Skip to main content


Showing posts from April, 2016

Dorian Gray, Ethics, Aestheticism

A bit late, this, but some reflections after my final seminars of 2016 on Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. In many ways, it's the ideal week 11 'end-of-term' text: textured enough to provoke discussion but also engaging and accessible.

One point we discussed, especially in the second seminar, was a tension that I feel is hard to resolve conclusively: how do we read the novel's vividly moral framework (soul, sin, curse, downfall) against the aestheticist principles (codified in the novel's preface) that suspend ethics or treat ethics merely as a formal/stylistic problem? Whilst of course we don't have to accept the preface as binding, if there is conceivably 'no such thing as a moral or an immoral book', then why does the novel's central trope - the portrait - encode so rigorously a register of immorality? Is this simply a dazzlingly reflexive twist: an a-moral book about a Faustian arc, endlessly switching art and life, using morality and imm…