Constructive Writing: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

‘There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr Gray. All influence is immoral… The aim of life is self-development…. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self.’ (p.24)

What happens to a self-indulgent life? What happens if indulgences have few repercussions? In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde investigates the effects of selfishness on the mind and soul, and does so with a character that will not physically show the burden of their actions.

And, yet, there was the picture before him, with the touch of cruelty in the mouth. (p.88)

Instead it is a picture, that of the book’s title, that wears the marks. Dorian Gray is charmed to continue life with the face of youthful beauty.

“People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought is.” (p.24)

There is some great lines from Oscar Wilde, as one would expect, though it is not common. In parts the writing changes from description to slabs of text to pure (theatrical) dialogue. One suspects these changes were to help Wilde speedily conclude the book. Still, there is much to like and consider, as the piece raises many questions of life –  particularly for the young, and  many keys to a good story are maintained.

Changing Status:

Not as much status as personality. Sure Dorian Gray’s social acceptability alters, and though association some other characters suffer social rejection, but the change in his portrait creates the intrigue as to how he reacts.

The Worst:

Wronging a lowly family brings the threat of death to Gray, and there are other extremes a life with no repercussions will face (no pun intended). Also, as his picture increasingly changes, Gray becomes paranoid that the picture will be seen.

High Stakes:

More than his life Dorian Gray views, though the hideous development of his picture, that his soul is at stake. Is there a way to change the picture back?

Believable Characters:

The detail Wilde uses in describing the world makes it believable. Interestingly, some of the settings he never visited. The detail gained from imagination or friends.

Time Pressure:

Little to speak of. The threat to life does pace a section, but it is not constant. This is the danger when writing about a character who is, particularly, immortal. It is not a book that is an urgent read.


Fantasy of what would happen if one could live forever in youth. What does happen to the soul though self-indulgence?