Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray

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Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray received immediate criticism when it was published in 1890, being described as contaminated, unclean, and nauseous. The criticism stemmed from the challenges that were made by Oscar Wilde regarding Victorian morality. The novel was written in the aesthetic era, an era where authors attempted to reverse the role of art, to have no purpose besides being beautiful. Critics of the novel did not like this idea, fearing that it would corrupt readers, specifically their moral values. English philosopher Alfred Whitehead gave this view on morality, “What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like and immorality is what they dislike.” Oscar Wilde added a preface to the novel a year later, in which he said, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book, books are well written or badly written. That is all.” Adding onto Whitehead’s view, other morals exist outside of the majority, and people will develop their own morals based on how they interpret a situation. When Wilde reacts by saying that immoral and moral books don’t exist, I agree. The perspective that I developed in tying the 2 quotes together is that yes, a book is not written as moral or immoral, but it is viewed moral or immoral, depending on the reader’s own beliefs. I will argue that The Picture of Dorian Gray suggests that art can have immoral effects, but the artist should not bear complete responsibility.

The prime purpose of art in the Victorian Era to most viewers was to give concrete moral values. The concept of Hedonism in the Picture of Dorian Gray is evident throughout, and was the root for it’s criticism. Lord Henry is responsible for placing these pleasure-seeking ideas in Dorian’s mind, as Dorian became obsessed with Lord Henry. In Wilde’s time period, as mentioned earlier, the artists were challenging accepted social norms. It is evident that Lord Henry is also challenging accepted morals when he says,...
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