A Student Response to Dorian Gray

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.

Works Cited

 “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.

11 thoughts on “A Student Response to Dorian Gray

  1. I love this comparison of the portrait to the selfie. Many of us are guilty of taking pictures until they’re perfect, and sometimes we are too distracted by the physical beauty/perfection of the selfie to realize it doesn’t really matter. Dorian Gray’s obsession with himself definitely has more serious consequences for his actions, but the connection is there. I have not seen this TV series that you mentioned, but this novel reminded me of the Netflix show Black Mirror. Occasionally, the show comments on the effects of technology in our society as a negative feature. If we are able to compare Dorian’s portrait to a selfie, perhaps this sci-fi show could manipulate the selfie into the supernatural image that Wilde attempts to create. Great connection!

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  2. The relation between modern day selfies and Dorian’s painting is a beautiful comparison because both types of pictures have the myth associated with them that they can capture a persons soul. At one point in the 2nd paragraph you briefly discuss how the lighting and placement of Dorian’s portrait in a particular room determines whether the painting is acceptable and beautiful. An implication can be made where the portrait only becomes ugly and deformed because of it’s abandoned state in the house. The painting is either behind a curtain or stuck within the darkness of the attic. Therefore, Dorian’s situation where this portrait transforms is due to the fact that he refuses to have anyone look at it (almost selfishly hiding the beauty of it to himself). This idea possibly explains how the ugliness was developed as a result of Dorian preventing the world to see it’s beauty, and since this is the sole purpose of a painting (to have people look upon it), it utilizes Dorian’s personal contact with the world to show off the beauty (i.e. changing places to have purpose). There is no point in a painting if it cannot be shown to others, resulting in Dorian’s agelessness and the paintings growing hideousness.

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  3. The relation between modern day selfies and Dorian’s painting is a beautiful comparison because both types of pictures have the myth associated with them that they can capture a person’s soul. At one point in the 2nd paragraph, you briefly discuss how the lighting and placement of Dorian’s portrait in a particular room determine whether the painting is acceptable and beautiful. An implication can be made where the portrait only becomes ugly and deformed because of it’s abandoned state in the house. The painting is either behind a curtain or stuck in the darkness of the attic. Therefore, Dorian’s situation where this portrait transforms is due to the fact that he refuses to have anyone look at it (almost selfishly hiding the beauty of it to himself). This idea possibly explains how the ugliness was developed as a result of Dorian preventing the world to see it’s beauty, and since this is the sole purpose of a painting (to have people look upon it), it utilizes Dorian’s personal contact with the world to show off the beauty (i.e. changing places to have purpose). There is no point in a painting if it cannot be shown to others, resulting in Dorian’s agelessness and the paintings growing hideousness.

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  4. The use of grammar in the following sentence makes it seem as though Dorian may be a writer alongside Paul Guyot: “The series is set in a world of magic realism and the episode, written by Paul Guyot, with Dorian Gray is no exception.”

    Paul Guyot’s writing credit could have gone at the beginning of the sentence, or you could have used dashes like so: “… realism and the episode—written by Paul Guyot—with Dorian…”

    I felt you argued your point well, especially your examination of Dorian and Sybil’s relationship. It really is like they never truly new each other, but rather projected what they wanted the other to be.

    Overall, I found this blog essay to be really interesting, as it bridges a late nineteenth century novel to our current lives. I definitely agree with social media’s effect on our vanity, and how Dorian Gray would fit into it. The speculation that Prince Charming could be his account name was a great touch. Lastly, I felt you balanced a wide vocabulary while keeping it conversational. I feel this really respect the reader.

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  5. Excellent comparison! I wonder how the advent of photography affected vanity back then, and I wonder if this was on Wilde’s mind at all. It is well known that painted portraits often embellished the physical appearance, especially with royalty. Could it be that Basil’s admiration for Dorian caused the portrait to look a lot more attractive than he really looked? And Henry wouldn’t have commented since he had much admiration as well. They both saw him the way they wanted to see him. No one else saw the portrait, so it is possible the portrait was better than Dorian really was, and this inflated his ego. But photos were more honest. Of course now you can edit photos so easily, but if you take your own photo and edit it yourself then you know it’s dishonest, you saw the honest photo first. Dorian did not. Maybe his inflated narcissism was all based on a romanticized portrait.

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  6. This is an interesting take on vanity. It’s imperative we look at the direct influence those around us have on our inward happiness. I like your comparison to the “selfie” and how social media has evolved. I find it almost laughable. Our impulses and our joy are so chemical-driven. The rush of dopamine is directly tied to an extra “like” or two on our Instagram post. As humans, many of us chase this rush and how our outward image is received coincides with our overall happiness. The same goes for our expectations of others. Like you pointed out, Sybil couldn’t live up to this unrealistic depiction inside Dorian’s head. As her career faded so to did the reality of his projection of her. There is a dangerous precedent to have such lofty, often unrealistic projections of ourselves and others.

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  7. There seems to be a connection between Dorian’s self-identification and the vision that he observes in Basil’s portrait. The portrait dictates Dorian’s decision making and draws him closer to a realization of what he desires in himself, even if it means destroying his own soul. Dorian is driven by vanity, yet it gives him a sense of control—If not over others, then at least over himself. Dorian morally degenerates as a result of his obsession with not only his own beauty, but with the very idea of beauty itself. Wilde’s narrative reflects the Victorian culture of admiration for surface and superficiality in a way that is mirrored in the modern world. Dorian desires to capture his own beauty and memorialize it within an artistic moment. In one way or another, we all seem to desire to have the best of ourselves presented to others; however, one can see that such expressions of vanity can interfere with our relationships with others, as well as ourselves.

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  8. This is a fascinating comparison of our modern-day social media usage and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I am struck by your comparison between Dorian Gray’s portrait and the modern-day concept of the selfie. However, for me, my mind took this notion and went a step further (perhaps because I do not frequently find myself taking selfies, and thus do not relate as much to the selfie-taking culture). I thought of how people tend to portray themselves on Facebook etc. as their best selves. People tend to post pictures and statuses of happy events and achievements and leave out the darker and messier sides to life, just as Dorian’s human presents his youth and beauty to the world, while he hides the darker side of him locked away from view.

    Thanks for your insights into this fascinating topic.

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  9. I loved this post, and I loved the comparison of the portrait back in the Victorian era compared to the selfie of today. I do think that The Picture of Dorian Gray relates to our time period for this reason. All of the ideas of vanity, selfishness, decadence etc run parallel to our social media age. There is a sort of indulgence that has been created in the idea of posting endless photos of ourselves online for people that we barely know to “like” and comment on. As the comment above mine mentioned, people tend to only show the best sides of themselves on social media. This seems to be what Dorian Gray does in the novel as well. He only shows the best side of himself to the outside world, while allowing his horrible deeds to be kept secret.

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  10. Comparing the adoration/obsession people have withDorian Gray to the adoration/obsession people have with celebrities is really interesting. I love that this novel had so much material for us to draw from. Social media is a crazy world where people get to present their own ideal version of themselves to the world. Dorian did that with his portrait. I think that this topic could be developed into an interesting paper topic.

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  11. I loved this article! So, I want to side with Ashlee with the idea of “likes” because that is where my mind went with your argument! Dorian is amassing “likes” from his “followers” to perfect himself through their eyes. And every time he gets “unfriended” he needs to search further to find more love to fulfill himself with. Great aspect there.

    Also for the celebrity worship you mention, 100% agree with that too! The way that a celebrity posts themselves and amass worship from people everywhere makes a lot of sense to compare to Dorian’s beauty, except of course at this time he only had local worshippers as opposed to the world wide devotion we give some of our celebrities.

    When it went into the superficial love of Sybil and Dorian, that was hard for me because it was a sad moment when Dorian failed me. I think that they both put each other on pedestals and thus created an unattainability in their relationship. So, Dorian worshipped Sybil as an actress and couldn’t love her as a woman. Sybil loved Dorian as “Prince Charming” and when he was less than, she was destroyed as well. I feel they were both equally inexperienced, equally devoted, and equally at fault.

    Great article though!

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