Dorian Gray’s relevance today
It is one thing to simply age with grace and acceptance at all fleeting youth bestows. It is another to watch yourself age from the view point of despair, within that fleeting youth is the time lost against your very life. In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, we meet a young man who clings desperately to his youth, going as far to give his very soul for the price of keeping it.
While a seemingly far fetched tale of supernatural happenings, most people today very much reflect the vanity so obviously nestled within Dorian Gray. Though late 19th century London lacked modern day conveniences, there was no lack of self indulgence in material possessions, hedonism or frowned upon promiscuity. All of these points of interest raise the question of whether or not The Picture of Dorian Grey is still relevant today.
We are not so far off from that desperate boy who wanted nothing more than to be and stay beautiful. We even seem to seek out beautiful things to surround ourselves with, and, for a time, so did Dorian. Dorian Gray surrounded himself with countless beautiful items and relics, perfumes, jewels, music, embroiderer work, and even ecclesiastical items. While most people today may not spend a year searching for as many of the most precious jewels as they can account for, we are always on the search for the next best thing, even still. New technology, name brand bags and wallets, even pure bred pets find themselves desirable in the face of luxurious wants and needs in this modern day. Some, however, do not have this desire, this urge to obtain finer things. The difference there lies within the person, and not simply their financial standing or even due to their titles in life. The difference between those who seek beauty even in the objects they surround themselves with, and those who don’t, lie within an emotional turmoil that Dorian Gray himself proves as he reflects upon himself that, “For these treasures, and everything that he collected in his lovely house, were to be to him means of forgetfulness, modes by which to escape, for a season, from the fear that seemed to him at times to be almost to great to be borne.” (Oscar Wilde 102) It is not what emotional ailments lead us toward decadent distractions, but that any emotional aliments leave us grasping at something that feels better to touch that we do internally.
Hedonism, while a term no longer used to describe the life style of pleasure as often as it was during the Aesthetic Movement in the 19th century, is still a very highly practiced philosophy. Most people today may live within the bounds of a the stereotypical working class lifestyle, yet there are others, even still, who rebel against such constricting actions in search of peace of mind and freedom to be happy on their own terms. There is a movement of awakening in today’s generation, where word of falling away from the normal pattern of thinking, and instead thinking for yourself, is the healthiest path one can take to reach true fulfillment and happiness. While Hedonism and Aestheticism dance dangerously on being defined as reckless and without care, that awakened state of mind today in relation to the Hedonistic attributes in Dorian Grey find themselves looking very similar. In an article by Patrick Duggan, The Conflict Between Aestheticism and Morality in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, for Boston University Arts & Sciences Writing Program, Patrick states that “Wilde’s novel is not as wholly embracing of aestheticism… Wilde realized and depicted in the life of Dorian Gray, a need for a more controlled and deliberate approach to aestheticism, without which morality will inevitably be elusive.” much as I agree with this statement, I also find that it mirrors the paths of today’s movement of awakening.
Where moral reservations may exist both within our working class or our enlightened thinkers, we can not forget that the first and foremost connection between them is humanity. Humanity, being human, does not come without its animalistic attributes. Regardless of our titles or life styles, there is a similar type of pleasure that nearly all humans seek or aim to fulfill. While some follow strict religious restrictions, and others either follow moral restrictions, or none at all, we still find that we would hardly be human if not for that simple fact that sexual pleasures are not a scarcity among our species. Even still, the freedom we have today, although some freedoms still up for debate, are far more loosely regulated, scrutinized and damning to ones title that in the decades prior. Those freedoms so fragile upon discussion, seem no less taboo than when Dorian seemed guilty of them, and farther on still, Oscar Wilde. In an article publish by the British Library called Perversion and degeneracy in The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Roger Luckhurst, Luckhurst touches on Wilde’s similar negative annotation still present today when he states that, “The trajectory of the book is seemingly towards the punishment of the abandonment of morals by the aesthete. Yet these defensive tactics did not, in the end, protect Wilde from an Establishment that disliked his political, aesthetic and sexual transgressions.” Much as Oscar Wilde sought out those pleasures, much as Dorian Gray sought them out in Wilde’s shadow, we too, fall victim to our own taboo desires.
While vast differences lie between now and the 19th century, the great fault of humanity and the world itself is its inability to escape the cyclical manor of our existence. Since Dorain’s story was shared , we have not strayed far from that urge to stay young and look beautiful, to be surrounded by beautiful things or to indulge in all of life’s pleasures. It is certainly one thing for Dorian Gray’s story to have relevance in today’s world, and it is another entirely to assume that Dorian Gray is the reflection of Oscar Wilde’s own internal self, yet we find that they too, just as ourselves, were striving for that same near reckless happiness we all still seek today.
Written for English 101
11 March 2017
Wilde, Oscar, 1854 – 1900 The Picture of Dorian Gray. (Dover thrift editions) Dover Publications, Inc. New York. 1993 Print.
Patrick Duggan, The Conflict Between Aestheticism and Morality in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, published by Boston University Arts & Sciences Writing Program (http://www.bu.edu/writingprogram/journal/past-issues/issue-1/duggan/)
Roger Luckhurst, Perversion and degeneracy in The Picture of Dorian Gray, published by British Library (http://www.bu.edu/writingprogram/journal/past-issues/issue-1/duggan/)