In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry Wotton, the hedonistic aristocrat, teaches the protagonist, Dorian, how to embrace a libertine lifestyle.
Dorian is a young man noted for his incredible beauty. This beauty inspires a new mood in the artist Basil Hallward, and Basil paints a full-length portrait of Dorian. This relationship leads Dorian to meet Lord Henry. Lord Henry believes that aesthetic beauty and sensual fulfillment are the only ideals with pursuing in life, and Dorian becomes enamored with this worldview.
Lord Henry early in the narrative explains his view on marriage:
The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception necessary for both parties. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing. When we meet,—we do meet occasionally, when we dine out together, or go down to the duke’s,—we tell each other the most absurd stories with the most serious faces. My wife is very good at it,—much better, in fact, than I am. She never gets confused over her dates, and I always do.
This introduces an important theme: the necessity of living a double life in order to pursue hedonistic fulfillment. Marriage, Lord Henry argues, is necessary in order to keep up appearances in public, which was a significant theme of Victorian culture. Lord Henry values his marriage because he can be seen in the public eye at restaurants or at the duke’s, which throws the public off this trail and allows him latitude to pursue his vices in private. He does not care about his wife as a person or partner; he cares about the image of having a wife and the cover that affords him.
This theme is reinforced by the main action of the novel: Dorian’s deal with the devil in which he remains young and beautiful while the scars of his sins only appear on his portrait. Since he remains young and beautiful, he is able to pursue his vices in private. In Victorian culture, many figures disguised their private depravity through public actions.
Lord Henry, a witty and corrupting influence on Dorian Gray, announces early in the novel that his marriage is based on deception, saying,
the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception necessary for both parties. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing. When we meet,—we do meet occasionally, when we dine out together, or go down to the duke’s,— we tell each other the most absurd stories with the most serious faces. My wife is very good at it,— much better, in fact, than I am. She never gets confused over her dates, and I always do.
This statement about the deceptive life of Lord Henry and his wife foreshadows the double life Dorian will come to lead. This motif appears more strongly when Dorian makes his pact with devil, stipulating that his portrait will age while he stays young and unstained:
If it was I who were to be always young, and the picture that were to grow old! For this—for this—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give!’
Dorian's fulfilled desire that his sins be hidden in the portrait leads him into a life of vice and dissipation that he comes to bitterly regret. The novel becomes a critical commentary on Victorian hypocrisy, in which many men, including Wilde himself, pretended to moral purity on the outside, as society expected, but privately led a double life of sexual hedonism. This, the novel argues, is no way to live.
Lord Henry's approach to marriage is one that regards a double life as strictly necessary. At one point, he explains,
You seem to forget that I am married, and the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing.
Lord Henry appears to find some sense of liberation in this duplicity. It offers him stability and a foundation for a public reputation, but it also gives him the ability to do as he pleases with all the rest of his time.
This approach to life and marriage is a core piece of Lord Henry's character. As Lord Henry exerts his influence on Dorian, this piece of his personality is included, and Dorian also becomes more inclined toward a life like this, free from accountability to other people's morals. Through this process, these comments are ultimately core to the development of the double life motif in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Lord Henry Wooton is an influential character to Dorian Gray. He serves as an agent of change in Dorian by provoking him to explore every emotion and sensation that Dorian may be curious about (namely, sexually-based) and to indulge upon his weaknesses.
Along with the many aphorisms in the form of so-called advice that Wooton gives Gray, one of them is never to marry. According to Lord Henry's opinion:
Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious; both are disappointed.
This is enough proof to show that Lord Henry would be inclined to lead a double life since, to him, marriage does not constitute any form of sacred institution nor sentimental bond that must be respected or safeguarded.
Furthermore, Lord Henry seems to detest his wife, Victoria. It is almost as if Lord Henry has found out later in his life that he may very well be asexual or promiscuous either with the same sex or with the opposite sex. This is perhaps the explanation as to why he would choose to spend so little time with her, to openly lie to her, and to simply ignore her as a "decorative piece", which is his real opinion of women.
My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.