The importance of elegance in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is undeniable. By definition, elegance refers to one's character or surroundings exuding grace, style, and taste. Elegance is most apparent in the novel in the recurring motif of art. Most obviously, Gray's portrait lies at the center of the text. That said, the entire novel functions as a piece of elegant art, in keeping with Wilde's Aesthetic tradition.
Scenes are set in the same way in which an artist would choose color palettes. The opulence of each scene is prefaced with excruciating detail. Wilde ensures that readers are able to experience the setting fully, with lavish sensory detail.
The novel opens with a truly elegant scene:
The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pinkflowering thorn.
Here, the elegance of the scene is emphasized with the description of lavish flowerings. The diction (word choice) helps readers to see the importance of setting a scene. Wilde could have opened the novel more simplistically, but he would have lost the elegance of the opening. By opening the novel in this way, Wilde makes a statement on the importance of image and style.
In fact, Wilde spends the first four paragraphs of the novel ensuring that the reader understands the opulence of the setting. The vocabulary mirrors the desired tone, as in the phrases "gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum" and "the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains." These descriptions point toward great wealth, style, and grace—the epitome of elegance.
The characterizations Wilde provides are also elegant. Readers are introduced to Dorian in the following way:
Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely-curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candor of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world.
Dorian's physical appearance encompasses elegance, and Wilde's diction ensures that readers readily recognize Dorian's absolute style and grace. That said, Dorian does not stay "unspotted." In fact, he becomes corrupt and sinful yet remains beautifully elegant on the outside. This paradox speaks to the importance of interior and exterior characterizations. The message, therefore, Wilde delivers is that elegance might only be "skin deep."