The Selfie of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is the epitome of the aesthetic ideals in the Victorian age. The beauty and youth of Dorian Gray are admired by all those who look at him and his portrait. Basil Hallward admires Dorian’s beauty to the point where he admits to Dorian, “you are made to be worshipped” (149), while Harry Wotton takes on a more cynical adoration of Dorian’s youth. His aphorisms lead Dorian willingly away from the innocence and purity that Basil admires. The way Harry Wotton and Basil Hallward express their adoration of Dorian resembles the way we now express our admiration for our friends and celebrities when their social media is updated with a new selfie. Dorian’s indulgences and lifestyle would have fit quite well in this era.
An interesting take on how Dorian would fit in this current era can be found in the television episode, “And the Image of Image” from the TV series The Librarians. The series is set in a world of magic realism and the episode, written by Paul Guyot, with Dorian Gray is no exception. His youth and immortality come from a digital version of his portrait made up of multiple photos of the patrons of his bar. When he hurts himself, the consequences are transferred to those who make up his portrait. His character is a different portrayal than Wilde’s Dorian. The idea of him living in this era intrigued me. While Guyot presents Dorian as a villain, Wilde fashions Dorian as complicated and complex leading character, and I found myself imagining how he would fit in this era of technology and social media.
Dorian is not completely sympathetic but he is also not unmoving as a character. The influence of Harry Wotton and his opinions sways Dorian from Basil Hallward’s admiration of his purity and innocence. For example, when Harry states, “Because you have the most marvellous youth, and youth is the one thing worth having” (62), he has begun to influence Dorian without Dorian realizing Harry’s hold over him. Dorian’s despair over his eventual aging and his desire to remain young and beautiful become his downfall. Our own culture values beauty and perfection, with the many apps and filters to fix any flaws found in a selfie. The position of the camera and lighting in the room determines whether the subject in the photo is desirable. When the perfect selfie is finally achieved, and posted, we admire the beauty of ourselves. When I post a selfie where I’m happy with the outcome, I wish for a moment that I could always look that good. Just like Dorian does.
Sybil Vane’s love for Dorian, and his love for her, is another example similar to the admiration of celebrity’s posts on social media. Once you meet a person face-to-face, their persona may fail to live up to the expectation. Dorian’s picturesque view of Sybil is destroyed when her acting fails to live up to his praises. Her beauty is meaningless to him and his disappointment leads to a break-up and her suicide. He admonishes her “The world would have worshipped you, and you would have borne my name” (124). Sybil places Dorian on a pedestal and this leads to heartbreak. Sybil comments on her own love for Dorian, “I love him because he is like what Love himself should be” (100), and questions how he could love her. Their love for each other is ultimately superficial.
Dorian’s self-love is awakened by Basil Hallward’s and Harry Wotton’s admiration, but it is pushed onward through his own vanity. The portrait opens a door that leads down a road of hedonism and a lifestyle of pleasure. Dorian admits “[the picture] had taught him to love his own beauty” (128). His love for his own beauty could be translated in this era as any person who posts a selfie and admires their own beauty, me included.
In conclusion, Dorian’s portrait and the admiration it garners from those who look upon it and the selfies we post on our social media are similar but there is a difference between Dorian and us. For most of us, we post our selfies to feel better about our own perceived image. Dorian is influenced and swayed by characters like Harry Wotton, and his self-appreciation is confirmed by Basil Hallward and Sybil Vane. Like Sybil’s nickname for Dorian, our usernames are usually based on something our friends or family call us. “Prince Charming” would be the perfect username for Dorian to hide behind. When our selfies are liked, our self-esteem is boosted. Dorian’s self-love and self-appreciation is propelled forward because of the admiration of his friends and lovers. Dorian’s vanity is augmented because of them, and had he lived in an era where online social media existed, his vanity probably would have expanded.
“And the Image of Image.” The Librarians, written by Paul Guyot, directed by Emile Levisetti, Season 2 episode 7, TNT, 6 Dec. 2015
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Edited by Norman Page, Broadview Press Ltd, 2005.