In Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, how might Dorian's relation to his portrait be interpreted as an allegory for the relationship between England and Ireland?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray has been seen as an allegory of English/Irish relations in several different ways, including the following:

  • In his book Terror and Irish Modernism, Jim Hansen notes that the book was written in the midst of a political crisis involving home rule for Ireland. Hansen relates the novel to the desire during this era for Irish political autonomy. According to Hansen,

Dorian is destroyed by his fear of social conventions, while the novel uses [Irish] Gothic conventions in order to push, and finally to extend, the limits of the form itself.  Whereas the Unionist Gothic writers allegorize sociopolitical anxieties, Wilde undercuts them by accepting, understanding, and, finally, reworking social discourse from within. (91)

According to Hansen, Gray embodies two earlier conventional ways of depicting Irish masculinity: as effeminate and as aggressive and terrifying (92).

  • Meanwhile, Maureen O’Connor, in an essay on Wilde’s novel as an Irish national tale, also argues (like Hansen) that the novel is indebted to the genre of Irish Gothic writing. According to O’Connor,

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde emphasizes the necessarily fantastic nature of the allegorization of a nation traumatized by its relationship to the past . . . . (p. 195)

  • One of the most suggestive comments about the novel, however, comes from Terry Eagleton, who in his book Heathcliff and the Great Hunger suggests that an overly clever analyst might try to perceive Wilde’s novel as a work which threatened to “unmask” the contradictions in Britain’s presentation of itself as a civilized empire (p. 9).



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