Modern Society as a Reflection of the Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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Traditional gothic fiction was at the height of its popularity during the Victorian era, it exploded in the 1790’s and continued its reign well into the 1800’s. This confrontational style of fiction often blurs the lines of realistic and artificial, forcing readers to challenge their beliefs and surpass the norm. However, the aspect of gothic fiction that was most attractive to the Victorian audience was the way human fears and societal tensions were reflected in the deliberately fictionalised literary works. Themes such as the human greed for immortality and eternal beauty that underlie key gothic texts such as Oscar Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray have incited modern adaptations and the appropriation of these texts into modern culture. This text display cultural and literary disciplines entrenched in superficial concepts that have since become common in today’s shallow society. Contemporary texts such as the 2004 film The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (based on the comic book of the same name) directed by Stephen Norrington, not only visualise the character of Dorian Gray but also easily assimilate other traditional Victorian gothic characters including Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula’s Mina Harker and The Phantom of the Opera into today’s society. Similarly internationally acclaimed novel and movie Harry Potter and Philosophers Stone written by J.K. Rowling incorporates not only the original gothic theme of immortality and fear of death, but also many central motifs and character’s that parallel Wilde’s original text.

Modern societies desire to live forever as a reflection of Dorian Gray’s lust for immortality.

Gothic fiction’s mesmerisation of its Victorian audience can be pinned to the “fears connected with the ongoing upheaval of a culture” (3) that was often reflected in supernatural or satirical stylising of this fiction. These fears have now been appropriated into popular culture via novels such as A Picture of Dorian Gray where “it is implied in Dorian’s wish and in his perpetual alliance with [a] depersonalised devil” (5) that he desires not only prolonged, but eternal youth. This key gothic text was fundamental in influencing the strong value and yearning for immortality in contemporary culture. One of the most renown and distinguished novels of the twentieth century has its basis as a later manifestation of Wilde’s 1890 text. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, the first in J.K. Rowling’s seven part series has taken many of its core themes from previously articulated texts. The human desire for immortality and the evil that associates with this unnatural aspiration is embedded in today’s popular culture, where science and cosmetics are pushing us closer to the verge of eternal life; as we continue to extend our lives unnaturally. Both Wilde and Rowling depict mans craving for immortality as “a mad wish,” using similar themes to express this predisposition. Dorian Gray in all his immortal glory is displayed as a sinister being that is not wholly human and therefore “walks apart in the haunts of men,”(4) Unable to truly relate to anyone he dedicates himself to the life of the Aesthete putting his own pleasure before everything else moral or otherwise. Similarly, Lord Voldemort is isolated from birth and engages in the Dark Arts as a form of companionship. Rowling’s constant references to “the Dark Arts,” “dark times” and even “the dark side” enhance the gothic origins of the novel and not completely unsurprisingly when one looks deeper into the two texts Rowling’s work seems not to be a latter manifestation or adaptation of the Victorian text, but more a carbon copy.

Dorian Gray’s character in the original novel becomes self-indulged and distant from a persona Victorian audiences could relate to. Juxtaposingly Lord Voldemort’s evil and loathsome personality as well as Gray’s egocentric one have been so intricately intertwined in the structure of today’s society, by means of gothic...
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