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A satire of Victorian society, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray ridicules the attention to social status that often precludes love. Rather curiously, Wilde's work was used against him as a work that was serious and straightforward rather than satirical in order to substantiate Wilde's deviant behavior.
One of the passages that were considered scandalous and used against Wilde was that of Henry Wotton's arguments to Dorian about living the life of hedonistic pleasures in Chapter II in which he tells Dorian that the aim of life is "self-development," the duty to one's self. People perform charitable acts, Lord Henry continues, but they neglect themselves, starving their souls.
Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion--theses are the two things that govern us.
Further in this chapter, he tells Dorian,
The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.
In another part of the novel, after Dorian has embraced the philosophy of Lord Henry of engaging in carnal pleasure he attends the theatre and falls in love with a pretty actress; however, when he asks Lord Henry and Basil Hallman accompany him, Lord Henry decides that she cannot act and Dorian feels humiliated. Consequently, he rejects Sybil Vane, and the distraught actress commits suicide. In Chapter VIII, when Dorian fails to open Lord Henry's letter to him the next day, he assumes that Sybil is yet alive and he vows to live a more virtuous life and marry Sybil. However, after Wotton's arrival and his informing Dorian of the death of the actress, he advises Dorian to not be involved in this scandal as it will ruin his reputation. Then, he takes a very unconcerned attitude as well as an amoral one toward Sybil's death as an artisti moment:
Sometimes, however, a tragedy that possesses artistic elements of beauty crosses our lives....We watch ourselves, and the mere wonder of the spectacle enthralls us. In the present case, what is it that has really happened? Some one has killed herself for love of you. I wish that I had ever had such an experience. It would have made me in love with love for the rest of my life. The people who have adored me....have always insisted on living on, long after I had ceased to care for them, or they to care for me.
Despite the deletion of some five hundred words in this novel by Wilde's publishers, it yet offended the moral sensibilities of many of the Victorian Age. Other scenes, such as that of Dorian Gray in opium dens and licentious conversations among the aristocrats such as in Chapter XV were disturbing, as well.
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