Influence & Detachment in the Picture of Dorian Gray
In Oscar Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, many influences are at play throughout the book. The relationships between the characters are all about the influence they have on each other’s life. However, out of them all, one of the characters stands out as a more detached figure who has mastered the art of influencing without being influenced by others himself: Lord Henry Wotton.
To study the different forms of influences in the book, we shall first focus on the link between art and influence before turning to the study of the influence of Lord Henry and Basil on Dorian, to finally discuss the effect of all the influences on Dorian and debate over whether Dorian can be considered as an evil character at the end of the book. The first character who embodies the link between art and influence is Sybil. From the start, Sybil is a character that is only depicted through her art.
She is an actress and all her life is devoted to acting to the point that the frontier between her life and her act is not always very clear to her and to the reader. She even makes her story with Dorian sounds like a fairy tale depicting him as a prince, “Prince Charming”, coming to rescue them from Mr. Isaacs to whom they owe money: “We don’t want him any more, Mother. Prince Charming rules life for us now. ” Just like Dorian, Sybil is a sort of creation which accounts for her suggestibility. She is what her mother and Mr.
Isaacs made her. Her mother does not want her to “think of anything but [her] acting” and because she ignores everything about real life, she lives the roles she plays as real life which is precisely what makes her such a great actress. And it is her talent as an actress that arouses Dorian’s interest. Yet, by enabling Sybil to discover the vanity of acting through her discovery of real love, Dorian ruins Sybil’s talent. And by ruining her talent he ruins his interest in her which leads him to despise her and leave her.
Clearly, Dorian’s influence on Sybil’s life and art is crucial but she is not the only character influenced by Dorian. Dorian’s portrait is described in the book as Basil’s masterpiece and it is so because Basil had never been as inspired by a subject before. The first time Basil saw Dorian he tried to avoid meeting him and justifies his doing so by saying that he “did not want any external influence in [his] life”. This sheds light on the fact that he already knew before even talking to Dorian that his influence on him and his art would be so great.
And it is the very influence of Dorian that enabled Basil to reach a new level in his creation. Not only has Dorian allowed Basil to achieve “the best thing [he] ha[s] ever done” – according to Lord Henry – in painting Dorian’s portrait but he has also inspired him in every piece of art he has painted since he met Dorian, as shown in this extract: “Some subtle influence passed from him to me, and for the first time in my life I saw in the plain woodland the wonder I had always looked for, and always missed. It is clear that meeting Dorian is a real turning point in Basil’s artistic life. However Dorian cannot be described as a mere source of inspiration to Basil; he is his muse who involves more than inspiration but also adoration and idolatry. The extent of Dorian’s influence on Basil’s art and life is made obvious when Basil does not want to expose the portrait and says “I have put too much of myself into it”.
When Lord Henry asks Basil more details on how he met Dorian and how it changed dramatically his life as an artist, it becomes clearer and clearer that Basil feelings for Dorian are feelings of love. And those feelings bring Basil to contradict himself on what he thinks art should be. After being so eloquent on Dorian’s influence on his art, he seems to regret the way he felt and thought and explains that he was “foolish” of thinking so: “Even now I cannot help feeling that it is a mistake to think that the passion one feels in creation is ever really shown in the work one creates. After adopting that way of thinking, Basil’s painting gradually “go[es] off” as Henry later says: “It seemed to me to have lost something (…). When you and he ceased to be great friends, he ceased to be a great artist. ” If Dorian’s portrait is Basil’s masterpiece, the portrait’s role in the story is not limited to being a great piece of art and the picture can be considered as a character in its own right.