illustration of the upper-right corner of Dorian Gray's picture

The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde

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How does Lord Henry's treatment of women in The Picture of Dorian Gray reflect feminist criticism?

Quick answer:

Lord Henry is a Satanic hero, and his epigrams are uttered to show the opposite of what they say. Dorian Gray is a victim of Lord Henry's influence, and therefore views women as objects. Oscar Wilde holds the same view, but through satire that highlights the exact opposite. He does not believe that women are only good for sex, he wants you to see how funny it would be if someone really did think that way! It's the satirist's job to point out all the hypocrisies in society's attitudes, and nothing is more hypocritical than calling your girlfriend an "object"

Expert Answers

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As The Picture of Dorian Gray is social satire, you shouldn't put too much literal stock in anything anyone says.  If you want to understand how the artist or Oscar Wilde feels about women, you should try to understand the very opposite of their words.

Lord Henry is a Vice figure, a Satanic hero, the sarcastic voice of the author.  He's a mouthpiece for Wilde to pretend to be an  elitist and sexist socialites of the time, and he's too unrealistic to be taken too seriously.

Lord Henry's epigrams are little zingers that are part of Wilde's wit and not meant to be realistic social commentary.  The worst thing you can do is take them out of context:

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.


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

In an epigram everyone is treated like an object.  They're all generalization and stereotype.  That's the point.

Remember, an epigram is

a statement contradictory to what is accepted as a self-evident or proverbial truth.

The appeal of paradox lies in the fact that, however contradictory it may seem to be to the accepted maxim, it contains nevertheless, a certain grain of truth, which makes it an excellent vehicle of satire...

AND, to your point:

Wilde’s epigrams and paradoxes have another important function also. It is the showing of bourgeois morality. With the help of his epigrams and paradoxes the author shows us his characters, their way of life, manners, their thoughts and the bourgeois society of his time.

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