Some links to ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and Oscar Wilde

I have been set the task to identify some ideas/themes;

  • dandy-ism
  • William Morris
  • the aesthetic movement

and then to talk about how each of these have some sort of link or connection with the novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ or possibly the writer himself, Oscar Wilde. Here is some research and ideas I have come up with..


When a man is said to be a ‘dandy’, it means he has excessive concern with elegance of their dress and manners. Historically, especially in late 18th- and early 19th-century Britain, a dandy, who was self-made, often strove to imitate an aristocratic lifestyle despite coming from a middle-class background.

So how does this link to writer, Oscar Wilde?

Well, Oscar Wilde included the use of dandy characters within his writing. In Wilde’s works, the dandy is a witty, overdressed, self-styled philosopher who speaks in epigrams and paradoxes and ridicules the cant and hypocrisy of society’s moral arbiters. To a very large extent, this figure was a self-portrait, a stand-in for Wilde himself.

Oscar: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” 

Mary Jane: “Oh, Oscar, you’re SUCH a dandy!”

The dandy isn’t always a comic figure in Wilde’s work. In novels ‘A Woman of No Importance’ and ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, he takes the form of the villains Lord Illingworth and Lord Henry Wootton, respectively. But in works such as ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, ‘An Ideal Husband’and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, Wilde seems to be evolving a more positive and clearly defined moral position on the figure of the dandy. The dandy pretends to be all about surface, which makes him seem trivial, shallow, and ineffectual.

Dorian Gray is the protagonist of Wilde’s novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, and he is seen as the typical dandy,

 who thinks man should live his life in full, realizing his wishes and his dreams; if one checks one’s impulses, life is marred because every repressed impulse and all self-denial remain in one’s mind and poisons it. Dorian believes youth is synonymous with beauty and happiness.

Here are some other examples of a ‘dandy’ character which I found interesting during my research;

  • Jay Gatsby – ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Patrick Bateman – ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis
  • Lucius Malfoy – from the ‘Harry Potter’ series by J. K Rowling
  • Willy Wonka – ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ by Roald Dahl



William Morris

William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and libertarian Marxist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and English Arts and Crafts Movement. As an author, illustrator and medievalist, he helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, and was a direct influence on postwar authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien. Morris wrote and published poetry, fiction, and translations of ancient and medieval texts throughout his life. His best-known works include ‘The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems’, ‘The Earthly Paradise’  and the fantasy romance ‘The Well at the World’s End’. He was an important figure in the emergence of socialism in Britain, founding the Socialist League in 1884, but breaking with that organization over goals and methods by the end of the decade.

William Morris age 53.jpg

The Aesthetic Movement

Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of art, beauty, and taste, with the creation and appreciation of beauty. The aesthetic movement is an art movement supporting the emphasis of these values more than social-political themes for literature, fine art, music and other arts. The artists and writers of Aesthetic style tended to profess that the Arts should provide refined sensuous pleasure, rather than convey moral or sentimental messages.

The Aesthetic Movement believed that art in its various forms should not seek to convey a moral, sentimental or educational message but should give sensual pleasure. Their aim was “to exist beautifully”: Art for Art’s sake. It ran from about 1860 to 1900.

In Britain, Oscar Wilde is famous as one of the best representatives of the aesthetes. He believes that art represents nothing but itself, and that art has its own life just as thoughts do. ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is often read as an explicit proclamation of the worthiness of living life in accordance with aesthetic values. This is due in part to the flourishing Aesthetic Movement of Victorian England at the time of the novel’s publication, as well as Oscar Wilde’s association with the movement itself. The Aesthetic Movement, which coincided with the Industrial Revolution at the end of the nineteenth century, emphasized the artistic aspect of a man’s work in producing a variety of goods, from furniture to machines to literature. Oscar Wilde, however, proposed that the principles of the Aesthetic Movement extend beyond the production of mere commodities.

In his exposition of aestheticism, Wilde applies the philosophy in a more universal sense, stressing the positive influences of aestheticism in one’s life beyond the craftsmanship. Just as the machines that produce materials with the intervention of human thought are labelled “evil,” Wilde similarly condemns men who act as metaphorical machines, programmed to behave in accordance with society’s ideas of decency rather than allowing themselves to act freely and achieve the greatest amount of happiness. Wilde’s expressive advocacy of an aesthetic lifestyle is paralleled in his depiction of Lord Henry in the novel. Lord Henry lectured to the impressionable Dorian,

“We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us. . . . Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden itself”

Wilde, through Lord Henry, laments the stifling nature of his contemporary Victorian society and how the supposed morality it boasts necessitates self-denial and rejection of life’s most beautiful aspects.


– I hope some of this information has been of some use to your further understanding of Oscar Wilde and his views and ideas at the time whilst writing ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ –

Thanks for reading 





One thought on “Some links to ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and Oscar Wilde

  1. Pingback: Oscar Wilde abandoned journalism and hated fashion – so why is his essay “The Philosophy of Dress” so important? | pundit from another planet

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