The Picture of Dorian Gray

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The Picture of Dorian Gray
Dorian Gray's portrait Before & After
Written by: Oscar Wilde
Central Theme: Moral corruption
Synopsis: A beautiful man wishes that his portrait would age instead of him; horror ensues when he realizes that the portrait not only catches his age, but the consequences of his increasingly corrupt and immoral lifestyle.
First published: 1890
More Information
Source: Read The Picture of Dorian Gray here
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Dorian: (looking at the portrait Basil Hallward has just painted of him) 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!


Oscar Wilde's only novel, naturally rife with witty banter and Ho Yay. Blond Pretty Boy Dorian is the muse for the talented artist Basil Hallward. Dorian, gifted with incredible beauty, is a thoughtless and happy young man until the day that he comes to Hallward's house to see the unveiling of the artist's latest masterpiece -- the eponymous portrait. There, he meets Lord Henry, who with a few casual words, instils the fear of aging and decrepitude into Dorian's young, impressionable heart. Dorian is greatly troubled, and when Basil brings the portrait out and unveils it, its beauty hurts Dorian so much that he exclaims he would sell his soul for his painting to age in his place.

From that day on, Lord Henry, rather than the adoring Basil Hallward, becomes the driving force in Dorian's life, leading him down a path of sensuality and pleasure. Dorian begins to notice, after he cruelly rejects the young actress who has fallen in love with him, that his portrait changes -- a dark smirk comes over the once innocent smile, just to begin. Years pass. The portrait grows older. Dorian does not.

A tale of corruption and obsession that is surprisingly dark for the author of The Importance of Being Earnest, et alia. This story was used as evidence against Wilde and resulted in him being prosecuted for homosexuality and sentenced to two years hard labor. A very good Halloween read. The original uncensored edition was published by Harvard University Press in 2011.

Tropes used in The Picture of Dorian Gray include:

Tropes in the novel include:

  • All Gays Are Promiscuous: Averted with Basil, the most moral character of the story.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Dorian finds Henry fascinating.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: "you don't know what it cost me to tell you all that I have told you".
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Dorian certainly is and it's indicated that this might be In the Blood given the actual aristocrats he's supposed to be related to. Also, Lord Henry.
  • Artifact of Doom: The painting.
  • Author Avatar: Three of them. Wilde described the main characters by saying, "Basil Hallward is what I think I am; Lord Henry what the world thinks me; Dorian what I would like to be in other ages, perhaps."
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Deconstructed -- this trope was commonly believed to be reality in the Victorian era and many characters are shown as refusing to believe that Dorian is guilty of the evil things he is accused of because of this, no matter how many stories they hear. On the other hand, Dorian really would be uglier due to his vices if his portrait were not taking the burden in his place. His portrait is quite hideous by the end of the story.
    • Interesting to note that during this time period, the practice was to paint the portrait of a supposedly insane person and diagnose their illness from how they looked in the painting. A famous example is Géricault's Insane Woman.
    • Though the rugged Basil's and Henry's (with his beautiful voice and elegant body talk) looks and charms don't match their characters either.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Dorian Gray. Despite the fact that he's sometimes presented as having black hair. In fact, the only characters in the book stated to have black hair are Basil Hallward and Alan Campbell, both of which come across as much more sympathetic.
  • Blackmail: Dorian blackmails Alan Campbell to get rid of Basil's corpse. He does so, crosses the Despair Event Horizon, and kills himself.
  • Blank Slate: Dorian starts out the book apparently without any convictions or personal beliefs, leading him to be shaped very powerfully from a few casual words from Lord Henry.
  • Blessed with Suck: It's indicated that although the picture hides the effects on Dorian's appearance of opium addiction and probably several STDs, he still feels the pain associated with them
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Lord Henry uses this.

Lord Henry: 1820, when people wore high stocks, believed in everything, and knew absolutely nothing.

  • Bury Your Gays: Poor Basil.
    • And poor Alan, if you take the blackmailing as Dorian threatening to reveal a possible affair between the two of them.
  • Byronic Hero: Dorian.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Or dare not spit it out.
  • The Charmer: Henry for Dorian.
  • The Confidant: Henry for Basil.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Dorian Gray starts out as a not outstandingly virtuous, but innocent Man Child. Then Basil introduces him to Lord Henry, a hedonist who tells Dorian that only youth and beauty matter in life. The impressionable Dorian really takes this to heart and impulsively makes the Deal with the Devil that starts off the plot of the book. Unfortunately, Lord Henry sticks around and continues to malignly influence Dorian, the effect amplified by Dorian becoming The Soulless as a result of said Deal with the Devil. Unsurprisingly, it gets worse as the plot goes on.
  • Covers Always Lie: Look on Ninety percent of the covers of this book give Dorian hair that is black as night, while he is explicitly described, several times, as being blond.
  • Deal with the Devil: More or less how the painting becomes Dorian's Soul Jar. Unusually for this trope, it seems to have been done by accident.
  • Death Equals Redemption: When Dorian died, the painting representing his soul reverted to its original form, although that may have been because the signs of sin and age came out of the picture and went into Dorian himself.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Dorian, arguably. Part of Anything That Moves.
  • Devoted to You: Sybil, Basil, the unnamed ladies ruined by Dorian, and Dorian himself, for Dorian.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Not about relationship, but rather friendship and mentorship, Basil seems to be the type. Good person, nice friend, but boring, his advices are only annoying.
  • Downer Ending
  • Dramatic Irony: At least twice: The ever innocent Basil cannot see, or refuses to acknowledge, that the boy he fell in love with is slipping further and further into corruption. This proves to be fatal. Then, after Basil's murder, Lord Henry tells Dorian that he wishes he knew somebody who had committed a real murder. Dramatic Irony indeed.
  • Driven to Suicide: Both Sybil Vane and Alan Campbell
  • Everyone Is Bi: Probably James Vane is the only one who would refuse a night with Dorian.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Or makes your picture ugly.
  • Fainting: Dorian at a dinner party he is hosting shortly after James Vane has threatened to kill him and might possibly come after him again.
  • Foreshadowing: After Dorian's Deal with the Devil, Basil decides to destroy the painting with a knife. As it turns out, this foreshadows both his death and Dorian's.
  • Gayngst: Poor, poor Basil.
  • Get Back in the Closet: Censoring the hell out of the magazine version.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: That's how the Ho Yay gets into a Victorian novel. The novel supposedly has less Ho Yay than the original magazine version. According to the Wordsworth edition, the novel editor removed a few lines of dialogue from Basil's confession about how he "somehow never loved a woman" and how he explicitly felt for Dorian.
  • Grande Dame: Pretty much every woman in the book besides Sybil and her mother fall into this category.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Yes.
  • Hair of Gold: Played straight with Dorian to begin with, then gradually subverted.
  • The Heart: Basil, for the protagonist threesome.
  • Heel Face Turn: Subverted -- Dorian thinks he's having one when he decides not to seduce an innocent country girl; when he triumphantly looks at his picture expecting it to be better, it actually looks even more evil, now tainted by a smile of smug hypocrisy.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: So much that a scene between Dorian and Basil was used as evidence against Wilde during his criminal trial for homosexuality.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Basil attempts this when he finds out what his beloved Dorian has become and what has happened to his painting of Dorian himself, unfortunately resulting in his death

Basil: Pray, Dorian, pray. What is it that one was taught to say in one's boyhood? "Lead us not into temptation. Forgive us our sins. Wash away our iniquities." Let us say that together. The prayer of your pride has been answered. The prayer of your repentance will be answered also. I worshiped you too much. I am punished for it. You worshiped yourself too much. We are both punished.
Dorian: It is too late, Basil
Basil: It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we can not remember a prayer. Isn't there a verse somewhere, "Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white as snow"?
Dorian: Those words mean nothing to me now.
Basil: Hush! Don't say that. You have done enough evil in your life. My God! Don't you see that accursed thing leering at us?
Dorian: *Picks up a knife and stabs Basil*

  • Immortality Inducer: The portrait.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Poor Basil, for Dorian.
    • Though Dorian is bisexual, and doesn't seem to be particularly disgusted by Basil, just bored of him.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Henry corrupts every acquaintance of his, except Basil. If we don't count the sinful gay love Dorian tempts him to. But even that is a chaste, redeeming platonic one, so...
  • The Ingenue: Poor, poor Sybil Vane.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: One of the reasons people have trouble believing Dorian can be evil. They'd better believe it.
  • It Amused Me:
    • Lord Henry's reason for attempting to influence everyone he comes into contact with with his hedonistic views. May have been For the Evulz depending upon your interpretation of Lord Henry's character and the degree of his complicity in Dorian's descent into debauchery.
    • Dorian was also majorly guilty of this after embracing Lord Henry's hedonistic ideals when he starts corrupting people out of his own accord. Needless to say, Dorian's actions were more obviously for the evulz than his mentor's.
  • It's All About Me: Basil's nicknaming Dorian "Narcissus" in Chapter 1 is more dead-on than he'd realized.

(after he has broken off his engagement with Sybil Vane) "Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It was the girl's fault, not his... And, yet, a feeling of infinite regret came over him, as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing like a little child... But he had suffered also. During the three terrible hours that the play had lasted, he had lived centuries of pain, aeon upon aeon of torture. His life was well worth hers."

  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Basil after Dorian Gray gets engaged to Sybil.
  • Karma Houdini: Lord Henry. Granted, he's grumpy about getting old, and his wife has left him, but nothing of any great consequence happens to him. Some have argued that Lord Henry doesn't merit any special punishment because he's simply amoral -- he talks a big game, but he hasn't the courage (as Dorian has) to cross the line into outright evil.
    • Although in the 1945 version, he has a My God, What Have I Done? moment once he sees Dorian's corpse. (Also, the confirmation that Supernatural forces are real and that extreme eternal punishments might be meted out for bad deeds can't be a real comfort to him.)
  • Kick the Morality Pet: Dorian tells Sybil Vane that he no longer loves her just as she's fallen truly in love with him, driving her to suicide.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Sybil's brother James Vane, who comes this close to killing Dorian, years after his sister killed herself for him.
  • Lack of Empathy: Dorian, after he becomes The Soulless. But he still feels sorry for Basil after his confession, making Basil an absolute woobie.
  • Light Is Not Good: Dorian is angelic in appearance, but not so in personality.
  • Love At First Sight: Basil meets Dorian at a party.
  • Love Martyr: Sybil, Basil.
  • Lover and Beloved: Two mature, cultured men's rivalry for an innocent little boy's friendship. Of couuurse...
  • Man Child: Dorian Gray at his first appearance.
  • Married to the Job: Sybil and Basil, before meeting Dorian.
  • Meaningful Name: Dorian (the name of a tribe allowing homosexuality), Harry ('abuse, destroy').
  • The Messiah: Basil
  • Morality Pet: Sybil Vane, before Dorian drives her to suicide.

Dorian: Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes me good.

  • Murder Simulators: Subverted in that Dorian blames the Author Avatar Lord Henry for corrupting him with his cynical outlook as well as the "Yellow Book" he is always reading, but it is ultimately revealed that Lord Henry leads a fairly normal life and the idea of blaming a book comes across as similarly misguided.
  • The Muse: Dorian for Basil, naturally.
  • Noodle Incident: Dorian writes something on a card and shows it to Alan Campbell to blackmail him. We never learn what Dorian wrote.
    • It's implied that the two had an affair, at a time when homosexuality was a capital offense. Campbell's reputation would be destroyed as well, as would Dorian's, but the reader can infer that Dorian is past caring what people think of him anyway. Confirmed when Campbell commits suicide few after doing what Dorian asked from him - disposing of Basil's corpse.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Although, it does make sense that stabbing your own Soul Jar will kill you.
  • Oblivious to Love: Dorian to Basil's until the confession.
  • Offstage Villainy: Even though the story is centered around corruption and debauchery, most of Dorian's felonies are only touched upon in the actual prose.
  • Older Than They Look: Dorian keeps his youthful looks for several decades. Many readers assume that Dorian receives immortality, but this is never stated. He simply doesn't show the effects of age, and doesn't live long enough for death by natural causes to factor into it.
  • Opium Den: Dorian frequents them.
  • Opposed Mentors: Basil and Henry, for Dorian.
  • Phantom Zone Picture: The painting is the Soul Jar variant.
  • The Power of Love: Basil would have helped him to resist Lord Henry’s influence, and the still more poisonous influences that came from his own temperament.
  • Pretty Boy: Dorian Gray. Lampshaded to hell and back.
  • Prince Charming: Trope Namer in that this is the earliest known use of this exact term, but a deconstruction of the trope itself. While characters of this type existed before the novel, Dorian is the first referred to as "Prince Charming" verbatim, making this a Dead Unicorn Trope or Unbuilt Trope.
  • Properly Paranoid: Dorian once James Vane returns.
  • Purple Prose: The whole book, arguably, but if you value twenty minutes of your life, just...don't read Chapter 11. It can be summarized as, "He read books, did things, and had lots of pretty stuff." Arguably, that's the point. The reader feels the tediousness of Dorian's hedonism and can appreciate his jaded attitude. Arguably, the point of Chapter 11 is to compare Dorian's appearance to the items he speaks of. The jewels, etc., are items which one acquires as beauty that can last forever.
    • It's also speculated that when his publisher told him that the book was too short, he padded it with those descriptions.
  • Pygmalion Snapback: Oh men, you'd better have left that boy alone.
  • Rapid Aging: When Dorian can't take the portrait's honesty anymore, he stabs it, which causes him to instantaneously take all the age and wicked infirmities to which he had been previously spared. However, he's only around 40 years old by this time. It's the knife that kills him. Stabbing your Soul Jar is a bad idea.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Just about everything Lord Henry says.
  • Shrine to Self: When Dorian isn't out getting debauched, he spends his time contemplating his portrait.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Each philosophy impersonated by the mentor characters.
  • The Sociopath: Dorian Gray, after he sells his soul for eternal youth
  • Soul Jar: The painting itself.
  • The Soulless: Dorian after his Deal with the Devil
  • Spooky Painting: The decayed Dorian is mighty unpleasant to look at.
  • Invisible to Gaydar: Basil doesn't like formal dressing.
  • Tears of Joy: Dorian after he discovers that James Vane is dead
  • This Was His True Form: At the end, when Dorian stabs the picture, thus killing himself, the portrait become pretty again, but his body becomes mutated, reflecting his own inner corruption and age. His servants can't even tell it's his corpse until they recognize the rings on his fingers.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Sybil, Basil
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Lord Henry to the core.
  • The Twink: Well... eventually...
  • Upper Class Wit: Lord Henry and Dorian
  • The Vamp: Dorian is a male example.
  • Weak-Willed: That's why Basil wasn't a good Mentor material.
  • We Could Have Avoided All This: If Basil recognized what a hedonist and debaucherer Lord Henry was, why the heck did he introduce him to his impressionable Man Child friend so that he slipped further and further into corruption? Basil himself realizes this, and regrets it dearly.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Basil calls Dorian out for going to the Opera barely a day after he got the news of Sybil Vane's death.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Basil, who is naive enough to trust even Henry.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Again poor, poor Sybil Vane.
  • You Killed My Father: Although he doesn't say them in the same order as the meme, "My name is James Vane," "You killed my sister," and "Prepare to Die" all make an appearance when James Vane corners and almost shoots Dorian outside the opium den.
  • You're Insane!: Alan Campbell to Dorian after he killed Basil and is asking him to help dispose of the body.

Alan Campbell: You are mad, Dorian.


Tropes in adaptations include:

  • Adaptation Dye Job: In the original novel, Dorian was blond. In pretty much every modern adaptation (the 1970 one with Helmut Berger is a notable exception), he's portrayed with black hair. It has a lot to do with the way beauty standards have changed over time.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Ben Chaplin almost enjoyed kissing Ben Barnes.
  • Gender Flip: A 1983 TV movie called The Sins of Dorian Gray made the lead a woman (and yet, still not blonde).
  • The Movie: There have been several film adaptations of the book. However, probably the most well known version is the 1945 movie directed by Albert Lewin.
  • Scare Chord: The portrait reveal in the 1945 film.
  • Setting Update: The 1970 film version updates the setting to then-contemporary times. The more open attitudes about homosexuality and premarital sex shift the plot around a little, but it still works.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: During Dorian's murder of Basil Hallward in the 1945 film.
  • Shout-Out:
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: To Basil, in the 2009 movie.
  • Splash of Color: The portrait, and only the portrait, in the 1945 film.
  • Take Our Word for It: Due to the Hays Code, Dorian's Offstage Villainy couldn't even be named, let alone shown or described, in the 1945 film adaptation. It therefore must suffice for the narrator to simply tell the viewer that he has committed such debauchery that his name is now mud in most decent circles.
  • Twice-Told Tale: Will Self's Dorian and Rick Reed's A Face Without A Heart.