The notion of the Gothic novel, also known as the “Gothic romance”, was a genre initiated by Horace Warpol’s Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story (1764). The Gothic genre of fictional prose spread over the 19th century. The idea of a gothic themed story is not simply characterized as a gloomy, horror story; there is more to the notion than simply this. The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde. Having first appeared in 1890 it was edited by Wilde and published in 1891. Given the time in which book was published it is considered to be part of the Gothic revival at the time. Critic, Kenneth Womack concurs with this. The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered by both readers and critics alike to be a great work of classic gothic horror fiction. There are features of this work that would constitute it being a gothic novel, I will proceed to highlight these features and discuss its prevalence and importance within the novel.
The emergence of the Gothic genre can be credited to changes in cultural importance during the eighteenth century. It simply represented the middle ground during a transition from old fashioned to modern. From barbaric to civilized. Gothic has always been regarded as the archaic and the pagan refusing to give way to what was thought of as the civilized, polite society.
One of the main features of a gothic novel is the setting in which the work is situated. This refers to the actual locations in which the plot is centered, as well as, the atmosphere and metonymy used. In this work, there are locations used by Wilde to evoke a sense of horror and trepidation. One noted location is the room in which Dorian Gray conceals his portrait. This room, formally his play and study room as a child, was kept locked and not maintained. The only reason why this room was reopened by Dorian was to provide him with a place to hide the painting that displayed his soul. As we read, we can note that Wilde described the room as containing features commonly associated with the gothic theme, such as dull tapestries and old books. Isobel Murray (1974) comments by saying that Wilde is "combining two fairly well known traditions, the 'Gothick' one of, for example, Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer and Poe's 'The Oval Portrait', and the 'decadent' one of Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin”. This is seen to be true in the sense that these darker scenes are neighbored by scenes depicting great self-indulgence; for example the depiction of Dorian’s material conquests in chapter XI. The scary atmosphere is a device used by Wilde throughout much of the novel. So much so, that this frightful atmosphere can be brought in during even cheerful scenes, as demonstrated here: “He turned round, and leaning upon his elbow, began to sip his chocolate. The mellow November sun came streaming into the room. The sky was bright and there was a genial warmth. It was almost like a morning in May. Gradually the events of the preceding night crept with silent, blood-stained feet into his brain and reconstructed themselves there with terrible distinctness.” Additionally, metonymy is also skillfully used by Wilde in this piece to convey the mood of darkness and his words allow the reader to interpret it as intended. A particular scene that displays this is in Chapter XVI, where Dorian travelled and attempted to enter the opium den.
Another strong feature of the gothic novel genre is that of the supernatural, the devil and magical objects. In the novel, all three of these are cited as having a strong influence over the direction of the plot. The strongest instance of a paranormal occurrence in the novel is the portrait of the young Dorian Gray. As we read, we discover that Dorian changes as a person, both in age and mind, but we see that there is no indicator of this on his physical person. We do however observe that his portrait, done when he was a young man, is aging as the years go by. Also, the picture reflects the sinister...
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