In the preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray, we find this statement that claims ”there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book”. To what extent is this statement supported by the novel and what about morality and immorality? According to the author, no one can criticize, bring down or change the judgment of an artist. The artist is the only one with such power. The artist also sees in his art both satisfaction and disappointment, but never something in between.
He will never be pleased by something that is ’almost perfect. Because for him, it has to be perfect, otherwise, it’s not relevant. I am pretty sure that this is the path of an artist. Basically, to go through life and to create his own path. He uses by this way his own ideas and language to express his art and to leave behind perfect works. If it’s not perfect, then he fails as an artist. His soul dies with his work, with every failed work he dies a little, until one day when his path will be divided and each way will lead to a failed work and he will find himself lost in the middle.
For his work to be moral, it has to be perfect. He is never tired, he can create art and at the same, he can feel how death is approaching him. Still, he is at peace even though others criticize his work. This is the definition of an artist from Wilde’s point of view and I firmly believe the novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, in particular, is in between morality and immorality.
SOMETHING BETWEEN IMMORALITY AND MORALITY
The statement I mentioned earlier comes along with this one ”a book is either well or badly written”. Up to a point, I firmly believe that there such thing. A moral book is basically the definition of perfection. An artist can create art out of nowhere and he will never be tired. He is at peace with the idea of the world criticizing him and his works of art. We can compare an immoral book with Lord Henry because he is a liar, he wants to destroy everything around him; he is self-absorbed, clever, witty, and wants to give Dorian a false impression of himself, just like the devil does.
I find crucial the scene where he is trying to convince Dorian that he will lose everything if he grows old and is making him mad with Basil and watching Dorian losing his temper, making Basil feel guilty and disappointed and almost making him want to throw away the painting without hesitation. Henry actually said at some point that Dorian will always have a weakness for him because in front of him he represents all the sins he didn’t have the courage to do, and again, just like the devil does.
IMMORALITY AT ITS FINEST
Dorian rejected Sybil with such cruelty, after being enchanted by her, he was the main reason for her suicide. He claims that his reason was moral and he decided to be evil and to change his life in this way. His very first serious immoral act is when he made a young woman fall in love with him and decided to be evil but at the same not to corrupt her. But the fact that in the end, she was in pain made us doubt him and his desire to go on the right path.
In one of his letters, he states that “The public… will find that [Dorian Gray] is a story with a moral. And the moral is this: All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment. ” He states at some point that “My story is poisonous if you like, but you cannot deny that it is also perfect.”
After you read both statements, you will find out that he contradicts himself, so basically we have two theories: the book is moral and the book is immoral. Dorian was impressed by the book “Against nature” which influenced his mindset, this book is an important piece of this puzzle because Lord Henry gave it to him and he claims that the book poisoned him, he spent a while ‘imitating the mode of life from that book’.
Also, he was influenced like this by Lord Henry too, when Basil was painting him and Henry was telling him various stories and “seductive paradoxes”. This painting shows the morality of the book. The painting, which Basil almost threw away because Dorian, at first sight, didn’t say anything, is the symbol of morality in this book because it shows his decay, while he is growing old, the painting remains beautiful. It’s moral because, after all, this is the cycle of life. What is immoral is what Lord Henry tells him.
I firmly believe that this novel has immoral effects, like the influence the book and Henry have on Dorian. Also, it has moral effects, for example, when the reader goes through it and goes beyond its beauty and takes the novel as a life guider. Both helping the aesthetic of the book, so basically, a book cannot be moral or immoral by itself, but only in the way the reader reads it, it depends on his judgment and his beliefs.