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The novel “Portrait of Dorian Gray” in the Critical Reviews of Contemporaries

Oscar Fingal O’Flaherty Wilde (October 16, 1854, November 30, 1900) wrote in many literary genres, such as fairy tale, short story, comedy, tragedy, novel. Everything that came out of his pen was brilliant, he was a master of the word, a refined writer, and a witty comedian. He touched on many problematic and topical issues of the time, but the main issue that concerned the writer – the spiritual world of man, art, and beauty.

Wilde embodied the social and cultural values โ€‹โ€‹of the decadence period in his program work, Portrait of Dorian Gray. This novel occupies an important place in English literature of the XIX-XX centuries, but to this day it does not lose its significance, as it poses a problem that will exist forever – the problem of the relationship between art and life, beauty and morality. This problem is interesting not only for adult readers but also for schoolchildren.

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Theatrical critic A. Volynsky spoke about O. Wilde, and critical articles by M. Urnov, A. Anikst, A. Obraztsov, E. Krasnov, and E. Chernozemov wrote about his way of life. The biography of Oscar Wilde’s life was written by R. Ellman, J. de Langlad, M. Sokolyansky, P. Ackroyd, J. Parandovsky, etc. Also, many researchers have considered the works of the writer in its various aspects – NS Bochkareva, KV Zagorodneva.

The creative process of the writer developed at the turn of the XIX-XX centuries, this was reflected in his works. The crisis, which changed the usual system of Great Britain, led to the withering of the aristocratic class of society, and the bourgeoisie sought to take a dominant position in England. In addition to economic and political upheavals, there were revolutions in the field of art.

The old bourgeois foundations were undermined, and the capitalist way of life was ridiculed and criticized. Awesome pictures of poverty, hatred of the selfishness of capitalists, ignorance, and rudeness are replaced by aesthetics, the promotion of beauty and sophistication, the rejection of all ugly and real. Literature puts the genre of the novel in the first place, acquires a romantic character, graceful and elegant forms, frivolous moods.

According to OV Akimova in the work “Ethics and Aesthetics of O. Wilde”, “in an atmosphere of contradictory ideas of the Victorian era, Wilde took a special position in the literature of his time, the position of a preacher of aesthetics, for whom beauty is above morality, art above reality and pleasure – the most valuable in life” [ 1, p. 7]. The literary activity of the mother, poetess, translator, Jane Wilde, her secular life, and evocative sense of taste forever left in the soul of the young Oscar aesthetic imprint and influenced the lifestyle of the future English dandy.

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In fact, Wilde became interested in aesthetics in his university years. His deputies were John Reskin and Walter Peter, their teachings, ideologies, and works, which read Oscar, opened a new philosophy of life for young people. D. Reskin, like W. Peiter, was inspired by the beauty and proclaimed it.

The first art theorist saw the unity of beauty and morality, believing that one is impossible without the other, the second argued that art should be indifferent to ethical issues. Oscar Wilde did not fully accept either concept but reunited the two, which served as a source of “paradox” of his thoughts, opinions, and contradictions of worldview. The image of thoughts, the peculiarity of the writer’s thinking associated with the era of decadence, aesthetic pursuits, contradictions of worldview, contrast, and paradoxical thoughts made Oscar Wilde his brightest representative.

Declining moods, boredom, denial of morality, the desire for the sophistication of forms, and the celebration of beauty – a classic example of a writer – a decadent.

Many famous writers, critics, and literary critics of the twentieth century did not stop mentioning him. For example, James Joyce, writer and poet, contemporary and compatriot of Oscar Wilde says in his essay: “Objective criticism should not forget that Wilde wrote in the” Scots Observer “in defense of” Dorian Gray “[4, p. 3]. “Everyone,” he wrote, “will see their own sin in Dorian Gray.” No one can say what Dorian Gray’s sin was. However, everyone who confesses this sin has committed it himself โ€[2, p. 4].

Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges writes: “… Wilde – an adult who has preserved, despite everyday vices and misfortune, pristine innocence” [cited in 2, p. 52]. Peter Ackroyd, a contemporary British writer and literary critic who wrote an Apocrypha on Oscar Wilde’s diary, quotes the following six lines: “In Dorian Gray, I once wrote, ‘To say something is to make it happen’; then I crossed out that phrase. I hid it from the world because it contained one of my artistic secrets. Ironically, in everything I wrote, you can see the prophecy of my fate “[1, p. 52].

Oscar Wilde, inspired by the views of his idol, gives this life position to Lord Henry Watton, “Harry”, one of the main characters in the novel “Portrait of Dorian Gray”. Oscar Wilde’s attitude to Peiter was shown by Jan Parandowski in his book The Alchemy of the Word, Petrarch, The King of Life: so vivid and colorful tone. Walter Pater, a quiet, thoughtful master from Oxford, a friend of the best hours of life, an incomparable virtuoso of musical, sonorous prose! [Parandovsky 1990]

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Walter Peter’s ideas and views were closer to Wilde than Ruskin’s sermons. “Unlike Ruskin, Peiter rejected the ethical basis of aesthetics. Wilde wrote in this regard: “We, the representatives of the school of youth, have departed from the teachings of Ruskin … because the basis of his aesthetic judgments is always morality … in our eyes, the laws of art do not coincide with the laws of morality.” [3, p. 13]

D. Ruskin’s views also attracted the attention of Wilde and attached significant importance to the aesthetic views of the future writer. John Reskin was a writer, art theorist, who played a leading role in the history of literary criticism of the XIX century and English aesthetics. Direct communication with the teacher influenced the formation of aesthetic views of the young Oscar Wilde. “It was both pleasant and instructive to be friends with 16 Reskin” [4, p. 60].

The attitude of the art critic to aesthetics and art coincided with the views of Peter: he glorified them, considered them an integral part of the development of human spiritual life, his morality. It was ethics that became a stumbling block in the aesthetic positions of Peter and Ruskin. Peter admitted that in art, as in life, there may be not only positive moments but also negative ones.

That is, both charity and sin. Reskin in “Lectures on Art” argues that art is inseparable from morality, it must carry light, glorify the best human qualities, raise kindness, honesty, conscience. “In relation to all the arts, from the highest to the lowest, it is perfectly fair to think that the beauty of art is an indicator of the moral purity and grandeur of the feeling which they [art] express … Art is not only not immoral but has little moral art … “[4, p. 17].

It is also worth noting the influence of Ruskin on the fate of the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1848, three like-minded artists organized a fraternity of “Pre-Raphaelites”, where they fought for true feelings of art, for a true image of reality. They opposed the framework expressed by Victorianism, abandoned the outdated principles, the classical methods of painting. The Pre-Raphaelites were brutally ridiculed, criticized by respected artists, and Queen Victoria herself was outraged by their activities. In the most difficult moment of their existence, John Reskin comes to the rescue.

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Reskin was already a prominent figure in the art world, he wrote in his articles that he approved of the activities of the Pre-Raphaelites, and even bought a few paintings from them. “Medieval scholasticism sought to turn philosophy into a slave to theology; Reskin wanted to do the same with art. Sculpture, painting should be a form of worship or not at all. A work of art is important only insofar as it expresses a supersensible thought.

To confirm Raskin’s own words. “It seems to me,” he says, “that a rough painting is often stronger than a finely executed one, and that in general paintings are less interesting and respectful than they are technically more perfect … The value of a painter or writer is ultimately determined by content. their works, not the form.


Summarizing the observations of literary critics, we can say that the literary work and life beliefs of Oscar Wilde were formed in a time of crisis for the cultural life of England, so his works and aesthetic ideas are contradictory, ambiguous. We also determined that the artistic values, Wilde’s first creative steps developed under the significant influence of his teachers – John Ruskin and Walter Peiter. Oscar Wilde expressed his work in various literary genres and in each expressed a certain aspect of his aesthetics, but in the novel “Portrait of Dorian Gray”, which is a program work, presents all the main aesthetic positions of the author.

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The novel "Portrait of Dorian Gray" in the Critical Reviews of Contemporaries. (2021, Oct 10). Retrieved January 30, 2023, from