Sunday, August 04, 2013

Faustian Bargain

The Picture of 
Dorian Gray 

“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”  ― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered a work of classic Gothic fiction with a strong Faustian theme. It is also a classic example of the Victorian novel and one of those books that can effect the reader in a powerful and unique way. The idea of selling your soul to the devil, like Faust as related by Marlowe, Goethe and others is an image that intrigues the modern reader. But there is in Wilde's version of this story a focus on the purity of innocence (as seen in the passage quoted above) that is lost as one lives a life, whether filled with licentiousness or mere everyday experience.

The Picture of Dorian GrayThe plot narrates the story of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Wilde gives the story his own imprimatur with the artistic twist and thus adds to the evidence of his genius that includes the drama, stories, poetry and criticism that he created.

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