Context: Supposedly inspired by the novel Vivian Gray (1826) of Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), that treats of the delusions and desires of youth and their change on the road to old age, the wit Oscar Wilde wrote A Picture of Dorian Gray, epitomizing the decadence of his epoch and expressing his own exaggerated hedonism. To some extent, the relation of Dorian Gray to Lord Henry Wotton anticipates the novelist's relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. In its Preface, Wilde declares: "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all." This one is carefully plotted, and its writing combines paradox and poetry. At its start, the artist Basil Hallward is painting a portrait of his handsome Faustian friend, Dorian Gray, when Lord Henry Wotton expresses a desire to meet the young man. The request begins a discussion of friendship. Hallward accuses Lord Henry of understanding neither friendship nor enmity, and of being indifferent to everybody.
"How horribly unjust of you!" cried Lord Henry, tilting his hat back, and looking up at the little clouds that, like ravelled skeins of glossy white silk, were drifting across the hollowed turquoise of the summer sky. "Yes, horribly unjust of you. I make a great difference between people. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. I have not got one who is a fool. They are all men of some intellectual power, and consequently they all appreciate me. . . ."