To me, The picture of Dorian Gray is a novel heavily portraying different hedonistic/self indulgences. Because of this, I am left with the question: To what extent is this a performance played by individuals participating in said hedonism, and what was the influence of Lord Henry on these self indulgences?
At the beginning of the novel, Basil idealizes Dorian Gray and speaks of his “simple and beautiful nature” (21) and demands that Lord Henry does not “spoil him” (21) or influence Dorian’s behaviour in a negative way. I must establish now that I do not believe Lord Henry is “performing” in the grand speeches with aphorisms throughout the novel; yes, he may exaggerate his beliefs, but in my personal opinion, I just get the feeling that he is a terrible human being who has nothing better to do with his time than make Dorian his little puppet. Now that that’s established, we can move on. My first time through reading the beginning of this novel, I was thoroughly persuaded that Dorian was to remain innocent and pure, as he was described by Basil (again, only at the beginning of the novel… perhaps I’m a little too optimistic in Victorian literature). With each little aphoristic speech given by Lord Henry, we see that Dorian becomes increasingly influenced and more susceptible to engage in hedonistic behaviour than before (hence the painting aging). Judging by the influence of Lord Henry, I believe Dorian Gray’s behaviours were a performance, regardless of how conscious he was that they were a performance. Henry constantly infuses into Dorian’s head the idea that if you are a beautiful human being, your class doesn’t matter and that you can get by solely on good looks. As the novel goes on, Dorian constantly finds himself affirming Henry’s notion mentioned previously, and becomes more and more aware that he can indeed make it in life by being attractive. I think with every self indulgent conquest Dorian makes, his performance against Basil’s idealized version of himself increased.
In a way, Dorian’s performance of his “new hedonism” is like the portrait; it becomes a new way of representation in terms of behaviour, as well as physical representation on the portrait itself. Dorian cannot recognize the impact of his own behaviour outside his own internal conflict regarding his thoughts on the portrait, yet his sins are all laid out right in front of him. It’s interesting how although the portrait is of himself, it becomes more and more unfamiliar as his own personality and actions become more unfamiliar to the original way he was portrayed.
I know that in class we discussed how Dorian Gray has sociopathic tendencies (how he was unable to feel tragic feelings), but to me, most of it seemed life a performance in order to appease his puppet master (Henry). Dorian even says he “can’t feel [Sibyl’s] death as [he] wants to” (136). In my opinion, a sociopath would not have enough sympathy to even want to feel her death. Yes, Dorian is being very cold, and apathetic, but not sociopathic. Even if his performed attitude/actions weren’t just to appease Henry, I didn’t get the impression that Dorian was completely unable to feel tragic feelings, but that a large portion of his indulgences were mostly due to little sparks of ideas that Henry put in his head. One could argue that Dorian already was on the path to such a decadent life without the influence of Henry, and that Henry only accelerated the process. I do not believe this to be the case, and think that if Henry was eliminated from the picture, Dorian would not have even wished for the portrait to bare the weight of his aging in the first place.