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In Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, what does Basil mean when he says, "I have...

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kimj0821 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 22, 2012 at 3:48 AM via web

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In Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, what does Basil mean when he says, "I have put too much of myself in the thing"?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 22, 2012 at 4:17 PM (Answer #1)

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Chapter 1 of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray is set in painter Basil Hallward's studio, where the painter observes in awe his most effective portrait; that of a young London aristocrat of exceptional physical beauty, which has caused much influence in Basil's life. This young man is also admired by Basil's afternoon companion, Lord Henry Wooton; a man whose wit, malice, and philosophy of life proclaims hedonism as a best practice.

The men also discuss the possibility of formally showing the portrait for the public to admire. This is a scary prospect for Basil. He knows that his admiration for Dorian Gray has led him to picture every detail of Dorian's image to a point that it may demonstrate Basil's secret homoerotic admiration for Dorian. 

In his own words,

without intending it, I have put into it some expression of all this curious artistic idolatry, ...  He shall never know anything about it. But the world might guess it; and I will not bare my soul to their shallow, prying eyes...There is too much of myself in the thing, Harry—too much of myself!

Set in a time in history when homosexuality is considered a crime (Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 by Henry Labouchiere), Basil's behavior would have been considered ilegal and reproachable by a prudish and hypocritical society. For this reason, Basil uses the words I will not bare my soul to their shallow, prying eyes.

Moreover, when Basil confesses that he has "too much of himself" in the picture, he is admitting to the homoerotic admiration that has led him to display Dorian in such a flamboyant and exact fashion. This is because Basil has, indeed, invested much of his heart and soul into the picture, just as he has invested much of his heart and soul in his admiration of Dorian. When you think about it, who but a man who loves his model would take such careful consideration in making sure that his beauty will come through in such a way? Hence, by combining his passion with his work, he has literally cast a form of spell on his work. Later on, this will combine with Dorian's own summoning of the supernatural in his wish that the picture, and not he, becomes old with time. This is really what makes the entire thing happen.

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