‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ his only published novel fetched Oscar Wilde as the book of 2010 for Dublin City’s “One city, one book” festival in its 5th year. The 231 paged fiction first appeared as a leading story Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine on July 1890, later a revised edition was published by Ward, Lock and Company in April 1891.
Set in the 19th century the novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believed his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Talking in Basil’s garden, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil’s, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry’s world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only thing worth pursuing in life is beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Realizing that one day he himself would age and grow old, he game his soul to the devil. Dorian’s wish was fulfilled, plunging him into debauched acts. The portrait serves as a remainder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form or through a sign of aging.
The novel reveals Wilde’s philosophy more than any of his other works; reading it is an essential key to understand his artistic mission as a whole.
Our modern society is so obsessed with youth that there is a multi-million dollar industry simply devoted to making us look younger. Just why, because we live in a culture where youth is idolized and age is the enemy of the people – the goal these days seems to be not just to stop aging, but to get younger.
We’re not the first culture to embrace this cult of youth though. As we see in the novel, our predecessors in the nineteenth century also longed for undying youth and beauty. In fact, the quest for the Foundation of youth is one of the oldest stories there is; apparently, humanity in general has had a hard time getting over the fact that we all grow old and die.
For this reason, Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel never ceases to be relevant – until we finally discover the secret of real eternal youth, we’ll always be interested in Dorian’s quest for it.