The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde


Summary / Riassunto

The painter Basil Hallward paints a portrait of Dorian Grey, a handsome young man, an innocent boy unaware both of his beauty and of the world. During a session of painting one friend of Basil’s, the aesthete Lord Henry Wotton, meets Dorian, is impressed by his beauty and youth and suggests him to experience life to the fullest.

Lord Henry’s words and aesthetic theories influence Dorian a lot and open his mind to a world of refined and precious things and sensations. When the portrait is finished, Dorian expresses the wish that all the signs of age manifest themselves on the portrait while he remains young forever.

And it is exactly what happens: the portrait grows older and older, revealing the effects of a life of dissipation and crime, whereas Dorian is always young and charming. As time goes by and he provokes a lot of suffering to many people – for example he is the cause of the suicide of the young actress Sibyl Vain and he even kills Basil, the painter – only the portrait tells the truth that nobody but Dorian knows. In the end, when he himself is disgusted by his irresponsible and immoral behaviour, he stabs the portrait.

In that moment the spell is broken, the portrait regains its former beauty and Dorian falls dead to the ground with a dagger in his heart. The next morning one of his servants finds him with his face “withered, wrinkled and loathsome”.


Must know / Da sapere

  • The picture of Dorian Gray first appeared in instalments on an American magazine in 1890 and was published in England the following year
  • It is the most characteristic work of English aesthetism and its Preface is considered the manifesto of this artistic and cultural movement that became fashionable in the last decade of the 19th century. The father of English aesthetism is Walter Pater. The basic principles of this philosophy are that only individual experience is important and makes judgement possible and that life itself can and perhaps must become a work of art.  As we can read in the Preface, beauty is everything and like art has no moral aim. Art for art’s sake, beauty for beauty, nothing else exists. It is easy to catch a reaction against Victorian Puritanism and its hypocrisies
  • Wilde had a brilliant and successful career, he was admired for his witty conversation and eccentric and elegant manners. But all this came to an end when, in 1895, he was sentenced on a charge of homosexuality and had to spend two years’ hard labour. The society he had so long fascinated refused him and he died alone and poor in Paris in 1900

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