The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is the story of moral
corruption by the means of aestheticism. In the novel, the well meaning artist
Basil Hallward presets young Dorian Gray with a portrait of himself. After
conversing with cynical Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian makes a wish which dreadfully
affects his life forever. "If it were I who was to be always young, and the
picture that was to grow old! 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"
(Wilde 109). As it turns out, the devil that Dorian sells his soul to is Lord
Henry Wotton, who exists not only as something external to Dorian, but also as
a voice within him (Bloom 107). Dorian continues to lead a life of sensuality
which he learns about in a book given to him by Lord Henry. Dorian's unethical
devotion to pleasure becomes his way of life.
The novel underscores its disapproval of aestheticism which negatively
impacts the main characters. Each of the three primary characters is an
aesthete and meets some form of terrible personal doom. Basil Hallward's
aestheticism is manifested in his dedication to his artistic creations. He
searches in the outside world for the perfect manifestation of his own soul,
when he finds this object, he can create masterpieces by painting it (Bloom
109). He refuses to display the portrait of Dorian Gray with the explanation
that, "I have put too much of myself into it" (Wilde 106). He further
demonstrates the extent to which he holds this philosophy by later stating that,
"only the artist is truly reveled" (109).
Lord Henry Wotton criticizes Basil Hallward that, "An artist should
create beautiful things but should put nothing of his own life into them"
(Wilde 25). Ironically, the purpose of Basil Hallward's existence is that he
is an aesthete striving to become one with his art (Eriksen 105). It is this
very work of art which... [continues]
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