Catherine S on Dorian Gray

Taunt Jesus, Eat a Mermaid, or Find the Holy Grail: The “Inconvenient” Glitches of an Anti-Aging Remedy

“The only thing wrong with immortality is that it tends to go on forever.”  – Herb Caen

 Youth. What is it? A noun? Verb? Adjective?  What is its purpose? Benefits? Drawbacks? Characteristics? The world continually grasps onto a deeply held fascination of it. Whatever “it” is, however, is able to taunt us with its presence for a short amount of time (for the lucky few, a little longer), before eluding us like Virginia Woolf’s ever enigmatic Mrs. Brown. The same can be said for the word “young.” It is synonymous with “youth,” while at the same time meaning something completely unique. So when trying to come up with definitions for the words “youth” and “young,” I decided to consult my favorite Internet resource, Urban Dictionary. If any of you are not aware of this aforementioned time-sucking sinkhole, I suggest that you get on it. Stat. I find that it is an excellent representation of the downward spiral that language and social culture is voluntarily trapping itself in.

“Youth”

  • Media code word for criminal non-white immigrants.
  • A young boy or girl mostly around 13-18 years old.
  • A person at the age of believing they are politically involved when they’re not.

Related Words: Young, kids, sex, slang, cool, beautiful, gay, fun, urban

“Young”

  • Urban slang that is short for young’un, which is short for young one.
  • A word to put in front of any noun. This gives the original word more definition. Putting “young” in front of a noun makes it 10x better. Usually put in front of a work to describe how bad@$$ something is.
  • As opposed to old.
  • Someone new to the game.

Related Words: Hot, cool, funny, smart, cougar, teen, sexy

Okay, so Urban Dictionary may not be the best source for information, and at times the poor grammar and “hipness” of it makes my eyes bleed, but I included these definitions for a purpose. Or rather, I included the related words for a purpose. According to the protagonist of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mr. Gray himself, “youth is the only thing worth having,” and when he no longer has that, he will kill himself (Wilde 40). A bit hasty perhaps, but when being a youth or being young is positively correlated with being beautiful, funny, smart, cool, and happy, who wouldn’t want to be eternally immortalized in people’s memories in that way? There is something to be said about remaining young forever. For one thing, purity and youth are believed to go hand-in-hand with each other. Such a connection is made in The Picture of Dorian Gray when Lord Harry Wotton states that “there was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world” (26). While aging and learning about the world cause one to become corrupt, youthfulness acts as a defense, or rather, as an excuse to remain completely ignorant about oneself and human nature. In Dorian’s case, his youth protects him from the threats of James Vane, the brother of Sybil Vane, the women he rejects when she becomes a mediocre actress. Just like the female heroine in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Sybil is pushed away when it is discovered that she is no longer the idealized figure of a woman that Dorian has crafted her as in his mind.

Many societies and cultures have their own tales and myths about magical items or tasks that a person can complete in order that they may be granted the “gift” of eternal youth. While the Japanese believe that eating a mermaid-like creature called a ningyo—a cross between a monkey and a carp—will curse oneself with immortality, in Christian myth, taunting Jesus or finding the Holy Grail (cup that Jesus drank from during the Last Supper) produces the same effect (Van Duisen “10 Mythological Ways to Become Immortal”). All of which come with their own set of “minor inconveniences”, I might add. In Wilde’s novel, Dorian Gray’s eternal youth is assured when his good friend, Basil Hallward, paints a portrait of the young Adonis. Under the guiding thumb of Lord Harry Wotton, however, Dorian adopts the sentiments of this “devil’s advocate” (Wotton), and starts to dread the idea of his youth escaping, and when that inevitably happens, his beauty and advantage in the world going with it. At one point, Dorian declares that he is “jealous of everything whose beauty does not die” (Wilde 40). He is especially “jealous of the portrait [Basil has] painted of [him]” because he realizes that he will never be as young as he was when the portrait was being painted (40).

The worst advice given in this novel comes from Lord Harry Wotton when he states that in order “to get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies” (58). It can be assumed that Dorian had never made any major follies, until he met Wotton that is. For when Dorian begins to spend time with this man, his heart begins to darken as he uses people for his own pleasure. Yes, he does get eternal youth, but the drawback is that he makes a deal with the devil in order to obtain it. While his outer appearance does not change, the portrait does to reflect his inner self. To Dorian, the portrait would be “the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul” (139).  Unfortunately, the soul that Dorian sees through the portrait is an ugly soul, full of hate, crudity, and spite. The result is a dissent into complete misery until Dorian kills himself to make it all end.

So yeah, you can have eternal youth. But is it really worth all the inconvenience? I mean, I personally wouldn’t want to insult Jesus…

Works Cited

Van Duisen, Michael. “10 Mythological Ways to Become Immortal.” ListVerse.com. 18 September 2013. Web. 5 November 2015.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1908. Web.

“Young.” Urban Dictionary. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Young

“Youth.” Urban Dictionary. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=youths &utm_source =search-action

6 thoughts on “Catherine S on Dorian Gray

  1. I looked up the Japanese ningyo myth. I find it interesting that the phrasing is “cursed with” immortality, rather than describing immortality as something closer to a gift. The ningyo brings storms and calamity to those who catch it. This creature, like Dorian’s picture, brings the mixed blessing of agelessness. Fishermen who come across the ningyo throw it right back into the sea, unwilling to sacrifice their safety for the promise of a longer life. Interestingly, from what information I found on this, there is a Japanese folk tale about a woman who, having inadvertently eaten the ningyo as a child, eventually ends her life after years of immortality. Just as Dorian ends up ending his own life, driven mad by the portrait.

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  2. Dear OP,

    I’m interested in your suggestion that we refuse the impulse to don a mask or conform to idealized standards of beauty. These are noble goals, to be sure, but can we really conflate the two? And what of the psychological theory of “masking”? I, too, noticed myriad masks throughout Wilde’s work and I would like to hear your thoughts on these masks, but first I am curious to know whether or not you see value in donning a mask. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone take it as far as Dorian, or even Lord Henry, by the way, but what of self-preservation? (Not in the literal sense, of course, but in a social sense.)

    S.

    Postscript–To clarify for anyone reading who may not be familiar with the idea of “masking,” it is, in very simple terms, the persona that one presents to the outside world. We all do this to an extent–smiling instead of crying, lying about your identity online, &c.–and it can be just as innocuous or as devious as one wants. Furthermore, it is important to note that masking is not necessarily a conscious action.

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  3. I have to admit that being remembered as “being beautiful, funny, smart, cool, and happy” is definitely a way I would like to be remembered but because you have eternal youth there tends to be no one left to remember you at the end. Often characters that have eternal youth and life end up leading lives where they are loners and no one ever really knows who they are because they become tired or embittered by the loss of the people they loved and knew. Being young and awesome and seeking whatever pleasures come your way sounds great but in the end you become selfish and vain. There may not be anyone who actually looks back on you positively and in the end you are alone. To me youth doesn’t seem as important as cultivating strong relationships with friends and family rather than maintaining eternal youth and being on your own for eternity.

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  4. This was a pretty interesting point of view on Lord Wotton’s influence on Dorian gray. You are right In much of what you say though. I find in my own analysis of the text and the period (Victorian) the idea of youth is related to purity and innocence for the Victorians in general was essential to their beings. The Victorians, I found, placed great interest on youthfulness within their time. I point this out to say that maybe what Wilde was intending to do was to rather show how society’s (especially aristocratic figures such as the Lord) perceptions and values shape people’s lives; in this case negatively. You pointed out the various cultures that have means (myths) they believe to aid them to obtain youthfulness, which means not much has changed over the years. The attempt to be beautiful according to society’s standard is still a big issue today. p.s It was very clever of you to incorporate the urban dictionary’s definition of youth 🙂

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  5. Dear OP,
    I found this response of Dorian Gray quite interesting. I am impressed at the observations that you made of how Dorian represents the eternal beauty that everyone cannot achieve. I too am writing my final essay on Oscar Wilde, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if you were portraying Dorian of any type of God like qualities? For instance, when Dorian felt “A sharp pang of pain struck through him like a knife, and made each delicate fibre of his nature quiver” it made me think about when Jesus was speared in the side after his death? Another point I would like to explore is the end when you mention this phrase “But is the price worth the payment of his soul and morality and later his very life?” That, in particular, was striking because that got me thinking about why in a mortal perspective did Jesus give up his life? They say it was for our salvation, however, was it really worth it in the end for his mortality and life. So could Dorian potentially be their “Jesus” because of his angelic looks and intriguing qualities?
    Overall I found your post very intriguing and informative. It is refreshing to see another perspective in one particular piece of literature that is very controversial on its own way.

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