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Morality In Dorian Gray

Decent Essays
Introduction (provisional outline)
The picture of Oscar Wilde is still fuzzy and incomplete but in the popular imagination, he remains an iconic, larger-than-life figure - largely because of his public persona and modus vivendi: He was a flamboyant dandy and a brilliant wit; a refined, decadent aesthete. Profes-sionally, he produced excellent prose pieces and composed arguably only mediocre poetry and he vociferously proposed unconventional theories about art and aesthetics. Yet, Wilde continues to be shrouded in this heavy fog of mystery. He is above all an inscrutable enigma. While he may at times give away the real and authentic nature of his complex self, at other times this self cunningly conceals itself behind a mask. In this sense, Wilde
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While acknowledging that “there is a terrible moral in Dorian Gray”, which he considers the “only [artistic] error in the book”, he also sought to evade authorial responsibil-ity: “Each man sees his own sin in Dorian Gray. What Dorian Gray’s sins are no one knows. He who finds them has brought them” (ibid. 32, 69). Here, Wilde seems to be making a con-tradictory claim: Morality cannot and should not be reflected in art. Art has its aim and su-preme value in being what it is. Insofar as it radiates aesthetic beauty, it is self-sufficient (the general theories incorporated into the catch phrase “art for art’s sake” with which Wilde is commonly associated). On the other hand, Wilde does not deny that it is possible that readers judge and evaluate artworks such as books according to their own definitions of sin and thus according to their own concepts of morality. Nevertheless, the artist has an obligation to make his art aesthetically pleasing to the observer. But what does this entail? People (and readers!) have very different ideas as to what is beautiful and as to the reasons why something brings pleasure. At all times and from all sides, we find such judgments problematic as they tend to be subjective rather than
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