Do You Agree or Disagree with Some Contemporary Critic's Claims That 'the Picture of Dorian Gray' Is an Immoral Book?

1052 Words5 Pages
‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ received harsh criticism upon its initial publication in 1890, with many critics declaring it an ‘immoral book’. The hedonistic life philosophy depicted by its protagonist is undoubtedly an immoral one, as Dorian Gray’s happiness takes priority over the lives of Sibyl Vane, Basil Hallward and countless others. Perhaps the most significant problem people had with the novel was with its portrayal of homosexuality, a lifestyle which would have been condemned at the time and which resulted in Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment in 1895. He may well have included this in an attempt to justify his lifestyle; however it was heavily criticised by Victorian society. One offended critic described ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ as ‘a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction’. After harsh criticism of the novel in Lippincott’s magazine Wilde decided to include a preface to an amended version of the text upon its republication. This comprises a series of epigrams expressing Wilde’s own aesthetic philosophy, aiming to discard the idea that all art should serve a moral purpose. This can be viewed as an attempt to prevent further offense being caused by aspects of the novel. However in order to evaluate whether it is an immoral story we must first consider whether it is consistent in this view that art need not have a purpose. The portrait itself acts as ‘the most magical of mirrors’, revealing to Dorian the destructive effects of immorality upon his soul. Furthermore the yellow book that Lord Henry gives to Dorian becomes a symbol of the consequences of immoral art; Dorian bases his life and actions around it and its influence leads to the corruption of his soul and ultimately his death. To critics this may well suggest the contrary of Wilde’s preface, the yellow book emphasises the powerful
Open Document