space to make the truth known, epigrams take advantage of brevity. Short sayings are more memorable and more easily passed down over time than long essays and arguments. Because it is often difficult to concisely and wittily express complicated or universal truths, a well-written epigram is considered an admirable poetic and intellectual feat.”

The title

It is interesting to note that whilst the title of the novel is The Picture of Dorian Gray, it is almost universally referred to amongst the general public as The Portrait of Dorian Gray – and with some justification. Because the painting is a portrait. The term picture is more ambiguous: it could mean ‘the impression created by Dorian Gray’ or ‘the picture owned by Dorian Gray’. Whereas the whole shocking effect of the story is that the portrait ages horribly in the attic whilst Dorian in person retains his youthful good looks.



The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.


The Preface

This introduction to the novel includes the philosophy of Aestheticism, which was generally shocking to people in the late Victorian period. It is based on the idea of “art for art’s sake.” This philosophy suggests that evil and decadence can be a source of art and beauty, not just morality. A book which was popular with aesthetes at this time was A Rebours  by Joris-Karl Huysmans (translated as “backwards”), whose hero tries to experience all the sensations of the past and thus lives backwards. (This is the book referred to in the novel which Lord Henry has read and which he sends to Dorian Gray.)

  1. Caliban is the ugly, inhuman spirit of evil in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. There are two references to Caliban in the Preface. To what might these two statements refer?
  2. An epigram in the Preface states “Even things that are true can be proved.” What does this mean?
  3. Wilde maintains that books are neither moral nor immoral. At the time it was published, this novel was generally thought of as immoral. Why could it be considered immoral, and why could it be considered moral?
  4. The mirror is an important symbol in the novel. Wilde refers to art as the mirror of the spectator. What does this mean?