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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray is rife with epigrams and paradoxes. This is because the novel was written during the late 1880's, a time period in Wilde's life reportedly known as his most introspective; these were times where most of his wit was taking the shape of the famous paradoxes, axioms, maxims, and epigrams that distinguish Wilde as a writer and genius. However, after its initial publication in Lippincot's magazine in 1890, The Picture of Dorian Gray became one of the most talked about pieces of literature in Victorian England, and was deemed as "scandalous", even "criminal", "dirty", and "perverse" by a hypocritically prudish press.

It is said that what generated the most criticism was not only the subtle homoerotic themes that permeate the novel, but the fact that Wilde ingeniously infused this theme with quick, witty, and ironic social comments that stung the Victorian mentality right at its core. This resulted, as many publications admitted at the time, in many readers actually feeling insulted by Wilde, not just morally, but mostly intellectually; for Wilde basically called them "dimwits" right to their faces.

Using Lord Henry as his mouthpiece, Wilde outdid himself in penning down each and every word of what later became known as Oscariana; a compilation of witticisms put together by his wife, Constance. This compilation was never published as intended, but it can be found in many other forms of publications of the same kind.  Some of the most universal epigrams used "the three M's" of Oscariana: marriage, money, and morality, as topics.

Marriage: Lord Henry Wotton, to Basil Hallward, chapter 1

The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.

Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed, ch. 4

Money: Lord Henry, ch 4

Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Morality: Lord Henry, ch. 2

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.

Hence, it is no surprise that some of this social commentary caused the revolt that it did during a time period in which everything had to be said and done in utmost discretion as to not alter the "peace and dignity" of the kingdom. Wilde revolutionized the thinking processes of his peers and, as any other social revolutionary, paid for it in the most unfair and horrid way until his death.


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The Picture of Dorian Gray

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