The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
1. What features of this novel do you think may have offended some of its English reviewers?
2. What are some connotations of the novel's title?
3. What are some of the values and principles expressed in the preface? Which principles seem indebted to similar to statements in Pater's Renaissance? Which claims seem Wilde's own?
4. What does it mean to say, "No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style"?
5. Would the Rossettis have agreed? Walter Pater? Is The Picture of Dorian Gray without ethical sympathies?
6. How does Wilde change Pater's dictum, "All arts aspire to the condition of music?" in his "the type of all arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type"?
7. How do his views of art seem to resemble/differ from those of Morris, as expressed in the latter's essays?
8. Chapter 1: What effect is created by the artistic setting of the opening scene?
9. What are some connotations, if any, of Basil Hallward's name? What is significant about Basil Hallward's past? His relationship to his own painting?
10. What are some aspects of Wilde's form of humor?
11. Which themes central to the book are introduced in the first chapter? [e. g., the figure of Narcissus (9), the notion that the exceptional suffer (9), the tension between intellect and beauty (9), the notion of deception (10), the autobiographical nature of art (10), disdain for bourgeois occupations (11, the stockbroker) and the superficiality of high society (12), importance of secrecy to maintain life's excitement (9-10)]
12. From what social class do the characters of this novel come? How does this affect our view of them and their problems?
13. What is notable about the account of Basil's first encounter with Dorian? (11) How does Basil describe their relationship and Dorian's effect on his art? (14, represents "harmony of soul and body," the Greek ideal according to Pater and Winkelmann)
14. How is flower imagery used throughout the scene? (e. g., Lord Henry pulls "the daisy to bits with his long, nervous fingers") What symbolism is associated with a scene of temptation in a garden?
15. How is Lord Henry portrayed? What is his relationship to his family? (13) What principles does he profess? To what extent do his views resemble those of Walter Pater, as expressed in the "Conclusion" to The Renaissance? What is indicated by his response to Lord Goodbody and his charities? (16)
16. What does Lord Henry suggest may be the end of Basil and Dorian's relationship? (16) Will his prophecy come true?
17. Chapter 2: What themes are suggested when Lord Henry meets Dorian Gray? (the serpent in the garden, tempter) How does the characterization of Lord Henry vary the familiar Victorian plot motif of mentor-tutee?
18. What do you think of the claim that Dorian is a naturally innocent, lovely person? What seem to be his initial impulses? Is he thoughtful?
19. What are some of the claims made by Lord Henry? --the aim of life self-development of the passions (19-20); need to resist social repression, to succumb to temptation (20).
20. What is the effect of his words? (21, suggestiveness of music and speech in revealing what had lain within, memories of things in his boyhood he had not previously understood (21)
21. What does Lord Henry believe is the relationship between the soul and the senses? (22, "Nothing can cure the soul but the senses")
22. What do we know of Lord Henry's appearance? (olive-colored face, worn expression, low, languid voice) Could any of these descriptors be symbolic?
23. In what context does Lord Henry speak to Dorian of the decay of beauty and of his own decay? What does he advocate doing with the time one has? ("a new Hedonism--that is what our century wants," 23)
24. How is the natural imagery of the garden used to reinforce the scene's meaning? (24)
25. Does Dorian have a sense of foreboding in his new choices? (24)
26. What do you make of the fact that Basil signs his name to the picture in vermillion? (25)
27. What effect does the picture have on Dorian? (25, 27, he is stirred by love of his own image, feels jealousy 26) What does he wish? Why do you think the wish is granted? (would give his soul for agelessness)
What prompts Basil to wish to destroy the portrait? What prevents him? (Dorian, 27) How would the story have changed if Basil had completed his intention? (27)
28. What is the symbolism of the departure of Dorian and Lord Henry to the theatre, leaving Basil behind? (seek performance, not reality)
29. Chapter 3 (beginning of section added in second edition): What does Lord Henry learn about Basil's background from his visit with his uncle? Does Lord Henry feel pleasure in the exercise of his influence (33)?
30. What views are exchanged on Americans, Chicago, marriage to heiresses, etc., in his conversation with his uncle and later at lunch with his Aunt Agatha? (32, 35-36)
31. What is the tone of conversation at lunch? What remarks does Lord Henry make on philanthropy and pleasure? (37-38, cannot sympathize with suffering, 36)
32. What remarks are made on the state of recent English literature? ("Of all people in the world the English have the least sense of the beauty of literature," 38)
33. Chapter 4: What is indicated about Lord Henry's social position and tastes by the furniture of his house? (39) What seems his relationship to his wife? (40) How is she described? (insincere, with shrill voice) Is her name significant? (Victoria)
34. What are Lord Henry's views on marriage? (41) On women? (42) To what extent would his audience have accepted or resisted these views?
35. Are women generally presented in a favorable light in this novel? Since Wilde was the editor of Women's World and generally favorable to the emancipation of women, to what do you attribute his views?
36. Under what circumstances does Dorian encounter Sibyl Vane? What is the effect on the reader of the fact that he recounts his emotions to Lord Henry? (46)
37. What is the nature of Dorian's attraction to her? (loves her as an actress, 48, motif of life vs. work, 49, premature adoration, 50, sense of merging of body and spirit) What are connotations of her name? (contradiction--"sibyl" is wise; "vane" is empty or changeable)
38. What do you make of the emphasis on the fact that her manager is Jewish? Is Wilde exhibiting anti-semitism? Attempting to show the danger of her surroundings?
39. What metaphors are used to describe Lord Henry's interest in the mind and personality of Dorian? (49, scientific curiosity about the maladies of emotion)
40. Chapter 5: What is Sibyl's attitude toward her romance with Dorian? (51) How does the mother interpret their relationship?
41. What do we learn further about the Vane family--patron, mother and Jim? What is the significance of their names? Is it important that Jim is the family member who hates the stage?
42. What is ominous about the scenes which occur before Jim leaves for Australia? (57, foreshadowing in his threat)
43. Is his behavior melodramatic? How does it affect the novel that most of the Vane plot is presented in melodramatic terms?
44. What question does Jim ask their mother, and what is significant about her response? (57, she hadn't married their father, but she herself lacked the protection of a mother) Is James correct that she is not a fit guardian?
45. What seems the nature and basis of Sibyl's love? (idealizes without knowledge)
46. How does this family conflate art and life? (repeated motif of error of confounding art and life)
47. Chapter 6: How does Lord Henry react to Dorian's engagement? (60-61, notes that it was Sibyl who first mentioned marriage) What form does Dorian's romantic attraction to Sibyl take? (62, sees her as artist, out of Shakespeare)
48. How is Dorian's relationship with Sibyl mediated for the reader? (through his account to Lord Henry, 62-63)
What is Basil's inner response to Dorian's engagement? (unhappy, 65)
Chapter 7: What reason is given for the fact that Sibyl acts poorly after meeting Dorian? (has moved from art to life, has seen falsity of stage) What grounds do his friends offer for consolation? (68)
49. What happens in the final scene between Dorian and Sibyl? What do we learn about his character? (71, "You have disappointed me," severs relationship and leaves the prostrate Sibyl)
50. How does this episode use/reflect on the conventions of melodrama? Does this alter our sympathies for the protagonists?
Within the assumptions of the novel, how does the author imply that Dorian should have behaved?
51. How is the portrait altered by this event? (72, a touch of cruelty in the mouth) What motivates Dorian's reaction to the changed portrait? (vows to reform and rejoin Sibyl) Is he sincere?
52. Chapter 8: What is the symbolism of Dorian's placing a screen in front of the picture? Of his writing to Sibyl? (76, literary gesture)
53. Is it appropriate that Dorian learn the news of Sibyl's death from Lord Henry? (78) What is his first response? (79, feels she was selfish to kill herself!) Why cannot he feel her death deeply? (80)
54. On what grounds does Lord Henry console him? (life itself is vulgar, she had died for beauty of idea, 81-82, the episode had been a marvellous experience of corruption!) Is the reader expected to be convinced?
What way does he believe he might yet alter his fate? (84, fails to rescind his wish that the portrait might change instead of him)
By the time he speaks to Basil, what attitude toward the event has Dorian taken?
55. How does Dorian respond to changes in his portrait? (84, feels fascination, is relieved that he himself is safe) What do these responses reveal about this character?
56. Does this book remind you of any of the themes, settings or episodes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? What are some differences?
57. Chapter 9: What function does Basil seem to serve in the novel? With whom is he repeatedly juxtaposed? Does this pairing remind you of any literary antecedents?
58. What is Basil's response to the news of Sibyl's death? (84-85) To the thought of death itself?
What does Dorian report has been his reaction to the suicide? (has gone to the Opera, claims his goal in life is to "become the spectator of one's own life" (87).
Over what issue do he and Dorian dispute? (Dorian wants the picture concealed; Basil wants to exhibit it, 88) How have the respective positions of model and painter come to be reversed?
59. What is shown by the fact that Dorian falls into a rage of possessiveness and fear at the thought of anyone beside himself viewing the picture? Is this consistent with the narcissism he has heretofore shown?
60. What is less than reciprocal about the "confessions" made by the two men to each other? To what does Basil confess, and what does Dorian conceal? (Basil confesses his obsession with Dorian, 89-90, unaware of the effect of his having painted his subject's actual soul, 90; Dorian remarks that the portrait has a life of its own, 91)
61. Chapter 10: What steps does Dorian take to distance himself from the portrait? What symbolism is associated with the cloth which covers it and with the cobwebbed attic? (92, cloth may have been used to cover caskets, room has been neglected since his lonely youth)
62. What is Dorian's reaction to the notion that he will become degenerate? Why doesn't he try to avert this fate? (92-93, feels future is inevitable, sense of determinism) Within the framework of the book, to what extent is he culpable in not doing so?
63. Are there echoes of Pater's Renaissance in Dorian's recognition of Basil's love for him? (Winkelmann and Michael Angelo, 93) To what extent would Pater have disapproved of these reflections?
64. What is revealed by Dorian's fear of his own servants? (93) Who carries the picture upstairs for him? Why wasn't he willing to carry it himself? What seems odd about the picture? (unusually heavy, 94)
65. What memories does Dorian have of his grandfather and the attic room? (95, grandfather had hated him) What symbolism might there be in this response?
66. What does Dorian fear in addition to sin? (aging, corruption of body, 95) What is symbolized by the fact that he locks the attic door? (95) What is significant about the fact that he reads a yellow-covered book? (A Rebours, 96)
67. What are Dorian's concerns when he reads of the inquest in Sibyl's death? (he is only concerned over whether he may be discovered)
68. Which suggestions of the yellow-covered book seem to echo ideas of Walter Pater, especially in The Renaissance? Is it significant that for the first time he fails to meet Lord Henry on time? (perhaps he has passed beyond his "mentor")
69. Chapter 11: What is significant about the fact that Dorian imbibes evil from a book, even more than from a human being?
70. What change occurs in Dorian's lifestyle? What kinds of debaucheries and scandals seem to be hinted at? (99, 100, frequents docks) What do you make of the fact that he is given to mysterious absences?
71. What characterizes his behavior in polite society? What ideas does he allegedly wish to promote? (doctrine of spirituality of senses, a new hedonism, 101--this suggests Walter Pater's Marius the Epicurean)
72. What has changed in his relationship with the portrait? (gazes on it with a mirror, fascinated by his own corruption, 99)
73. What do we learn about the nature of Dorian's reveries? (102ff., tries on various modes of thought and experience, cmp. Pater's "Mona Lisa"; seeks to escape his own past)
What is his approach to religion? (sensuous and ritualistic, 103)
74. What tastes does he cultivate? (enjoys the primitive, 104, studies jewels, 105, collects textiles, 108, especially ecclesiastical vestments, 108, and objects connected with church services)
75. Are these distractions successful? What emotion haunts Dorian? (fear, 109)
76. What do we learn of his continuing relationship with Lord Henry? (shares a villa with him, 109, keeps a home in Algiers, 110) Why does he cease these travels? (wishes to remain near picture)
77. What gradually alters in Dorian's lifestyle and reputation? (begins to be distrusted, 110, former intimates shun him, 110-111)
78. What views does Dorian express about the nature of society? (requires a form of ceremony, analogous to that in art, 111) What is his view of human personality? (no fixed center, 111) How may his views be affected by his desires?
79. With what aspects of the past does Dorian identify? (his mother, 113, his ancestors and figures of literature, 113; no mention or attempt to recover his father)
What beliefs about the nature of evil does he (conveniently) come to hold? ("a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful," 115)
Chapter 12: 80. What is revealed by Dorian's relations with/attitude toward his servants and tradespeople? What happens to his butler/personal assistant? (has fired him, 116)
81. What scene precipitates Dorian's murder of Basil Hallward? (Basil tries to warn Dorian, refers to rumors and accusations against him, pleads for him to live a good life, 116-119) How are his warnings symbolic?
Of what sins is Dorian accused? What are his motives is offering/agreeing to show the portrait to Basil?
Chapter 13: 82. What final plea by Basil is interrupted by the murder? (pleads for him to pray, 122)
How is the murder described? What is especially culpable about Dorian's response? (124-25, no remorse or pity, only wants to protect self, entirely clinical response)
For whom does he send?
Chapter 14: 83. What are some of Dorian's immediate responses to the murder? (concerned with his appearance, 126; reads poem by Gautier about the hand of a murderer, appreciating its exquisiteness, not its horrible content, 127)
What emotions overtake Dorian at this point? (terror, 128)
Who was Alan Campbell, and what has been their relationship? (128-129) What is his response when asked to remove the body? (132)
What is noticeable in Dorian's attitude toward his comission of blackmail? (feels "pity" for his victims)
What change occurs in the portrait after the murder? (drips blood, 134)
84. Are any assumptions about science latent in the representation of Alan Campbell's removal of the body? Can you think of other nineteenth-century texts with similar plots? (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Frankenstein)
Chapter 15: What seems the purpose of inserting an account of a dinner party at this point? What seems Dorian's mood? (fearful, tells lie to give himself a false alibi, 140, leaves abruptly)
After burning Basil's clothes and briefcase, what does he feel the need to do? (takes opium paste from a cabinet,141)
What do we learn from the fact that the driver doesn't want to take him to his destination? (142)
Chapter 16: 85. What is revealed about his life in the scene in which Dorian visits the opium den? What familiar persons does he meet there?
86. By what piece of information does James Vane come to recognize his desired victim? What incident/misrepresentation ironically diverts James from his intention of murder? (Dorian points out that he is too young in appearance to have been his sister's former lover)
Chapter 17: Where does James pursue Dorian? What level of conversation flourishes at the party? What happens to Dorian, and what does this reaction seem to indicate? (he faints after seeing James Vane peering in at him, 153)
Chapter 18: What are Dorian's emotional responses as he recuperates? (cries, regrets murder, 153)
By what ironic sequence of events is James Vane prevented from killing Dorian? (hunting party accidentally shoots him, 154)
What is added by the episode in which Dorian and his friends accidentally kill James Vane? What is revealing about Dorian's response to the killing? That of the other hunters?
87. Why is another party scene introduced toward the end of the novel, and how does this one contrast with the earlier one? How have Dorian's own roles changed?
What reason does Lord Henry give for their stopping the hunt? (wouldn't look good to continue after shooting someone, 155) What is his reaction to the death? (it was the victim's fault) Dorian's? (feels it is an omen, 155)
88. What is indicated by Dorian's continued faintness and expression of fears? What response does Lord Henry give, and what does this indicate? (states that the only thing they have to fear is ennui, 155; unable to grasp darker aspects of Dorian's life, "You have everything in the world that a man can want.")
What flaw in himself does Dorian confess to Lord Henry? (too much concentrated on self, cannot love, 156)
How does Dorian respond to the news of Vane's death? (weeps tears of joy, 159)
Chapter 19: What is the significance of Lord Henry's response to the discussion of the possible murder of Basil?
89. On what grounds does he assert his belief in Dorian's innocence? How have the two men changed roles?
90. What has happened recently in Lord Henry's private life? (his divorce) What views on women does he continue to express? (dislikes cleverness, 166)
91. What are Lord Henry's opinions on the topic of murder? Are these unprejudiced?
92. Can it be argued that he refuses knowledge or responsibility for the results of his own tutelage, or alternately, that Dorian has become far more evil than he?
93. How would the symbolism of the ending have been different had Vane been successful in killing Dorian?
What biblical quotation does Lord Henry evoke? (164, "What shall it profit a man. . . . ")
Chapter 20: 94. What is the significance of Dorian's smashing of his mirror? (167)
95. What symbolism is embedded in the final scene in which he attacks the picture? What are some of the ironies it captures?
96. To what extent does this outcome form an effective closure to the themes raised in the book?
97. What does the book seem to convey about the nature of personality? Of art and aesthetic value? Do you think the divide between dull morality and corrupting art has been removed?
98. What does The Picture of Dorian Gray seem to indicate about the relationship between morality and aesthetics? Between art and life?
99. To what extent do its homoerotic meanings alter/inflect the significance of the novel? For example, is this a work which celebrates bisexuality? Warns against it? Laments its inevitability?
100. What do you think of the representation of women in the novel? If they are generally presented as unpleasant or marginal, to what do you ascribe this?
If you have read some of Wilde's plays, what common themes do you see? How are they treated differently? (e. g. adultery, secrecy, marriage, lost origins)
Should this relatively short novel have been longer, or is it improved by economy of treatment?
Would you say this book is a novel? A romance? A fable or allegory? A blend of these? What helps reinforce or compensate for the relative lack of dramatic action in the plot?
Does it bear resemblances with the Faust legend, and in particular, with Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus?
Does this novel resemble other works by Wilde you have read, such as "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" or "The Soul of Man Under Socialism"?
Oscar Wilde, Salome
Do you find a dual attitude towards corruption in this play?
The fact that it is presented as corrupt implies at least a partial moral judgment. But to the extent that evil is real, it is both enjoyed and condemned, with each of these responses intensifying the other.
Sin is not permitted to live, after all; Salome is murdered for her grotesque act.
On the other hand, maybe death is life’s true pleasure--or perhaps it doesn’t matter too much one way or another.
Are there resemblances between Salome and Jokannen? What is their relationship to each other?
Both Salome and Jokannen are preoccupied with sin, death, and decay. They need each other--he needs someone to condemn, she someone to love/hate. In a sense this is the perfect relationship--each causes the other’s death.
What is the play’s attitude toward “evil”?
In another sense, evil is trivialized and rendered unreal (seen as a matter of form not substance). Wilde here never has the courage of his sin or of his repentance--sin seems unreal but interesting.
Where is the author/chorus? Is the absence of a clear judgmental voice significant?
The narrator/pageant as a whole offers no final evaluaion. What has happened to the Romantic/Victorian perceiving persona? To where has it retreated? Does it still exist behind the mask? Where in this work can one find the anlaytical, emotive, preceiving and subjective consciousness?
What forms of interpretation are most useful in approaching this play? (psychological criticism, reader and audience response?)
What interpretations are offered by the accompanying illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley? Might other illustrations have prompted a different response? What is emphasized in Beardsley’s illustrations? (the naughtiness of rebellion; the perceived hypocrisy and/or grotesqueness of women and heterosexual relations)
Pagination is from the Norton Critical Edition.