From the preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the reader can infer that Oscar Wilde’s style in the novel will be ornate, elaborate, and beautiful. Wilde writes,
The artist is the creator of beautiful things … Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.
Wilde considers himself an artist creating beautiful things, especially with this novel. Therefore, Wilde’s writing style can be described as ornate and humorous. His writing is filled with complex syntax, figurative language, and details.
We can consider a quote from the first chapter of the book as an example:
From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion.
Note that this is a single, complex sentence. Within this sentence, Wilde includes details, anthropomorphism, metaphor, alliteration, imagery, and allusion. He also has a languid and educated tone. Lord Henry considers the beauty of the blossoms and compares the birds to Japanese art. Wilde’s ornate and complex style, exemplified by this single sentence, demonstrates Wilde’s belief that art should be beautiful for the sake of having beautiful art.
Wilde’s writing style is also famously humorous. In this book, the characters jab at one another. For example, Lord Henry tells Dorian, “you will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit” (chapter 6). Wilde’s humor helps to balance the elaborate syntax and erudite diction. Overall, Wilde’s writing style is sharp, purposeful, and vivid.