A Student Response to Dorian Gray

Sybil Vane: Plot Device

Sybil Vane in the novel represents Dorian’s last chance to escape the life he chose when he made his wish to stay young forever. In the beginning of the term we were assigned to choose one of the works we were going to study to write a blog post about. I choose to write my blog post about The Picture of Dorian Gray, a decision I kind of regret. I was initially very excited to be studying the picture of Dorian Grey, I’ve read a good number of old (classic) books on my own time. I knew what I thought was next to nothing about The Picture of Dorian Gray, except that he had somehow attained immortality by making a painting of himself age for him. Immortality at a cost is a theme I like very much to read about so I was naturally excited to read the book myself. I found an audiobook and started listening to the book. It wasn’t what I had expected when I picked it up, Lord Henry spoke quite a lot of philosophy, for lack of a better word he spoke like an aristocrat. I continued to listen a bit more engaged when the namesake of the book first appeared and I could see what kind of character he was.

I could understand Dorian changing according to Lord Henry’s philosophies, Lord Henry speaks well, and Dorian is young and impressionable. It’s understandable that when around someone like Lord Henry a person would change their actions. Until Sybil Vane kills herself that is, as I got to the scene where I was hoping that Dorian would be kind to her. But as she begs him for forgiveness he just turns away, he leaves her after just one bad night. I was actually angry at a fictional character, so much so that I couldn’t pick up the book until the start of term.

That got me thinking is Dorian even supposed to be a relatable characters at all? On that line of thought is Lord Henry? I believe that Oscar Wilde deliberately made Dorian a character people could hate. Because after Sybil Vane dies he simply goes to the opera. Sybil Vane did nothing to deserve his scorn and when faced with life without him the reader is supposed to wish for his undoing or ruin. Sybil is shown to be naive and innocent, until she meets Dorian all she wants to do is act. Then after she meets him all she wants to do is be with him, before she even knows his name. She can’t focus on her acting because she is so in love with him. Sybil’s suicide marks a turning point in the novel, after her death Dorian realizes that the painting will age instead of himself. Setting him on the path of debauchery and excess that he lived that leads to Basil’s murder and Dorian’s death. Sybil Vane Dorian’s last chance to escape his fate, she is good, Wilde wants the reader to feel something when she dies. In comparison Dorian essentially becomes someone different from who he was in the beginning. Even though he is the protagonist he has essentially become his own antagonist. The person getting between Dorian and his goals is himself.

5 thoughts on “A Student Response to Dorian Gray

  1. I agree that Sibyl Vane is a very important character. Her suicide marks a change in Dorian. He is regretful of his cruelty towards Sibyl until Lord Henry changes his perspective. According to Henry, Sibyl’s suicide is a very romantic end to their relationship. This gesture ironically mirrors Juliet, whom Sibyl often plays. Sibyl, along with marking the change in Dorian’s thinking, also represents the philosophies of the Aesthetic movement which Lord Henry often endorses. Sibyl’s life imitates art; she is a brilliant actress and can portray love convincingly on stage before she meets Dorian. Once she falls in love with Dorian she states that “all art is but a reflection”, and she ceases to be a brilliant artist. Dorian’s initial reaction when he sees Sibyl acting poorly is hatred, and anger, even though the reason for her “failure” is because of love for him. Although Lord Henry has had some influence on Dorian already, this strikes me as the tantrum of an over privileged child. I’m wondering, do you think that it is Lord Henry’s influence that caused him to act in such a cruel and childish manner or is it that Dorian was not so sweet and innocent from the beginning?

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  2. I completely agree with you about being sort of disappointed with the experience of reading Dorian Gray. I definitely grew to dislike him as a character and did not care for Lord Henry from the get go. I found Lord Henry to be just on this side of evil – he is insidious in his effect on changing Dorian’s character. But I did have some sense of hope for Dorian in his relationship with Sibyl, at the very least he seemed to be serious about pursuing marriage with her until that moment that she starts acting poorly. His disgust with her from that point on brings out that somewhat compelling aspect of who Dorian is – he is in love less so with the woman than with her artful expressions in acting and I wonder what sort of marriage these two really could have had should the circumstances been different. I don’t know if Oscar Wilde wants us to like Dorian or not; I do think he wants us to consider our own desires and ways of thinking about the world in comparison to this beautiful man with a rotted soul and maybe consider how those around us influence our behavior, just as Lord Henry influences Dorian, with or without his knowledge.

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  3. I see the character of Dorian Gray like an empty vessel. I don’t think he ever develops his own personality. He just samples others the way he samples life. In the beginning he seemed to act like Basil and when he met Lord Henry he adopted that persona. I do not share your belief that Sybil was Dorian’s last chance to be a good person because I think he just vicariously enjoyed the stage through her performances. When he could no longer do that he became frustrated and abandoned her. Like you, I find myself disliking the character of Dorian Gray. Throughout my reading I kept thinking how little he contributes to anything. He has no job. Dorian is just a magic rich kid. Someone with goals in life outside of pleasure might have been able to handle permanent beauty without destroying themselves. Dorian is like a superhero but his power is not eternal life. He is simply super shallow. If I thought of the character in a more favourable light I might agree with you on the importance of Sybil, but in a narrative where the main character takes nothing seriously it is hard for me to place emphasis on a single mistake.

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  4. I can relate to your attitude towards Dorian’s actions at this scene. I found myself quite upset after this chapter and came to the conclusion that the reasoning behind Dorian’s cold betrayal is he loses his humanity once he has created the supernatural link between his soul and the portrait. Dorian is no longer bound by his conscious and even asks Lord Henry why he cannot feel Sibyl’s death as he feels he should. He clearly understands the seriousness of this, but he is unable to elicit the appropriate sympathetic response. likewise, the overall influence from Lord Henry’s aphorisms has left Dorian an empty shell of a man, devoid of his humanity.

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  5. I think this question of who Dorian is has so many aspects to consider, and such a big realm of information to put into his personality or lack of. Dorian clearly acts very vulnerable and innocent, and just lets Lord Henry manipulate him into what Henry thinks is acceptable for Dorian to behave and act like based on their social standing and reputation. But yes, I definitely think Dorian knew who he was at the beginning and had a sense of identity and then Henry basically took over. Changed him into a nightmare and Dorian lost control, and lost himself.

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