"How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June.... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!"
— Dorian Gray, looking at his portrait
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) was Oscar Wilde's only novel, naturally rife with witty banter and homo-eroticism. Blond Pretty Boy Dorian is the muse for the talented artist Basil Hallward. Dorian, gifted with incredible beauty, is a thoughtless and happy young man until the day that he comes to Hallward's house to see the unveiling of the artist's latest masterpiece — the eponymous portrait. There, he meets Lord Henry, who with a few casual words, instils the fear of aging and decrepitude into Dorian's young, impressionable heart. Dorian is greatly troubled, and when Basil brings the portrait out and unveils it, its beauty hurts Dorian so much that he exclaims he would sell his soul for his painting to age in his place.From that day on, Lord Henry, rather than the adoring Basil Hallward, becomes the driving force in Dorian's life, leading him down a path of sensuality and pleasure. Dorian begins to notice, after he cruelly rejects the young actress who has fallen in love with him, that his portrait changes — a dark smirk comes over the once innocent smile, just to begin. Years pass. The portrait grows older. Dorian does not.A tale of corruption and obsession that is surprisingly dark for the author of The Importance of Being Earnest. This story was used as evidence against Wilde and resulted in him being prosecuted for homosexuality and sentenced to two years hard labor. A very good Halloween read.
Author Avatar: Three of them. Wilde described the main characters by saying, "Basil Hallward is what I think I am; Lord Henry what the world thinks me; Dorian what I would like to be in other ages, perhaps."
Beauty Equals Goodness: Deconstructed. Dorian looks so beautiful and innocent that no one believes all the horrible things he's said to do. However, Dorian really would look ugly due to age and vice if not for the picture. This trope was commonly believed in during the Victorian era.
Bi the Way: Dorian, probably. His interactions with Sybil and Basil alike leave his sexuality up in the air and ultimately up to the reader's interpretation. He could also be seen as a Depraved Bisexual. Or maybe he's too in love with himself to be attracted to anyone.
Corrupt the Cutie: Dorian Gray starts out as a not outstandingly virtuous, but innocent Man Child. Then Basil introduces him to Lord Henry, a hedonist who tells Dorian that only youth and beauty matter in life. The impressionable Dorian really takes this to heart and impulsively makes the Deal with the Devil that starts off the plot of the book. Unfortunately, Lord Henry sticks around and continues to malignly influence Dorian, the effect amplified by Dorian becoming The Soulless as a result of said Deal with the Devil. Unsurprisingly, it gets worse as the plot goes on.
Basil realizes that Lord Henry could have a strong influence on Dorian and begs him not to corrupt him, but Henry goes right ahead and does it almost immediately. Basil recognizes it and regrets it.
The morning after Dorian snubbed Sybil, he realizes that he'd probably made a mistake, and decides to make up with her. Unfortunately, Dorian finds out that Sybil committed suicide during the night, which is when he plunges headlong into hedonism.
Death Equals Redemption: When Dorian died, the painting representing his soul reverted to its original form, although that may have been because the signs of sin and age came out of the picture and went into Dorian himself.
Dramatic Irony: At least twice: The ever innocent Basil cannot see, or refuses to acknowledge, that the boy he fell in love with is slipping further and further into corruption. This proves to be fatal. Then, after Basil's murder, Lord Henry tells Dorian that he wishes he knew somebody who had committed a real murder. Dramatic Irony indeed.
Everyone Is Bi: The male gentlemen of the story all have such close and passionate friendships.
Evil Makes You Ugly: Evil would make Dorian ugly if not for the picture taking the ugliness upon itself.
Fainting: Dorian at a dinner party he is hosting shortly after James Vane has threatened to kill him and might possibly come after him again.
Fatal Flaw: Dorian's vanity, Basil's worship of Dorian, Henry's detachment from the world... The list goes on and on. This is Gothic Horror after all.
Foreshadowing: After Dorian's Deal with the Devil, Basil decides to destroy the painting with a knife. As it turns out, this foreshadows both his death and Dorian's.
Fragile Flower: Basil is not hard to make physically ill from pain, embarrassment or passion.
Freudian Trio: A dark twist on one (the author even admitted that all three are reflections of himself). Henry may be advocating giving in to your Id, but he does so on coldly logical grounds, making him something of an Übermensch Superego (har har); Basil is the most balanced of the three, but is ignored by the protagonist, Dorian, who plays the unfettered Id.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: That's how the Ho Yay gets into a Victorian novel. The novel supposedly has lessHo Yay than the original magazine version. According to the Wordsworth edition, the novel's editor removed a few lines of dialogue from Basil's confession about how he "somehow never loved a woman" and how he explicitly felt for Dorian.
Grande Dame: Pretty much every woman in the book besides Sybil and her mother fall into this category.
Greedy Jew: Isaacs, the theater owner who puts on Sybil Vane's productions, is a particularly anti-Semitic example even for the Victorian era. He's repeatedly described as old, vile and filthy, with an enormous diamond on his shirt. Although he professes a passion for Shakespeare, his productions are of an exceedingly shabby quality and show how much Sybil is slumming. He seems to have sexual designs on Sybil as well.
Homoerotic Subtext: So much that a scene between Dorian and Basil was used as evidence against Wilde during his criminal trial for homosexuality.
Ignored Epiphany: Dorian resolves to become good in order to make his horrible picture, and thus his soul, beautiful again. However, he expects to see immediate results in the picture before he's actually done anything. Instead, it shows the hypocrisy inherent in his dishonest atonement. After only a few minutes, he rationalizes keeping his crimes a secret and becomes thoroughly evil once again.
Basil: Pray, Dorian, pray. What is it that one was taught to say in one's boyhood? "Lead us not into temptation. Forgive us our sins. Wash away our iniquities." Let us say that together. The prayer of your pride has been answered. The prayer of your repentance will be answered also. I worshipped you too much. I am punished for it. You worshipped yourself too much. We are both punished.
Dorian: It is too late, Basil
Basil: It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we can not remember a prayer. Isn't there a verse somewhere, "Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white as snow"?
Dorian: Those words mean nothing to me now.
Basil: Hush! Don't say that. You have done enough evil in your life. My God! Don't you see that accursed thing leering at us?
Dorian: *Picks up a knife and stabs Basil*
Immortality Inducer: Commonly believed to be the case, but never stated. Dorian does not show signs of aging, but we don't know if he's actually immortal.
Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Henry corrupts every acquaintance of his, except Basil, the most moral character in the novel. Basil himself also makes unsuccessful attempts to intervene when he sees signs that Dorian has been corrupted.
Lord Henry's reason for attempting to influence everyone he comes into contact with with his hedonistic views. May have been for the evulz depending upon your interpretation of Lord Henry's character and the degree of his complicity in Dorian's descent into debauchery.
Dorian was also majorly guilty of this after embracing Lord Henry's hedonistic ideals when he starts corrupting people out of his own accord. Needless to say, Dorian's actions were more obviously for the evulz than his mentor's.
It's All About Me: Basil's nicknaming Dorian "Narcissus" in Chapter 1 is more dead-on than he'd realized.
(after he has broken off his engagement with Sybil Vane) "Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It was the girl's fault, not his... And, yet, a feeling of infinite regret came over him, as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing like a little child... But he had suffered also. During the three terrible hours that the play had lasted, he had lived centuries of pain, aeon upon aeon of torture. His life was well worth hers."
Karma Houdini: Lord Henry. Granted, he's grumpy about getting old, and his wife has left him, but nothing of any great consequence happens to him. Some have argued that Lord Henry doesn't merit any special punishment because he's simply amoral — he talks a big game, but he hasn't the courage (as Dorian has) to cross the line into outright evil.
The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Dorian underestimates his 2-D representation, assuming that if he performs good deeds, the portrait will improve. It actually worsens, proving that Dorian hasn't really changed, and this sudden philanthropy is driven by boredom and vanity.
Morality Pet: Sybil Vane, before Dorian drives her to suicide.
Dorian: Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes me good.
Murder Simulators: Subverted in that Dorian blames the Author Avatar Lord Henry for corrupting him with his cynical outlook as well as the "Yellow Book" he is always reading, but it is ultimately revealed that Lord Henry leads a fairly normal life and the idea of blaming a book comes across as similarly misguided.
Offstage Villainy: Even though the story is centered around corruption and debauchery, most of Dorian's felonies are only touched upon in the actual prose.
Older than They Look: Dorian keeps his youthful looks for several decades. Many readers assume that Dorian receives immortality, but this is never stated. He simply doesn't show the effects of age, and doesn't live long enough for death by natural causes to factor into it.
Purple Prose: The whole book, arguably, but if you value twenty minutes of your life, just...don't read Chapter 11. It can be summarized as, "He read books, did things, and had lots of pretty stuff." Arguably, that's the point. The reader feels the tediousness of Dorian's hedonism and can appreciate his jaded attitude. Arguably, the point of Chapter 11 is to compare Dorian's appearance to the items he speaks of. The jewels, etc., are items which one acquires as beauty that can last forever.
It's also speculated that when his publisher told him that the book was too short, he padded it with those descriptions.
Rage Against the Reflection: When Dorian becomes angry looking at his unmarred face he smashes the mirror beneath his heel. He later stabs his portrait, a fatal mistake.
Rapid Aging: When Dorian can't take the portrait's honesty anymore, he stabs it, which causes him to instantaneously take all the age and wicked infirmities to which he had been previously spared. However, he's only around 40 years old by this time. It's the knife that kills him. Stabbing your Soul Jar is a bad idea.
This Was His True Form: At the end, when Dorian stabs the picture, thus killing himself, the portrait becomes pretty again, but his body becomes mutated, reflecting his own inner corruption and age. His servants can't even tell it's his corpse until they recognize the rings on his fingers.
Adaptation Dye-Job: In the original novel, Dorian was blond. In pretty much every modern adaptation (the 1970 one with Helmut Berger is a notable exception), he's portrayed with black hair. It has a lot to do with the way beauty standards have changed over time.
Broken Bird: Sybil in the 1945 film—she even sings a song about it, "Little Yellow Bird".
Take Our Word for It: Due to The Hays Code, Dorian's Offstage Villainy couldn't even be named, let alone shown or described, in the 1945 film adaptation. It therefore must suffice for the narrator to simply tell the viewer that he has committed such debauchery that his name is now mud in most decent circles.
Tall, Dark and Handsome: Dorian often becomes this in adaptations instead of blonde haired as he was in the novel, partly because of changing beauty standards.
Twice Told Tale: Will Self's Dorian and Rick Reed's A Face Without A Heart.