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Literature: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Dorian Gray's portrait
Before & After

"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.

Tropes in the novel include:

  • All Love Is Unrequited:
    • Dorian finds Henry fascinating.
    • Likewise, Basil is clearly enamored with Dorian, but Dorian thinks they're just friends.
    • Women fall for Dorian constantly, he has fun with them for a time and then leaves them ruined.
  • Analogy Backfire: Basil's early comparison of Dorian to Narcissus, as he realizes much later. Narcissus isn't famous for his beauty - he's famous for his vanity.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: "you don't know what it cost me to tell you all that I have told you".
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Henry has a corrupting philosophy, though he never actually acts on it himself. Dorian becomes corrupted by his condition, and his wealth and status give him virtually free reign to indulge all of his vices.
  • Artifact of Doom: The painting.
  • 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.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Dorian Gray. Despite the fact that he's sometimes presented as having black hair. In fact, the only characters in the book stated to have black hair are Basil Hallward and Alan Campbell, both of which come across as much more sympathetic.
  • Blackmail: Dorian blackmails Alan Campbell to get rid of Basil's corpse. He does so, crosses the Despair Event Horizon, and kills himself.
  • Blank Slate: Dorian starts out the book apparently without any convictions or personal beliefs, leading him to be shaped very powerfully from a few casual words from Lord Henry.
  • Blessed with Suck: It's indicated that although the picture hides the effects on Dorian's appearance of opium addiction and probably several STDs, he still feels the pain associated with them
  • Bury Your Gays: Poor Basil.
  • Byronic Hero: Dorian.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Or dare not spit it out.
  • The Charmer: Henry for Dorian.
  • Closet Key: From Basil's confusion about his feelings for Dorian, it didn't seem like he had loved men before.
  • The Confidant / The Corrupter: Henry for Basil.
  • The Conscience: Basil; the portrait.
  • 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.
  • Could Have Avoided This Plot:
    • 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.
  • Courtly Love: Basil's for Dorian.
  • Covers Always Lie: Look on Amazon.com. Ninety percent of the covers of this book give Dorian hair that is black as night, while he is explicitly described, several times, as being blond.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: Dorian's picture ages for him and when he commits his terrible acts, the picture reflects his cruelty and blood even stains it.
  • Creepy Souvenir: The picture for Dorian.
  • The Cutie: Dorian's description by Henry why he was made to be worshiped.
  • Deal with the Devil: More or less how the painting becomes Dorian's Soul Jar. Unusually for this trope, it seems to have been done by accident.
  • 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.
  • Decomposite Character: There is a quote by Oscar Wilde that goes (paraphrased): the artist, Basil is who Wilde actually is; Lord Henry is what the world sees him as; and Dorian is who he would like to be. So, it is this effect via Author Avatar.
  • Depraved Bisexual:
    • Dorian, arguably. Part of Anything That Moves.
    • Hinted at with Lord Henry, at least towards Dorian.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Scandalously inverted.
  • Devoted to You: Sybil, Basil, the unnamed ladies ruined by Dorian, and Dorian himself, for Dorian.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Basil. Good person, nice friend, but boring, Dorian seems merely bored by his advice and entirely oblivious to any romantic interest.
  • Doppelgänger: The portrait.
  • 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.
  • Driven to Suicide: Both Sybil Vane and Alan Campbell
  • Downer Ending
  • 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.
  • Gayngst: Poor, poor Basil.
  • Get Back in the Closet: Censoring the hell out of the magazine version.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: That's how the Ho Yay gets into a Victorian novel. The novel supposedly has less Ho 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.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Yes.
  • The Heart: Basil, for the protagonist threesome.
  • The Hedonist: Henry, and Dorian under his wings.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Played straight with Dorian to begin with, then gradually subverted.
  • 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.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Basil attempts this when he finds out what his beloved Dorian has become and what has happened to his painting of Dorian himself, unfortunately resulting in his death.
    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.
  • The Ingenue: Poor, poor Sybil Vane.
  • It Amused Me:
    • 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."
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: One of the reasons people have trouble believing Dorian can be evil. They'd better believe it.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Basil after Dorian Gray gets engaged to Sybil.
  • 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.
  • Karmic Death Dorian.
  • Kick the Morality Pet: Dorian tells Sybil Vane that he no longer loves her just as she's fallen truly in love with him, driving her to suicide.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Sybil's brother James Vane, who comes this close to killing Dorian, years after his sister killed herself for him.
  • Lack of Empathy: Dorian, made plain when he spurns Sybil and then a major part of his character. The Soulless. But he still feels sorry for Basil after his confession, making Basil an absolute woobie.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Lord Henry uses this.
    Lord Henry: 1820, when people wore high stocks, believed in everything, and knew absolutely nothing.
  • Light Is Not Good: Dorian is angelic in appearance, but not so in personality.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Basil likes shutting himself up for months, which is treated as a striking eccentricity.
  • Love at First Sight: Basil meets Dorian at a party.
  • Love Martyr: Sybil, Basil.
  • Lover and Beloved: Two mature, cultured men's rivalry for an innocent little boy's friendship. Of couuurse...
  • Loving a Shadow: Dorian doesn't love Sybil but the characters she plays.
  • Magical Queer: Wilde extremely idealized Basil's character and his feelings' purity according to his interest.
  • Man Child: Dorian Gray at his first appearance.
  • Married to the Job: Sybil and Basil, before meeting Dorian.
  • Meaningful Name: Dorian (the name of a tribe allowing homosexuality), Harry ('abuse, destroy'), Saint Basil, the Confessor.
  • Milholland Relationship Moment: Basil is almost insulted when his confession gets more disappointment than condemnation from Dorian.
  • 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.
  • The Muse: Dorian for Basil, naturally.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Although, it does make sense that stabbing your own Soul Jar will kill you.
  • Noodle Incident: Dorian writes something on a card and shows it to Alan Campbell to blackmail him. We never learn what Dorian wrote.
  • Oblivious to Love: Dorian to Basil's until the confession.
  • 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.
  • Opium Den: Dorian frequents them.
  • Opposed Mentors: Basil and Henry, for Dorian.
  • Our Liches Are Different: Dorian could be considered a sort of lich, under a loose definition of the term.
  • Phantom Zone Picture: The painting is the Soul Jar variant.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Victoria Wotton.
  • Power at a Price
  • The Power of Love: "Basil would have helped him to resist Lord Henry’s influence, and the still more poisonous influences that came from his own temperament."
  • Pretty Boy: Dorian Gray. Lampshaded to hell and back.
  • Prince Charming: Trope Namer in that this is the earliest known use of this exact term, but a deconstruction of the trope itself. While characters of this type existed before the novel, Dorian is the first referred to as "Prince Charming" verbatim, making this a Dead Unicorn Trope or Unbuilt Trope.
  • Princely Young Man
  • Properly Paranoid: Dorian once James Vane returns.
  • 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.
  • Pygmalion Plot: Henry's feelings for Dorian.
  • 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.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: Thanks to the picture, which wears the marks of Dorian's depravity.
  • Self-Deprecation: Dorian's apologizing letter to Sybil.
  • Serious Business: Dorian cruelly spurns Sybil after she gives a poor theatrical performance. He fell in love with her acting, not her.
  • Shrine to Self: When Dorian isn't out getting debauched, he spends his time contemplating his portrait.
  • Sliding Scale of Beauty: Dorian.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Each philosophy impersonated by the mentor characters.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil
  • Soul Jar: The titular painting.
  • Spooky Painting: The decayed Dorian is mighty unpleasant to look at.
    • Fun fact: The version of the painting at the top of the page was done by Ivan Albright, who specializes in these.
  • Spot of Tea: The novel's beginning in Basil's studio.
  • Start of Darkness: Dorian being influenced by Henry/ becoming vain by Basil's courting.
  • Straight Gay: Basil doesn't like formal dressing.
  • The Svengali: Henry for Dorian.
  • Tears of Joy: Dorian after he discovers that James Vane is dead
  • The Sociopath: Dorian Gray, after he sells his soul for eternal youth
  • Soul Jar: The painting itself.
  • The Soulless: Dorian after his Deal with the Devil
  • 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.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Sybil, Basil
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Lord Henry to the core.
  • The Twink: Well... eventually...
  • Un-Confession: Dorian doesn't seem to understand at first what Basil is getting at.
  • Unrequited Tragic Maiden: Sybil becomes.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "under the effect of his personality".
  • Vain Sorceress: It could be argued Dorian is a male one.
  • The Vamp: Dorian is a male example.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Basil calls Dorian out for going to the Opera barely a day after he got the news of Sybil Vane's death.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Basil, who is naive enough to trust even Henry.
  • Word Salad Philosophy: Most of Henry's witty aphorisms.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Again poor, poor Sybil Vane.
  • You Killed My Father: Although he doesn't say them in the same order as the meme, "My name is James Vane," "You killed my sister," and "Prepare to Die" all make an appearance when James Vane corners and almost shoots Dorian outside the opium den.
  • You're Insane!: Alan Campbell to Dorian after he killed Basil and is asking him to help dispose of the body.
    Alan Campbell: You are mad, Dorian.

Tropes in adaptations include:

  • 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".
  • Create Your Own Villain: Lord Henry attempted to mold Dorian into his own image. In the 2009 film, this comes to haunt him when his daughter falls for Dorian, leading Henry to decide to protect his daughter by destroying the painting, ending Dorian's reign of terror once-and-for-all. He succeeds, but the film ends with his daughter no longer wanting anything to do with him.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Ben Chaplin almost enjoyed kissing Ben Barnes.
  • Fanservice: The 2009 Dorian/Basil kiss? Anyone? That film also has Dorian shirtless frequently, sometimes making sense as he has just got out of bed, others not at all.
  • Gender Flip: A 1983 TV movie called The Sins of Dorian Gray made the lead a woman (and yet, still not blonde).
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Dorian's lash marks and picture distortion.
  • Mayfly-December Romance: Played with in the 1945 adaptation, as Gladys, a child at the film's beginning, is a young woman still in love with Dorian by the end while he is comparatively static.
  • The Movie: There have been several film adaptations of the book. However, probably the most well known version is the 1945 movie directed by Albert Lewin.
  • Pretty in Mink: In the 1945 film, Sibyl wears a fur muff and fur trimmed hat, and Gladys wears a fur-trimmed coat and ermine wrap.
  • Scare Chord: The portrait reveal in the 1945 film.
  • Setting Update: The 1970 film version updates the setting to then-contemporary times. The more open attitudes about homosexuality and premarital sex shift the plot around a little, but it still works.
    • The 2009 film slightly updates the setting too - it begins in 1890, but the story carries on into the First World War.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: During Dorian's murder of Basil Hallward in the 1945 film.
  • Shout-Out: In the 2008 Marvel Comics adaptation by Roy Thomas, when Basil Hallward is talking about Dorian's ruined acquaintances, he mentions "Lord Kent's only son" and a panel depicting Lord Kent gives him small round wire-framed glasses and dark hair with a distinctive spit curl.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: To Basil, in the 2009 movie.
  • Splash of Color: The portrait, and only the portrait, in the 1945 film.
  • 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.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: In the 2009 movie, Dorian sees his painting-looks on a reflecting tray.
  • Twice Told Tale: Will Self's Dorian and Rick Reed's A Face Without A Heart.

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alternative title(s): The Picture Of Dorian Gray; The Picture Of Dorian Gray
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