Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray was published simultaneously in Philadelphia’s Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine and by Ward, Lock and Company in England, in July, 1890. In England, the novella was condemned by many reviewers as shocking and immoral. Wilde tried to address some of these criticisms as he worked on an expanded version of the story, which was published as a full-length novel in 1891, along with a preface in which Wilde stated his artistic credo.
The novel centers on Dorian Gray, a young man of great beauty. When he meets Lord Henry Wotton, Lord Henry inspires him with a vision of life in which the pursuit of beauty through sensual pleasure is valued above ethical or moral concerns. Another friend of Dorian, the artist Basil Hallward, awakens Dorian’s vanity. After admiring a portrait of himself painted by Basil, Dorian declares that he would give his own soul if he could remain eternally young while the portrait grows old. He gets his wish, and the picture shows the gradual disfigurement of his soul as he sinks into a life of degradation and crime.
As a variation on the Faust legend, with echoes of the fall of man and the Adonis myth, and as an examination of the relationship between art and life, The Picture of Dorian Gray fascinated readers into the early 2000s and gave rise to many different interpretations.