Dorian Gray: Discussion topics?

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Dorian Gray: Discussion topics?

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feb 6, 2014, 12:42 pm

Similar to how we did things for The Circle, I thought I'd throw out a thread here for discussion topic suggestions. Staff will pick 5 or so to kick things off on Monday!

feb 6, 2014, 12:58 pm

Time to fling ourselves onto sofas and choose meaningful topics. (or quite meaningless ones, of course)

Redigerat: feb 6, 2014, 3:28 pm

I'm interested in Lord Henry's platonic seduction of Dorian, whom he penetrates with his philosophy. I don't recall much about Plato's Symposium and less about any commentary I had read about it in the past (I got some new books; I should get to them by and by), and, as an ordinary (not-a-literary-professional) reader, I'm incapable of framing this in a proper academic fashion. But, do hit me with your literary and queer theories, o people who know better!

I was reminded of this theme recently reading Stefan Zweig's novella about a student who hero-worships a teacher who is secretly homosexual (Verwirrung der Gefühle; transl. Confusion). One detail in particular reminded me of Lord Henry and Dorian: the moment when the student feels "possessed" by the professor's voice, when it "goes through him" and seizes his "entire body" (I'm quoting from memory, not the English translation). (That words, or at least, the Word, can seduce, fertlise and beget, we know e.g. from Mary, who in some traditions is inseminated through the ear.)

How do ideas work on the body, how close is intellectual attraction to physical conquest, does one teach and learn better with the involvement of eros, does that last question have any meaning? Isn't all adherence, all inclining-to, all sympathy, all wanting, all striving erotic in essence?

Are sexy people better teachers? Is teaching sexy?


All I need is a title...

feb 6, 2014, 4:56 pm

Is it too late for me to change my vote to Frankenstein?

feb 6, 2014, 6:06 pm

>4 cpg: Technically, no. I think you can actually still change your vote, if you want. Unfortunately, The Picture of Dorian Gray won by a pretty sizable margin...

feb 6, 2014, 6:44 pm


He's not interested in changing his vote, he's merely making a passive-aggressive dig at my suggestion. I blame you LT guys and your crazy Nazi rules--making everyone participate in every discussion and every thread under the penalty of death & worse, at the cost of untold grief & anguish. Oh, wait. No, those are NOT the rules, are they?

How odd, then.


This is not the first time I notice you snarking in my direction, stranger. I don't think I bothered to react ever before, but I'm in an expansive, responsive mood today. So, here's the deal: I don't know you from Adam (nor care to), so I cordially invite you to ignore me and red-ex any thread you see me starting. Indeed, it's good advice to apply to any thread where the conversation is not to your liking!

In any case, throw more bitchiness my way and expect it thrown back at you. I hope this will be unnecessary.

feb 6, 2014, 8:11 pm

>5 lorannen:

I was able to knock 5% off the margin with my vote. Now to find 20 other like-minded persons and a time machine.

feb 6, 2014, 8:46 pm

Is it too late for me to change my vote to Frankenstein?

Aside from any possible interactions or history between LolaWalser and cpg, and taken at face value, I thought this was pretty funny. I finished reading DG today and was wondering the same thing.

While I can't say I loved the book, I do think the discussions could be very interesting, so I'm just kidding about changing my vote.

feb 6, 2014, 9:02 pm

Wilde would be amused at the vapours his aesthetic manifesto elicits even today.

feb 6, 2014, 9:52 pm

Does Wilde see Dorian as a failed hero? That is, someone who was on the right track but who let the greater society's opinions (through his conscience) derail him?

feb 7, 2014, 6:47 am

Rösta: I never got tired of Lord Henry's wit.

Nuvarande ställning: Ja 4, Nej 10, Tvekar 2

feb 7, 2014, 6:51 am

Rösta: Wilde's extensive verbatim copying from specialty works on gemstones, tapestries, etc., in Chapter 11 was a stroke of artistic genius.

Nuvarande ställning: Ja 0, Nej 12, Tvekar 2

feb 7, 2014, 6:52 am

Rösta: Compared to Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot, Oscar Wilde was a master of the English language.

Nuvarande ställning: Ja 5, Nej 8, Tvekar 1

feb 7, 2014, 6:54 am

Rösta: The plot of Dorian Gray was far superior to that of a typical episode of The Twilight Zone.

Nuvarande ställning: Ja 9, Nej 3, Tvekar 2

feb 7, 2014, 10:02 am

I'm pretty much in lurk mode here, but, as far as I know, "Dorian Gray" was the only novel Wilde wrote.

I wonder if a thread about how well the novel stands up against some of his better known plays or short stories would be of interest.

I'm also interested in Wilde's "moral vision" (maybe someone has a better term) in "Dorian Gray," especially as it compares to some of his fairy tales, such as "The Selfish Giant," "The Happy Prince," etc.

feb 7, 2014, 1:23 pm

>15 nohrt4me2: You're absolutely right. This was Wilde's only novel. Like the discussion idea (especially as a fan of The Importance of Being Earnest).

feb 7, 2014, 2:52 pm

I may well just follow this discussion, since I read DG a whole lot of many years ago, I think about 30. I read it to compare it to the black and white movie, don't remember the stars but still remember parts of the movie. There are too many books in my TBR pile to reread what was an interesting book.

feb 7, 2014, 3:38 pm

The inimitable George Sanders was Lord Henry. Angela Lansbury was also featured.

Redigerat: feb 7, 2014, 4:25 pm

Det här meddelandet har tagits bort av dess författare.

feb 7, 2014, 5:38 pm

#17, 18

I like the movie on its own merits, but it resembles the book only superficially. It was brave of Lewin to even propose filming on such a notorious book, though. Brave of Hatfield to accept the titular role, too.

One favourite detail is a prominent prop in Dorian's house: the sumptuous edition of Malory's Le morte d'Arthur illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator of Wilde's Salomé and other Decadent masterpieces as well).


I wonder if a thread about how well the novel stands up against some of his better known plays or short stories would be of interest.

It's the same voice in Dorian and in the plays, with the exception of Salomé. The short stories had a different intended audience, the aphoristic fireworks are absent, but the glorious language is there (as it couldn't help being in anything Wilde wrote). Oddly enough, his tragic note intensifies in the stories. He wrote comedy for the grown-ups and tragedy for children.

How well does Wilde stand up to himself, or anyone else? He's a fixed star. Brilliant forever, shining with--you guessed it--"a hard, gem-like flame".

feb 7, 2014, 11:57 pm

>3 LolaWalser:
Interesting. There IS something seductive to an adolescent about an magnetic adult's attraction. Why do so many young women fall for older men? Why wouldn't young men be equally suggestible?

I'm fairly certain my kindle version for $0.00 was not the uncensored version. Are we SURE Lord Henry's seduction of Dorian was platonic?

feb 8, 2014, 11:24 am


Good question--I think no, we can't be sure. For example, Lord Henry and Dorian shared a villa in France after Dorian embarked on his life of debauchery. Would these two inveterate rakes and pleasure seekers choose to observe conventional morality in precisely such a situation, of all times and places? The French villa, just like the house in Algiers (famously a destination for homosexual tourists, then as now), is much more likely to serve as a stage for orgies than simple country vacations.

feb 8, 2014, 11:30 am

Here's what the general editor of the Oxford edition of the Collected Works of Oscar Wilde has to say about Wilde's talent:

"What . . . emerges . . . is the incontrovertible if uncomfortable fact that Wilde was a writer who did not have an abundance of either intellectual resources or material. There is little sense of that fecund creativity which we associate with the work of Dickens and Balzac. Equally significantly, it appears that Wilde's creative imagination worked best in what was a fairly narrow area, that of the aphorism or polished one-liner. These conclusions may seem to justify some of the judgements of Wilde made by his contemporaries and by critics in the first half of the twentieth century, that he was a writer of relatively slender talents, whose work was derivative, and who would not stand the test of time. "

He does then go on to praise Wilde as "the most quotable and consistently entertaining writer of the last century". Are his one-liners really funnier than, say, Jack Handey's? I guess there really is no accounting for taste.

Redigerat: feb 8, 2014, 12:30 pm

Oh, well, the Oxford edition's general editor has spoken!

If Wilde hasn't stood the test of time, why are we still reading him? Why is "The Importance of Being Earnest" still in the repertoires of so many theater companies?

Everything the good editor has leveled at Wilde has also been leveled at Shakespeare at one time or another, particularly the bit about creativity and being derivative. Want something wildly creative, read Philip K. Dick.

I'm not ready to put Oscar on a pedestal next to Shakespeare, but in re-reading The Canterville Ghost I can think of very few writers who so deftly moved from satire to pathos and back again. Twain was one (see Huckleberry Finn).

In my view, Wilde was a master of tone. I don't think "Dorian Gray" is his best work, and it probably isn't an accident that he didn't resort to the novel again. He was a very middling poet. But his short stories and dramas, I think, are little gems, and usually revolve around secret sins, penitence, and redemption.

Many contemporaries, of course, said his greatest art was his conversation.

If Oscar's life and literary reputation are going to bleed heavily into the discussion of the novel, it might behoove folks to refer to Richard Ellmann's excellent biography, "Oscar Wilde," 1988.

(edited for typos)

feb 8, 2014, 1:08 pm

Touchstone fairy: Oscar Wilde.

feb 8, 2014, 1:08 pm


I don't think "Dorian Gray" is his best work

Maybe not--whatever that means. One could discuss interminably what is "best", what is being compared etc. But it is certainly Wilde's most important work, and one of the most important works of the century.

Constrained as Wilde was by the necessity to observe conventions, he managed to express here, as he did nowhere else, not only important aspects of his philosophy on art and life, but his nature and character as a homosexual man. He did it as directly and as intensely as it was possible to do, without preventing publication.

I agree that the novel wasn't a form for which one would expect Wilde to show any predilection--the same is true for Shaw, another sparkling conversationalist and quipper. They loved talk, they loved dialogue. Of course, there's no real comparison between Dorian Gray and Shaw's forgotten novels.

Redigerat: feb 8, 2014, 1:35 pm

Well, yes, I suppose discussing what "best work" means could be a whole book in itself.

Briefly, what draws me to Wilde is dialogue, tone, and theme, and he doesn't seem to able to sustain these as well in a novel as he does a short story or in his comedies.

Not trying to be combative here, but am interested in why you think the novel is Wilde's "most important work."

I see it rather as Wilde's most notorious work and the one that readers often assume reflects Wilde's first-hand experiences with the darker side of aestheticism that veers into hedonism. It is probably autobiographical in that it reflects Wilde's ambivalence about some of the circumstances of his own life.

But as a work of fiction alone, I just don't think it stands up to the short stories and comedies. Some of its defects to modern readers have been pointed out on the "First Impressions" thread.

Compare that to the fact that "An Ideal Husband" could still be commercial and critical success as late as 1999. (

Just sayin' ...

(edited for sense)

feb 8, 2014, 2:10 pm


Compare that to the fact that "An Ideal Husband" could still be commercial and critical success as late as 1999.

But... By what mad measure is Dorian Gray NOT a commercial and critical success?! I feel like I followed a White Rabbit into some strange, strange land... :)

Incidentally, I think you are very wrong if you think An ideal husband would have had a better reception in this bunch! But, let's leave that, as purely speculative...

am interested in why you think the novel is Wilde's "most important work."

Well, first, as an opinion it is entirely unoriginal--and until this group read I'd have assumed it was common knowledge. I'm sure one can find many better explanations than I can provide but I'm due to go out shortly, so won't go a-googling for authority; instead, my hasty sketch of an answer: there are several reasons, not just one, literary, dependent on some hierarchy of quality of Wilde's works. There are "outward" reasons, pertaining to the reception in the world, and "inward" reasons, concerning Wilde's personal expression and artistic consciousness. A selection:

Its fame. You say "notoriety", but at this point it's not notorious; 130 years (almost) after publication, this is a FAMOUS work. People who may not know the name "Oscar Wilde" may know "Dorian Gray", or at least the story of the novel, of the portrait that ages and records the sins of its subject, while the young man remains unchanged in beauty.

Its influence. The novel was a watershed. Victorianism in literature was over; English literature's modern age began. As I said in another thread:

Wilde wasn't the only person in England reading French Symbolists and Decadents, but (tying into the splash Dorian made) he popularised them and became identified with them. Dorian Gray ushered in English Decadence and crossing into Europe directly influenced and touched on every modern strain in literature arising, through the figure of Apollinaire, for instance.

Its impact on Wilde. I don't really have to say much about this, do I? Dorian Gray was the beginning of Wilde's end. Alfred Douglas read it nine times and was dying to meet the author, who inscribed a wonderful large-paper edition for him. When Douglas' father insulted Wilde once too often, and Wilde, encouraged by Alfred, decided to sue him for libel, Dorian Gray was read in court as evidence of Wilde's depravity--it was read extensively, repeatedly, whole paragraphs, and Wilde was forced again and again to explain his words, his intentions, his work of fiction.

And he was found guilty, sentenced to imprisonment and hard labour, destroyed body and soul even before he actually expired five years later.

Must go now, but I'll be back.

Redigerat: feb 8, 2014, 5:24 pm

Did my comment seem so nonsensical as to have been pulled out of a Carrollian rabbit hole? Dear me. I often I feel like an elderly dumb ass separated from the herd and being circled by literary lone wolves.

What you say about "DG" being a watershed novel that ended Victorianism is interesting.

Don't disagree, but wonder if Hardy helped that along (Jude the Obscure was published in 1891)?

Certainly, the modern novelists Forster, Joyce, Ford, Lawrence, etc., were freer to move away from Victorian conventions because of iconoclasts like Wilde.

Back to lurking now ...

feb 8, 2014, 6:26 pm

nohrt4me2, I have never seen you say anything nonsensical and I find myself agreeing with you far more often than not (perhaps I ought to practice the "me too" postings more...)

If only some proper English majors would pop up and do the heavy lifting here!

Please don't lurk! Anyway, I hope someone starts a dedicated thread soon.

Redigerat: feb 9, 2014, 10:10 am

I was rather intrigued by this line as Dorian and Wotton strolled thru Hallward's garden, "After a time the bee flew away. He saw it creeping into the stained trumpet of a Tyrian convolvulus . The flower seemed to quiver, and then swayed to and fro."
With that said, perhaps a topic on symbolism would be interesting. And is there much of it within the story?

feb 9, 2014, 9:25 pm

>28 LolaWalser: LolaWalser
Thanks for the background on Arthur Douglas and his father AND the prison sentence. Very interesting. One may say it has little to say, per se, with Dorian's value as literature, but it illuminates the times in which Wilde was writing. It is difficult for me to imagine being sentenced to hard labor for moral turpitude. Okay, for anything, I suppose!

(Edited for grammar: this being a tuff group)

feb 10, 2014, 9:13 am

As I was reading the book, I fully expected that there would be a homosexual seduction somewhere in the story. I thought all three men were possibilities.

feb 10, 2014, 10:43 am

I see John Waters as the heir to the Decadent Movement. (He once compared Johnny Depp to Dorian Gray because he never ages.) Might be fun to imagine Wilde and Waters doing a joint interview. Or to imagine Waters' adapting "DG" to a working class Baltimore milieu.

Anyone able to find other references Waters may have made to Dorian Gray?

feb 10, 2014, 2:16 pm


It's a text rich and dense with symbolism and allusions, some more obvious than other. I think there's at least one dedicated thread now where these could be explored.


There are several books detailing the history and circumstances of Wilde's trial, I believe the latest one is by his grandson Merlin Holland, The real trial of Oscar Wilde. I brought this up as one component of Dorian Gray's importance, not its proof, and certainly not as an indicator of literary value. Classics become important not just as literary texts, but accrue importance as cultural objects (disseminators of influence, paradigms of period style etc.) It is difficult--I would argue impossible--to disentangle completely these various inputs into their "importance" because we cannot read them or judge them as contemporary objects. Classics have a history.


Presumably, Dorian's double life contains many such seductions. He becomes infamous in society as the corruptor of young men, some of whom commit suicide or flee the country.

Basil Hayward, the painter, is most blatantly gay of the three (and most of the censored text concerns him), but to a homosexual or informed reader all three appear characterised as such.


Interesting thought! I like Waters but don't remember any specific references to DG or Wilde in his movies. Please post if you find more.

feb 10, 2014, 10:54 pm

I do think Wilde does see Dorian as a failed hero, but not for the reason you suggested. Dorian fails to live up to the unspoiled idealistic person he used to be when he was first painted, thus the artist's and Wilde's disappointment in his own character.

Redigerat: feb 10, 2014, 11:09 pm

I am a proper English major. I'll try and do some "heavy lifting." I agreed that Lord Henry Wotton was very witty. Some of the things he has to say are absolutely funny. Yet we are led to expect that he is the true villain of the story. He does indeed turn Dorian's head and leads him into wishing the picture of him would age as he stays old. Yet it is Dorian himself who is led of his own accord into his first folly: his relationship and rejection of Sybil Vane. Besides, we all know Lord Henry does not believe half of what he says.

feb 15, 2014, 3:15 pm

Just an observation: The discussion of discussion topics seems to have garnered the most comments about "Dorian Gray."

Coming in a distant second is the discussion about homoerotic undertones (which is largely an argument about "Greek love").

I noticed that "The Circle" threads also lost some steam once the "real" discussions began.

Nature of social network conversations? Everybody wants to throw out a one liner, and then they're done with the book.

feb 15, 2014, 4:52 pm

@ 38: well, that post makes me feel better about nobody responding to my hunting thread.

feb 15, 2014, 5:31 pm

I noticed, too, that there seems not as much discussion as there was for The Circle, and I wondered whether because it's because fewer people read the book or if we just have less to save about this one.

feb 15, 2014, 5:34 pm

38: Job, Olympics, behind with other book reviews, haven’t had time for a second pass to organize thoughts, out of my element re historical/literary context, mild curiosity no match for intensity of discussions... As I noted on the first impressions thread, guides along the way would’ve been helpful; after the fact, I realize that I could’ve taken a different approach while reading, but I was avoiding spoilers (though I knew the gist of the story) so I read in a vacuum.

mar 7, 2014, 12:21 pm

>40 TooBusyReading: The Circle was also very much an "issue" book, and I don't think Dorian Gray qualifies as such. Perhaps for works with less timely (and harped-upon) messages, we should think about a different approach.

mar 7, 2014, 1:01 pm

I think the issues in TPODG are more sensitive in nature : homosexual undertones, age difference, etc. I, for one, am hesitant to express an opinion for fear that it might be misinterpreted and offend someone. This is the problem with electronic communication - we can't interpret how the listener(reader) is interpreting the message in real-time.