In the preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Oscar Wilde argues that “all art is quite useless” and the only thing art is good for is its beauty. The Picture of Dorian Gray, however, is a work of literary art that is the opposite of useless; it serves as a critique of the hypocrisy of Victorian society. Strict legislative and cultural moral reforms at the time of the novel’s publication caused upper class Victorians to separate their private and public lives so that they could outwardly reflect society’s image of moral behavior while they really acted “immorally” behind closed doors. Wilde mocks his society’s dual morality in his novel, most notably through the increasingly hideous image of Dorian in a painting that reflects the title character’s immoral actions. The painting itself, an ugly but useful work of art, contradicts Wilde’s claim in his preface. By including the symbol of the painting of Dorian,Wilde insists that art can be two contradictory things at once, both paralleling Victorian duality and creating an aesthetic paradox within the novel. Wilde criticizes Victorian hypocrisy at the same time that he addresses its complexity in the context of both The Picture of Dorian Gray and Victorian society.
Student Author Biography
Chelsea Kidd is a second-year senior studying English and philosophy at Florida Southern College.
Kidd, Chelsea E.
"The Uselessness of Art: Critique and Contradiction in The Picture of Dorian Gray,"
Papers & Publications: Interdisciplinary Journal of Undergraduate Research: Vol. 6
, Article 16.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu/papersandpubs/vol6/iss1/16
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