At the beginning of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian is twenty years old, young, beautiful, and innocent. He is also a shy young man who is prone to blushing when meeting new people.
Dorian Gray is my dearest friend. He has a simple and beautiful nature.
It is when Dorian is introduced to Lord Henry Wotton through their mutual friend the artist Basil Hallward, that Dorian’s character changes dramatically. Dorian is easily influenced and Lord Henry is a cynical man without morals, who believes in the philosophy of ‘new Hedonism’ and the self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure. Lord Henry awakens Dorian to the truth about his beauty whilst also warning him to use it selfishly as it will not last forever. This warning sets the action of the novel in motion when Dorian announces his envy of his portrait, which Basil has just painted.
I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me... Every moment that passes takes something from me and gives something to it. Oh, if it were only the other way! If the picture could change, and I could be always what I am now!
Dorian becomes obsessed with staying young and beautiful, and he joins Lord Henry in the selfish pursuit of pleasure, indulging in sex, drugs, and homosexuality. And, as he wished in the quote above, his portrait bears all the marks of his narcissistic soul whilst he maintains his youthful, innocent, beauty. But after killing his friend Basil, and becoming aware of what people really think of him, Dorian becomes increasingly anxious and insecure. He cries out for the life he could have had.
It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had prayed for.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde warns readers against narcissism, selfishness and vanity.