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Definition: Picture of Dorian Gray, The from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Novel (1891) by Oscar Wilde. An artist paints a portrait of Dorian Gray, a young man described as flawless in beauty and character. The picture has the uncanny quality of registering the signs of age and accelerating moral decline of its subject while Gray himself apparently stays forever young and angelic. Although melodramatic in plot and lush in descriptive style, the story contains much of Wilde's paradoxical wit in its dialogue.

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Picture of Dorian Gray


Summary Article: Picture of Dorian Gray, The
from The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

A novel by Oscar Wilde, serialized by Lippincott's Magazine in 1890 and expanded in book form the same year. Once regarded as daringly modern in its portrayal of fin-de-siácle decadence, it draws on traditional motifs to create a powerful Gothic novel. In an updated version of the Faust story, Dorian sells his soul to keep his youth and beauty. The tempter is Lord Henry Wotton, who lives selfishly for amoral pleasure; Dorian's good angel or conscience is Basil Hallward, the portrait painter, whom Dorian murders. The book highlights the tension between the polished surface of high life and the life of secret vice. Although sin is punished in the end, the book has a strong flavour of the elegantly perverse. The preface asserts: ‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.’

The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, © Cambridge University Press 2000

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