The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is a beautiful work of art, and it tells us—according to the book’s epigram and preface—that “all art is quite useless.” Therefore, I shall try not to dig far into the meaning, but rather, present some of the most funny and quotable material from the book.

The following passage comes from the very beginning of the book, where the painter Basil Hallward refuses to send his portrait of Dorian Gray anywhere. Lord Henry Wotton is of the opposite opinion:

“Not send it anywhere! My dear fellow, why? Have you any reason? What odd chaps you painters are! You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. As soon as you have one, you seem to want to throw it away. It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. A portrait like this would set you far above all the young men in England, and make the old men quite jealous, if old men are ever capable of emotion.” (page 4)

Basil is an eccentric artist in other respects as well, for example, on secrecy:

“Dorian Gray? Is that his name?” asked Lord Henry, walking across the studio toward Basil Hallward.

“Yes, that is his name. I didn’t intend to tell it to you.”

“But why not?”

“Oh, I can’t explain. When I like people immensely I never tell their names to any one. It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvelous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it. When I leave town now I never tell my people where I am going. If I did, I would lose all my pleasure. IT is a silly habit, I dare say, but somehow it seems to bring a great deal of romance into one’s life. I suppose you think me awfully foolish about it?” (page 6)

This starts a chain of witty remarks:

“Not at all,” answered Lord Henry, “not at all, my dear Basil.” You seem to forget that I am married, and the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing. When we meet—we do meet occasionally, when we dine out together, or go down to the Duke’s—we tell each other the most absurd stories with the most serious faces. My wife is very good at it—much better, in fact, than I am. She never gets confused over her dates, and I always do. But when she does find me out, she makes no row at all. I sometimes wish she would; but she merely laughs at me.”

“I hate the way you talk about your married life, Harry,” said Basil Hallward, strolling toward the door that led into the garden. “I believe that you are really a very good husband, but that you are thoroughly ashamed of your own virtues. You are an extraordinary fellow. You never say a moral thing, and you never to a wrong thing. Your cynicism is simply a pose.

Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know,” cried Lord Henry, laughing. (page 6)

Some more amusing lines:

The whole thing was a fiasco. The last act was played to almost empty benches. The curtain went down on a titter, and some groans.

As soon as it was over, Dorian Gray rushed behind the scenes into the greenroom. The girl was standing there alone, with a look of triumph on her face. Her eyes were lit with an exquisite fire. There was a radiance about her. Her parted lips were smiling over some secret of their own.

When he entered she looked at him, and an expression of infinite joy came over her. “How badly I acted to-night, Dorian!” she cried.

“Horribly!” he answered, gazing at her in amazement—”horribly! It was dreadful. Are you ill? You have no idea what it was. You have no idea what I suffered!” (page 89)

“I should think it was, Harry. But according to your category I must be merely an acquaintance.”

“My dear old Basil, you are much more than an acquaintance.”

“And much less than a friend. A sort of brother, I suppose?”

Oh, brothers! I don’t care for brothers. My elder brother won’t die, and my younger brothers seem never to do anything else.” (page 10)

To be good is to be in harmony with one’s self,” he replied, touching the thin stem of his glass with his pale, fine pointed fingers. “Discord is to be forced to be in harmony with others. One’s own life—that is the most important thing. As for the lives of one’s neighbors, if one wishes to be a prig or a Puritan, one can flaunt one’s moral views about them, but they are not one’s concern. Besides, Individualism has really the higher aim. Modern morality consists in accepting the standard of one’s age. I consider that for any man of culture to accept the standard of his age is a form of the grossest immorality.”

“But, surely, if one lives merely for one’s self, Harry, one pays a terribly price for doing so?” suggested the painter.

“Yes, we are overcharged for everything nowadays. I should fancy that the real tragedy of the poor is that they can afford nothing but self-denial. Beautiful sins, like beautiful things, are the privilege of the rich.” (page 82)

Anyway, the novel was quite unlike anything I had ever read. I’m not exactly sure I liked it, but it is certainly an amusing read.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Lady Windermere's Fan

A typical Oscar Wilde play, this is one of the wittiest works imaginable, and is the origin of many famous quotes such as “I can resist everything except temptation” and “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.” Although this play might not be as famous as The Importance of Being Earnest, and it might not have as sophisticated a plot, it is most certainly as witty, and has also more social commentary.

LORD WINDERMERE: Ah, Margaret, only trust me! A wife should trust her husband!

LADY WINDERMERE: London is full of women who trust their husbands. One can always recognise them. They look so thoroughly unhappy. I am not going to be one of them.

Here is another awesome passage, this time on superficiality:

LADY WINDERMERE: Lord Darlington, you annoyed me last night at the Foreign Office. I am afraid you are going to annoy me again.

LORD DARLINGTON: I, Lady Windermere? […] I am quite miserable, Lady Windermere. You must tell me what I did.

LADY WINDERMERE: Well, you kept paying me elaborate compliments the whole evening.

LORD DARLINGTON: Ah, nowadays we are all of us so hard up, that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments. They’re the only things we can pay.

LADY WINDERMERE: No, I am talking very seriously. You mustn’t laugh, I am quite serious. I don’t like compliments, and I don’t see why a man should think he is pleasing a woman enormously when he says to her a whole heap of things he doesn’t mean.

LORD DARLINGTON: Ah, but I did mean them.

LADY WINDERMERE: I hope not. I should be sorry to have to quarrel with you, Lord Darlington. I like you very much, you know that. But I shouldn’t like you at all if I thought you were what most other men are. Believe me, you are better than most other men, and I sometimes think you pretend to be worse.

LORD DARLINGTON: We all have our little vanities, Lady Windermere.

LADY WINDERMERE: Why do you make that your special one?

LORD DARLINGTON: Oh, nowadays so many conceited people go about Society pretending to be good, that I think it shows rather a sweet and modest disposition to pretend to be bad. Besides, there is this to be said. If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.

It is Lady Windermere’s very dislike of compliments that leads to the farcical temptation quote:

LORD DARLINGTON: Ah. what a fascinating Puritan you are, Lady Windermere!

LADY WINDERMERE: The adjective was unnecessary, Lord Darlington.

LORD DARLINGTON: I couldn’t help it. I can resist everything except temptation.

Another charming line is Lord Darlington’s speech on good and bad:

LORD DARLINGTON: Do you know I am afraid that good people do a great deal of harm in the world. Certainly the greatest harm they do is that they make badness of such extraordinary importance. It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious. I take the side of charming, and you, Lady Windermere, can’t help belonging to them.

Also, near the end of Act 3 are three now-very-famous quotes, quite close together:

DUMBY: I congratulate you, my dear fellow. In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst; the last is a real tragedy! But I am interested to hear she does not love you,. How long could you love a woman who didn’t love you, Cecil?

CECIL GRAHAM: A woman who didn’t love me? Oh, all my life!

DUMBY: So could I. But it’s so much different to meet one.

LORD DARLINGTON: How can you be so conceited, Dumby?

DUMBY: I didn’t say it was a matter of conceit. I said it as a matter of regret. I have been wildly, madly adored. I am sorry I have. It has been an immense nuisance. I should like to be allowed a little time to myself now and then.

LORD AUGUSTUS: Time to educate yourself, I suppose.

DUMBY: No, time to forget all I have learned. That is much more important, dear Tuppy.

LORD DARLINGTON: What cynics you fellows are!

CECIL GRAHAM: What is a cynic?

LORD DARLINGTON: A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

CECIL GRAHAM: And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.

LORD DARLINGTON: You always amuse me, Cecil. You talk as if you were a man of experience.

CECIL GRAHAM: I am.

LORD DARLINGTON: You are far too young!

CECIL GRAHAM: That is a great error. Experience is a question of instinct about life. I have got it. Tuppy hasn’t. Experience is the name Tuppy gives to his mistakes. That is all.

DUMBY: Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.

I had certainly known of all three quotes before, but I never thought they were all located within a page of one another. Now, here are two more Wilde quotes, both located on the page before the previous passage:

DUMBY: Good heavens! how marriage ruins a man! It’s just as demoralising as cigarettes, and far more expensive.

and

LORD DARLINGTON: No, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

That makes for five infamous quotes in the span of two pages.

By the way, the title Lady Windermere’s Fan is actually a sort of pun, as the fan could refer to both her physical fan, which Lord Windermere gave to her as a present, and Lord Darlington, who likes her. Again, it is maybe not as funny a pun as The Importance of Being Earnest, but the content is just as clever.