Quicklet on The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

by Lacey Kohlmoos

What's in the book?

Quicklets: Your reading sidekick!

    • About the Book
    • Introducing the Author
    • Overall Summary
    • Chapter-by-Chapter
    • Character List
    • Key Terms & Definitions
    • Major Themes & Symbols
    • Interesting Related Facts
    • Source Citation
    • Additional Reading



What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

If you could drink, smoke, and eat as much as you wanted and see no change in your appearance, would you indulge? If you could cheat, steal, and even murder without any consequences, would you do it? What would you sacrifice for eternal youth and beauty? Is your soul too much of a price to pay?

With The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde weaves a tale of love, betrayal, murder, and revenge that delves into all these questions and more. When Dorian sees a portrait of himself and becomes aware of his own intense youth and beauty, he proclaims that he would give anything to preserve his looks and let the portrait grow old instead. This simple wish uttered in a moment of passion changes his life forever. As the portrait grows old over time and bears the marks of Dorian’s bad habits and cruelty, his innocent and youthful face never changes. As he sets out on a mission to experience every type of pleasure that the world has to offer, he discovers that he can get away with anything. Even murder.

Via Flickr

The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s only novel. When it was first released, its homoerotic undertones and harsh criticism of strict Victorian morality made it wildly controversial. The novel was even used as evidence against Wilde when he was tried for “gross indecency.” Today it is considered classic literature and often read in high school and college English classes.  The book’s themes, as well as the author himself, continue to intrigue readers. Wilde challenges people to look at the way they live their lives and question their happiness. Are they freely pursuing happiness or constricting their personal growth by repressing their desires?

Although written over 100 years ago, the story’s intrigue still holds up and even manages to deliver quite a few shocking moments. As Dorian plunges into the grimy underworld of Victorian London, he does things that many people would condemn in public while secretly wishing that they could do the same. Perhaps this is why The Picture of Dorian Gray has been adapted into numerous movies. There is nothing sweeter than forbidden fruit.


You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland on October 16, 1854 to Jane Francesca Elgee and William Wilde. Oscar began his schooling at the Portora Royal School in Enniskillen from 1864 to 1871 where he stood out for his drawing prowess and his success in studying the classics. After being awarded the Royal School Scholarship, Oscar went on to attend Trinity College in Dublin, excelling in the study of the classics and earning three of the college’s highest honors -- a Foundation Scholarship, the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek, and a Demyship Scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford.

While at Oxford, Oscar met Walter Pater with whom he founded the Aesthetic Movement, which espoused “art for art’s sake.” He also continued to excel academically and artistically, winning the Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna in 1878.

Upon graduation in 1878, Oscar settled in London and published his first collection of poetry, Poems,  in 1881. The following year he traveled to the United States and Canada to lecture on aestheticism.

In 1884, Oscar married an intelligent and outspoken woman named Constance Mary Lloyd with whom he had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. To support his new family, Oscar worked for the Woman’s World magazine and the Pall Mall Gazette. He then experienced the most successful years of his life. Between 1888 and 1895, Oscar Wilde produced two collections of children’s stories, his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a succession of successful plays -- Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Oscar met Lord Alfred Douglas “Bosie” in 1891 and they quickly became inseparable lovers, even openly living together. In April 1895, Oscar sued Bosie’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, for accusing him of homosexuality. Nothing came of the case, but it led to Oscar’s arrest for “gross indecency.” He served a sentence of two years of hard labor at Reading Gaol near London.

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