The most personal of Oscar Wilde's works, The Picture of Dorian Grey was also one of the earliest. It was published in 1891 and caused immediate controversy and great notoriety for its writer. The story of an immensely beautiful and hedonistic boy whose conscience becomes separate from his body and housed in a portrait which slowly and hideously ages and decays in keeping with his increasing depravity whilst the boy himself remains untouched plays with all of Oscar Wilde's theories of art and life.
As a major proponent of aestheticism and its belief in art for art's sake, Wilde is examining his contention, made in the book, that all art is useless and should be. The flamboyant excess of the beautiful youth's life and the detachment he feels from his surroundings and fellow revellers echo Wilde's own rampant existence.
There is even an exploration of Wilde's obsession with beauty and beautiful things in the repeated idea that when life gets too painful, human beings find escape in 'that strange interest in trivial things that we try to develop when things of high import make us afraid'.
The book is full of Wilde's astonishingly clever epigrams and witticisms. The detachment that Dorian feels from his society allows him a perfect vantage point from which to hurl some glorious insults. But like all of Wilde's work, the clever aphorisms and the all but perfect form hide a stingingly sharp and ultimately rather Catholic moral.
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