“The Picture of Dorian Gray:” Dorian and Lord Henry. Oscar Wilde’s story, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” is the gripping narrative of a young man’s readiness to sell his soul in order to hold on to his transient youth and beauty. It is a tale centered on the corruption of innocence by cynicism. The relationship between Dorian and Lord Henry Wotton is the bedrock of the story. Lord Henry sets out to deliberately corrupt Dorian, who falls fatally under his mentor’s spell, and goes on to exceed the anticipation of his corruptor.
Lord Henry Wotton is fascinated by Dorian at their first meeting at Basil Hallward’s studio. He is very aware of Dorian’s innocence: “All the candour of youth was there, as well as youths’ passionate purity” (Wilde, Chapter 2). In spite of this awareness, and Hallward’s caution against his bad influence, Lord Henry sets out on a deliberate campaign of corruption. He makes Dorian urgently aware of the transient nature of his youth and beauty, and expounds the philosophy of Hedonism to the impressionable young man. Lord Henry awakens in Dorian the impulse to seek pleasure, indulge in vice and yield to temptation. He finds “exquisite pleasure in playing upon the lad’s emotions” (Wilde, Chapter 8). Lord Henry is conscious of his growing influence on Dorian: “There was nothing that one could not do with him” (Wilde, Ch.3), and continues to cast his insidious spell on the youth. He introduces Dorian to restaurants, and gives him many presents, including the decadent book which becomes the main cause of the young man’s corruption and downfall.
Dorian instantly falls under the spell of Lord Henry. He exclaims, “No one talks so wonderfully as you!” (Wilde, Ch.3). He blindly accepts the older man’s views on life and morality: “It must be if you say it” (Wilde, Ch.4). As Lord Henry leads Dorian to abandon himself to the pursuit of pleasure and indulgence in vice, Dorian is happy to be his protégé. He asserts, “No one has every understood me as you have” (Wilds, Ch.8). Dorian goes on to accept all Lord Henry’s theories about life, love and pleasure. Dorian is aware that it is Lord Henry who is the corrupting influence of his life. When he resolves to make amends, he declares, “He would not see Lord Henry anymore would not, at any rate, listen to those subtle, poisonous theories” (Wilde, Ch.7). However, he is unable to break away from Lord Henry’s influence.
Dorian exceeds Lord Henry’s expectations in his career of Hedonism and vice. Dorian not only indulges his own vices and passions, but also becomes a pernicious influence on others. Hallward accuses him: “They say you corrupt everyone with whom you become intimate” (Wilde, Ch.10). He ruins every life he touches, from Sybil Vane to Alan Campbell. As Dorian reaches the heights of vice, Lord Henry is increasingly unaware of the nature of protégé. He declares to Dorian “You have everything in the world that a man can want” (Wilde, Ch.18), when Dorian is actually writhing under the horror of his life and circumstances. He does not grasp the true nature of the monster he has helped create, “It is not in you, Dorian, to commit a murder” (Wilde, Ch.19), Lord Henry confidently asserts.
The relationship between Dorian and Lord Henry is the basis of the plot of “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Dorian is an experiment to Lord Henry. The elder man deliberately points him to the path of debauchery, moral degradation and excess. Dorian falls completely under the spell of his mentor and reaches the heights of dissipation. He finally surpasses Lord Henry’s expectations of his corruption. As Dorian attempts to hold on to his youth and beauty, at Lord Henry’s instigation, he loses his soul.
Wilde, Oscar. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” (1891). The Literature Network. 8 March 2012.