AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Oscar Wilde’s Use of the Faustian Bargain, Victorian Narrative Traditions and Aestheticism in The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Dagmar Magnadóttir 1990

Institution: University of Iceland
Year: 2015
Keywords: Enska; The picture of Dorian Gray (skáldsaga); Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900; Bókmenntagreining
Record ID: 1221326
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/20396


The only novel by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray was one of the most controversial works of 19th century Britain. This time in Britain, known as the Victorian age, was no place for an artist like Wilde. The controversy over the novel was both because it displayed homosexual relationships and also because it departed from realist narrative traditions that promoted positive self-development stories. These kinds of realist stories are usually known as coming of age stories portraying the progression of a character’s maturity. Also known by the German word Bildungsroman, they usually had a happy ending. The Picture of Dorian Gray draws on a wide range of themes and sources both from Wilde’s own life and from already established literary devices. This essay focuses on how Oscar Wilde used different themes such as Aestheticism, the Gothic, the doppelganger and especially the Faustian bargain as the basis of the novel. Therefore it shows that the novel can be interpreted on many levels. Also it will discuss why the publication of Dorian Gray was not well-received by the critics. This essay will also look at the doppelganger theme in the Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde and compare the two works. By incorporating the Faustian bargain into the text, Wilde splits the novel into two parts which allows all of these themes to work together. By melding all of these themes together Wilde constructs a novel much like many realist novelists did. The novel can be interpreted as an attack on realism in literature as Wilde fashions a modern view of the coming of age stories because he does not include a happy ending for the protagonist. Within this context, Dorian Gray can be approached from different thematic traditions but ultimately can be interpreted as a reverse coming of age story of a narcissistic character.