Posted by: marycib | December 8, 2010

The Reversal of True Beauty

It is a great concept that a portrait would depict the true representation of not only a person’s appearance but also their character.  Lord Henry’s narcissistic speech about how “…beauty is a form of genius…You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully”, prompts Dorian’s preoccupation to remain forever beautiful (Page 24-5). Dorian’s desire to never grow old and ugly is fueled only by shallow and materialistic thoughts, especially after Lord Henry tells Dorian that he has a wonderful personality, which often trumps beauty as a desirable characteristic. Dorian does not consider the consequences of bartering his soul so that his portrait would represent the progression of his aging. It is also interesting to note that even though Dorian seems to care only about true beauty, he loves Sibyl Vane for her artistic talent as an actress. Lord Henry even presents the question to Dorian about what else he could want from a woman except beauty. Dorian proclaims to Sibyl that, “I loved you because you were marvellous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art…You are shallow and stupid…What are you now? A third-rate actress with a pretty face” (Page 88). While Dorian cares about nothing more than to maintain his beauty, he shuns Sibyl because she has lost the one characteristic that Dorian found attractive.

 


Responses

  1. I also thought it was interesting that Dorian rejected Sibyl because she lost her acting ability after she fell in love with him. She was still beautiful, but she no longer “stir[red] [his] curiosity” and “simply produce[ed] no effect” in him after she lost her ability (88). Here, she is valued by Dorian as a piece of art rather than as an actual person he is in love with. Because her artistic qualities are gone and she can “produce no effect” she is rejected by Dorian. Art is a subject thoroughly explored in this novel and this incident suggests that Dorian’s obsession and idea of beauty is connected to art. That his soul is reflected in a piece of artwork (his portrait) suggests that his outward beauty and art are separate entities. He retains his beauty but his portrait suffers as his soul does from his “cruel” actions. Art is not just beauty but something that can “produce an effect” in someone and when Sibyl can no longer act her beauty is not enough to retain her art-like status in the eyes of Dorian.

  2. I completely agree with both of you. Additionally I find it fascinating that Dorian’s attraction to Sibyl was based on her aesthetic value as an actress rather than an object of beauty like himself. Oscar Wilde was a burgeouning member of the Aesthetic Movement when he wrote this book, so he believed in “art for art’s sake” without social, moral or political implications. Dorian’s love for Sybil is based on her aesthetics rather than her qualities as a person. Conversely, Dorian is himself an aesthetic object, free of the implications of his life, while his portrait (the actual piece of art) is bears the burdens of his age, lifestyle and nature.


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