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Literature / The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Dorian Gray's portrait, before and 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, beautiful 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, instills 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.

This story was used as evidence against Wilde and resulted in him being prosecuted for homosexuality and sentenced to two years hard labor.

Wilde's novel has been adapted for film, television, and stage at least two dozen times. One of the most famous adaptations is a 1945 film directed by Albert Lewin that starred George Sanders as Lord Henry, Hurd Hatfield as Dorian, Donna Reed as Basil's niece Gladys (a wholly different character in the film), and 20-year-old Angela Lansbury as Sibyl Vane. The 2009 film Dorian Gray starred Ben Barnes in the title role and Colin Firth as Lord Henry. It has also been adapted by Big Finish as a series of full cast audios titled The Confessions of Dorian Gray with Alexander Vlahos playing the title character, who reprised his role in an adaption of the original novel and a live-action short film.

Tropes in the novel include:

  • Affably Evil: Downplayed with Henry in that he's not evil so much as selfish and irresponsible. But he is a witty and charming man whose decadent influence leads to Dorian's downfall, and he does knowingly pursue Dorian despite Basil's pleas for him not to. Dorian himself eventually becomes more Faux Affably Evil.
  • 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 (to be precise, he elopes with them and then abandons them, which in Victorian England was a social death sentence for women).
  • 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: From Basil to Dorian. Dorian is surprised— and then ignores it as he doesn't want Basil to know about the painting.
  • 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.
    • A straighter example would be Dorian's grandfather Lord Kelso who hired an adventurer to kill his commoner son-in-law.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In Sibyl's plans for James's future (Chapter V).
    He was not to go to the gold-fields at all. They were horrid places, where men got intoxicated, and shot each other in bar-rooms, and used bad language.
  • 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 his advancing age and the effects of his vices on his body if not for the picture. This trope was commonly believed during the Victorian era.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Dorian casually mentions how he wishes the painting would age instead of him. After this actually happens, he's shown indulging in one hedonistic pleasure after another but never being genuinely happy, as he's always terrified someone might find it and not only discover his supernatural secret but all the things he's done that the painting has helped him avoid detection for.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Lord Henry gets lots of humorous lines and turns of phrase, to the point that one character calls him "Prince Paradox." Despite this, his influence over Dorian is deadly serious and sends the young man down a dark path.
  • 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 from opium addiction and probably several STDs, he still feels the pain associated with them.
  • Brainless Beauty: Dorian starts like this. Henry insists in the first chapter that intelligence mars beauty, and Dorian's pretty face indicates that he is a "brainless beautiful creature who should be always here in winter when we have no flowers to look at."
  • Closet Key: From Basil's confusion about his feelings for Dorian, it didn't seem like he had loved men before.
  • The Conscience: Basil for Dorian, being a good man of sufficient social standing to influence Dorian; the portrait as an inanimate version, as it rubs Dorian's face in his ever-worsening morality.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Dorian Gray starts out as an innocent if not outstandingly virtuous Manchild. 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. 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 just because he can. Basil recognizes his mistake 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.
  • Covers Always Lie: Look on Ninety percent of the covers of this book give Dorian hair that is black as night, while he is explicitly described in the book, several times, as being blond.
  • 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 totally by accident; Dorian just makes a general oath about how he'd give his soul to never age like his portrait would, and the Devil was apparently listening.
  • 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.
  • Deathless and Debauched: It's left ambiguous as to whether or not Gray is truly immortal or if his enchanted portrait merely prevents him from showing any outward sign of old age (though many adaptations pick the former). However, he shows a consistent desire for vice, taking on many lovers, wearing sumptuous clothes and jewellery, even developing a hunger for opium towards the end.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Basil. Good person, nice friend, but Dorian seems merely bored by his advice and entirely oblivious to any romantic interest.
  • Double Standard: Dorian leaves a string of socially ruined women (and men) behind him, but is still accepted in society since it wasn't him who was disgraced.
  • Downer Ending: Dorian stabs his painting, but this only ends up killing him, reverting his body to its actual physical condition and restoring his image in the painting to its original beauty.
  • 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: Dorian manages to do this to Sybil Vane, Alan Campbell, a "wretched boy in the Guards", and ultimately himself.
  • Ethical Hedonist: Downplayed. It turns out that while he talks a great deal about losing oneself in idle pleasures, Lord Henry doesn't have the heart (or maybe just the nerve) to really act like the complete Straw Nihilist he talks like. In fact, he's actually rather stodgy and moral by nature (which is, of course, why he's so naive about the effect he has on Dorian— he really doesn't get the depths that people can sink to, let alone his student).
  • Everyone Has Standards: Dorian's grandfather, Lord Kelso, hired an adventurer to challenge his commoner son-in-law to a duel so he could be killed. While the gentry couldn't understand why Dorian's mother chose somebody below her station, even they were appalled by Kelso's cruelty. According to Harry's uncle, "He ate his chop alone in the club for some time".
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: A major theme in the series, in accordance with Victorian society believing this trope. Evil would make Dorian ugly if not for the picture taking the ugliness upon itself; the sight of its gradual transformation is a major factor in Dorian realizing just how far he's fallen.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Dorian starts the novel with a beautifully innocent appearance that matches his naive personality, and thanks to his Soul Jar painting, maintains that look even as he embraces a life of depravity and continually betrays those who love him. Thanks to an in-universe belief that Beauty Equals Goodness, other characters tend to disbelieve all of the terrible (and true) rumors they hear about him.
  • Faint in Shock: Dorian faints at a dinner party that he is hosting after he looks out of the window and sees James Vane, who has threatened to kill him, lurking outside.
  • Fatal Flaw: Dorian's narcissism, Basil's worship of Dorian, Henry's detachment from the world... the list goes on and on. This is Gothic Horror after all.
  • Fictional Painting: The titular portrait is probably one of the most famous examples, and is an example of some other painting/portrait tropes as well:
    • Creepy Changing Painting: It has the unique property of its subject becoming gradually more distorted and grotesque as time goes on, mirroring the real Dorian's own moral decay and displaying the physical decay he would have suffered without it.
    • Phantom-Zone Picture: The painting is a Soul Jar variant.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Excuse: Dorian had a really horrible childhood; his aristocratic mother married a soldier below her social station. Her father hired an adventurer to kill her husband under the pretext of a duel. She then died of a broken heart and Dorian was left with under the care of his cruel and uncaring grandfather.
  • Grande Dame: Every woman in the book besides Sybil, her mother, and Hetty 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.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Played straight with Dorian to begin with, then gradually subverted.
  • Hated by All:
    • Dorian's grandfather Lord Kelso was by all accounts a nasty old goat; even his fellow aristocrats despised him.
    • Dorian is an interesting case; his reputation is infamous, plenty of people hate him, yet he's still able to move around in the best circles.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Lord Henry regularly makes disparaging comments about women. Dorian is shocked by these comments at first but soon begins to absorb some of Henry's beliefs. This culminates in Dorian behaving incredibly cruelly to Sybil and justifying himself that it was no big deal because women enjoy feeling sorry for themselves (something Henry told him). Sybil commits suicide soon after.
  • 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 to redeem himself, expecting that merely saying it to the air would earn him some redemption points. 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 worshiped you too much. I am punished for it. You worshiped 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)
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Henry corrupts every acquaintance of his, except Basil, the most moral character in the novel. Basil himself is aware of Henry's unfortunate habit of doing this, and also makes unsuccessful attempts to intervene when he sees signs that Dorian has been corrupted.
  • The Ingenue: The beautiful and innocent young 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; Dorian considers wasting three hours of his valuable time enough of an injury to him that he cancels his upcoming engagement with Sybil.
    (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."
  • Immortality Promiscuity: The ever-youthful Dorian is said to have "ruined" many women, and is heavily implied to have had male lovers as well.
  • 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, who dies after damaging the source of his vanity after killing his only friend, with Dorian's corpse becoming immediately hideous and the painting reverting back to its pristine state.
  • 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.
  • Lack of Empathy: Dorian, made plain when he spurns Sybil and then a major part of his character. 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.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Dorian's reaction to Sibyl's death is to acknowledge that it sounds like a tragic novel.
    If I had read all this in a book, Harry, I think I would have wept over it.
  • Lemony Narrator: As would be expected from a novel by famous wit Oscar Wilde, the narration is full of cynical observations on Victorian society.
  • Light Is Not Good: Dorian is angelic in appearance, but not so in personality.
  • Lineage Comes from the Father: The reason why Dorian despite being a wealthy gentleman and having a lord for a grandfather has no title; his aristocratic mother married a common soldier, and since women couldn't inherit titles, Dorian is just Mr Gray, a mere gentleman; luckily his mother was also independently wealthy.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Basil likes shutting himself up for months, which is treated as a striking eccentricity.
  • Looks Worth Killing For: Dorian gives his soul up in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Alas, his portrait changes over time to show him his inner decay.
  • Love at First Sight: Basil meets Dorian at a party, and essentially falls in love with him upon their first conversation.
  • Love Martyr: Sybil, Basil, who make the mistake of loving Dorian as he turns into a monster.
  • Lover and Beloved: Lord Henry's and Basil's competition for Dorian's attention and affection could be seen as having shades of this; both are older than him (though both are described as young men at the beginning of the book), and Dorian is described in very childlike terms despite being over twenty at the start of the book. Both Lord Henry and Basil seek to guide Dorian into maturity as well as seeking his romantic favor.
  • Loving a Shadow: Dorian doesn't love Sibyl but the characters she plays.
  • 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 (which isn't helped by him not doing anything to redeem himself), 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 a print example, in that Dorian blames the Author Avatar Lord Henry for corrupting him with his cynical outlook as well as the "Yellow Book" (Joris-Karl Huysmans' Against the Grain) 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. Wilde did however add this passage to defend his own book from accusations of being poisonous.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Dorian has a brief bout of this towards the end of the novel where he considers trying to atone for everything he's done, but by this point it's too late.
  • Noodle Incident: Dorian writes something on a card and shows it to Alan Campbell to blackmail him. We never learn what Dorian wrote. Given Alan's horrified reaction about being ruined, as well as other young men from Dorian's sordid past being described as having been ruined and shunned by society, one can guess that it was related to homosexuality, which in Victorian society was a crime, and would ruin one's life if found out (as indeed Wilde himself was also involved in just such a 'scandal').
  • 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 about two decades (many adaptations make it seem longer). Many readers assume that Dorian receives immortality, but this is never stated. He simply doesn't show the effects of age, and it's not actually impossible to look young into your late thirties; it's more that a hedonistic life of drugs, alcohol, and casual sex is really not conducive to that. We can't be sure if Dorian is immune to death from old age or not as he doesn't live long enough to find out.
  • Our Liches Are Different: Dorian could be considered a sort of lich, under a loose definition of the term, though it's unknown if he actually got immortality or not.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Lord Henry is the tempter of Dorian into uncaring hedonism and a vicious misogynist who loudly talks about how evil and stupid women are on many occasions.
  • 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. He's described as an intoxicatingly, androgynously beautiful and sweet blond young man.
  • 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.
  • Prone to Tears: Basil is not hard to make physically ill from pain, embarrassment or passion.
  • Properly Paranoid: Dorian once James Vane returns.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: The main plot of the story centers on Dorian's fall from innocent carefree youth to a cruel, ruthless hedonist and murderer.
  • Purple Prose: The whole book, arguably, but particularly Chapter 11. It can be summarized as, "He read books, did things, and had lots of pretty stuff." This may have been to show the reader the tediousness of Dorian's hedonism and his consequently jaded attitude. It also serves 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 Wilde's 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.
  • Satanic Archetype: Lord Henry. He is an undoubtedly corrupting influence on Dorian, being the character that is most at fault for Dorian's fall into debauchery. Bonus points for also being present when Dorian states he would give his soul to remain like the painting.
  • 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 Idealism Versus Cynicism: Each philosophy impersonated by the mentor characters.
  • The Sociopath: Dorian Gray, after he sells his soul for eternal youth and rationalizes that hedonism is the only worthy use of his time.
  • Soul Jar: The portrait for Dorian — as long as it's safely intact, he doesn't age and remains immune to the harmful effects of drug use, STIs, etc. When it's destroyed, the subject dies.
  • Stab the Picture: Dorian makes a Deal with the Devil that lets him keep his youthful good looks in defiance of his age and lifestyle of debauchery—in his place, his painted portrait shows the effects of age, drugs, and (probably) several venereal diseases. At the climax, Dorian gets furious at having such a tangible reminder of his own misdeeds, and he stabs the painting with a knife. This is a mistake. Since the picture and Dorian are magically linked, the knife winds up in Dorian's own chest, killing him. This also breaks the original magic, so the painting is restored to its original state, while Dorian becomes so deformed, his own house staff don't recognize him when they find his corpse.
  • Start of Darkness: Dorian being influenced by Henry/becoming vain by Basil's courting.
  • Tears of Joy: Dorian after he discovers that James Vane is dead.
  • 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.
  • Time Skip: There's one spanning about 18 years, occurring after Dorian fully embraces the degenerate lifestyle he becomes addicted to.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Dorian, at the end. He stabs his withered portrait in an attempt to destroy the evidence of his own immorality, but since the portrait is magically linked to his soul, the knife ends up in Dorian's heart, killing him.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Lord Henry to the core, and he's got a long track record of doing this to new acquaintances.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The events of the novel are arguably all Lord Henry's fault, as it's his speech to Dorian about the fleeting nature of youth that leads the lad to make his fatal wish. While Henry does deliberately corrupt Dorian, he doesn't realize exactly how far it's going to lead.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: "Kid" isn't exactly the right term, but before being exposed to Lord Henry's hedonism, Dorian was a noble, kindhearted young gentleman.
  • Vain Sorceress: Dorian is the most famous male one. He desires to be youthful, handsome, rich and beloved forever and (accidentally) uses magic in order to achieve this goal.
  • The Vamp: Dorian is a male example.
  • Villain Protagonist: Dorian doesn't start as one, but...
  • Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: Near the end Dorian expects his picture to change back because he was considerate enough to break up with the last girl that fell for him instead of eloping with her. It doesn't change the portrait at all, and Lord Henry even laughs at the idea that this did the girl any favours: her prospects might not have been ruined, but she still loved Dorian and will suffer for the abandonment.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Basil calls Dorian out for going to the opera less than a day after he got the news of Sybil Vane's death.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Basil, who is naive enough to trust even Henry.
  • 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:

  • Adaptational Badass: In some adaptations, Dorian's unchanging looks come with a Healing Factor that makes him virtually immune to physical damage.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the original novel, Dorian was blond. In most modern adaptations, he's portrayed with black hair.
  • Asshole Victim: Dorian himself suffers this in the Deadpool Killustrated comic book when he's brutally murdered by Deadpool. Even though the Deadpool in that story was a murderous psychopath, it's pretty difficult to feel much sympathy for Dorian, considering all the horrible things he's done.
  • Gender Flip: A 1983 TV movie called The Sins of Dorian Gray made the lead a woman (and yet, still not blonde).
    • The teen horror novel Mirror, Mirror does the same thing. (she isn't blonde either)
  • Immortality Inducer: Some adaptations make Dorian immortal, possibly due to the common interpretation that Dorian is immortal in the original story. While Dorian does not show signs of aging, the text never overtly states that he's actually immortal, and notes that despite his youthful appearance, he still feels the ravages of age, as well as the damage his lifestyle incurs.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: The teen horror novel Mirror, Mirror replaces the portrait with a mirror in which the protagonist's reflection grows uglier in line with her personality.
  • 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.
    • Will Self's screenplay-turned-novel Dorian updates the setting to early 80s London art scene and introduces a Tragic AIDS Story subplot as well as drawing parallels between Dorian and Princess Diana.
    • The teen horror novel Mirror, Mirror sets it in a modern day (1992) high school.
    • Rick Reed's A Face Without A Heart updates the setting to early 2000s America (the picture is now a hologram), changes the characters' names (and makes Henry "Henrietta", a drag performer), and is more explicit about the gay sex and drug usage
    • A semi-staged version was released online in March 2021, set in the present day. In this version, Dorian's online presence remains young and beautiful while his face ages and corrupts. It's set during the Covid pandemic, and he stars wearing a mask in public for health reasons, but is soon wearing one to hide his face.
  • 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.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Dorian often becomes this in adaptations instead of blond-haired as he was in the novel, partly because of changing beauty standards.