Protestant Gothic: Understanding Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

Topics: Gothic fiction, Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray Pages: 5 (2014 words) Published: April 10, 2014
How does the term 'Protestant Gothic' help us to understand Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray? Even though his last years were horrible for him, being sent to prison and criticized by lots of people because of one of his own novels, one can’t deny that Oscar Wilde lived a really interesting life. His wittiness -shown in his numerous epigrams, like «The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about»-, sense of humor, vividness and way of thinking made him one of the most interesting people of his time, and also in the history of the literature. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, received terrible reviews from critics and from the society in the moment it was first published, mostly due to its homosexual content (during the trials where he was judged, the book was used as an evidence to prove his homosexuality). It is considered a Gothic novel and one where religion is a prominent theme, with some characters wondering about it and comparing Anglicanism with Catholicism. The preface of the 1891 edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray makes clear that Wilde was an aesthetic, and so he conceived the writer as «the creator of beautiful things». For him, the purpose of art is to provide pleasure (which links to his hedonistic ideas), and not to send moral messages or show how the real world is. Said preface is a mock by Wilde, where he suggests “the death of the author”: the author himself should not be present in the novel, just his work. In this sense, the reason why he wrote a Gothic novel, despite the fact that some years had passed since its golden times, is quite obvious: it is a genre that rejects realism and embraces the ghostly, the fantasy, etc. “Gothic” was not the first artistic term created with a pejorative connotation that later evolved into a neutral one. The name of the novel is also the best example of the supernatural element found in it and in most of the Gothic stories: the picture that gets older, eerier and darker while the person it depicts stays young. Contrary to what other genres, like realism, do, giving voice to the lower classes, the Gothic genre is a really materialist type of writing about aristocrats and people with money. Dorian and the vast majority of the characters in the novel belong to the higher classes of society, and the places where the action takes place are usually big mansions, beautiful gardens or the theatre, where Dorian goes to see Sybil perform, where not everybody was allowed to enter. The nobles never won the affection of the society, and this kind of novels give voice to his fears and worries. Moreover, some critics have stated that the decadence that Dorian suffers throughout the novel is an allegory of the situation Ireland was experiencing in the moment (late 19th century), which also contributed to the unease felt by the population. According to David Punter and Glennis Byron, authors of The Gothic, and to Marie Mulvey-Roberts, who edited The Handbook to Gothic Literature, there are some recurrent themes that appear one way or the other in Gothic literature. Delving more into these aspects, it is quite amusing to realize how many of said aspects appear in this book, perhaps not directly, but on a more indirect way. One of them is the duplicity that the main character suffers, which also appears in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: in said novel, a formal man who suffers from split personality turns into a violent and dangerous person time after time, and vice versa, due to this syndrome; Dorian Gray, to a lesser extent, has the same problem: whereas he is an educated young boy for most of the novel, he experiences a dark twist soon after he discovers that it is his portrait, and not him, the one that is aging. During the day he attends social meetings and has lunch with the nobility of the zone, whom he is friends with; at night he experiences a complete change, visiting the darkest and most dangerous districts of London, where...
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