Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005
17 Pages, Grade: 2
Dorian Gray as a rebel
Dorian Gray – a rebellish gentlemen?
The characters motivation for rebellism
Is he a rebel or not?
Dorian Gray as a devil
The charm of Dorian Gray
Is Dorian Gray in league with the devil?
This essay is a contribution to a seminar in English Literature studies in detail a seminar about novels of the 19th century. It is assumed that the reader of this essay is familiar with the novel “the Picture of Dorian Gray” written by Oscar Wilde and first published in 1891. As basic knowledge the reader should consider the circumstances in Great Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria including the prevailing moral views. Some key words to describe the Victorian Age are prudish, repressed and old-fashioned. However, this age was also the time when reforms, innovations and revolutions took place or were about to begin. “Above all it was an age of paradox and power” So he we are and that is the background to the question: Dorian Gray – rebel or devil?
This general question is difficult to evaluate. In this essay only a few aspects are taken into account for answering that question such as the character’s position in the Victorian Society, his violation of the code of conduct in that society and his resemblance of Lucifer.
There are two main parts in this essay the first deals with Dorian Gray as a rebel and the second and last takes a closer look on Dorian Gray’s develish features. In the end the reader has read many pro and contra arguments and finds a brief conclusion as an answer to the question of the title.
This part of the essay will deal with the question wether the character Dorian Gray is a rebel or not. It is an analysis of the following aspects that will answer the question. His relation and association with the Victorian Society, his motivation for being a rebel and his philosophy of life are the topics discussed. Arguments why the Victorian Society regarded Dorian Gray as a rebel are pointed out first, then reasons why the character became a rebel are given with regard to the motivation that guided him.
In the Victorian Society of Great Britain, named after Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 until 1901, one or two decades before 1900 the life of the character Dorian Gray is settled. In the following his relation and association with this society will assist to reveal whether Dorian Gray is a rebel or not. It is important to take the Victorian Society into account for such an evaluation since a rebel is either defined as someone who “act(s) in or show(s) opposition or disobedience (e.g.) rebelled against the conventions of polite society” or someone who “oppose(s) or disobey(s) one in authority or control”. Dorian Gray’s behaviour in the novel fits in both definitions. He offends against the conventions of polite Victorian Society as well as he ignores rules of authority or control of that time. How he rebels in the sense of the given definitions is shown in a later paragraph. First a closer look on Dorian Gray’s social position in Victorian Society is crucial to understand the events of his rebelish behaviour.
Dorian Gray – a rebellish gentlemen?
In the Victorian society the old hereditary aristocracy still existed and was fortified by the new gentry who owed their success to trade and industry. Together these two groups formed the so called upper class where women were ladies and men were gentlemen either by birth or by means of money. “Mr. Dorian Gray does not belong to Blue-books” which means in detail he is not an aristocratic. However, he was raised by his aristocratic grandfather, the last Lord of Kelso. Therefore, he obviously received an education appropriate for a gentleman of that time. The gentlemen in Victorian Society was expected to have certain characteristics and to follow a code of conduct. In fact no explicit rules or typical gentleman features existed which is shown by the following quotation from Lord Fermor, Lord Henry Wottons’s uncle and a true gentleman by birth: “If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.” Despite the missing definition of a gentlemen, a person was accepted as a gentlemen if he had a public school education or the means of money to move in the upper classes. Dorian Gray inherited all the wealth of his grandfather and of his mother Lady Magret Devereux. He did not inherit a title because his mother married a subaltern, a junior officer in the British Army. As a result Dorian Gray is educated as a gentlemen and possesses the means to occupy a social position as part of the upper Victorian Society.
In the course of the novel, especially in Chapters XI and XII the reader makes sense of rumours spread in London’s Victorian Society about Dorian Gray. One the hand he was an adorable and fascinating character in society due to his extraordinary beauty and charm but on the other hand “…there were not a few who distrusted him. He was nearly blackballed at a West End club of which his birth and social position fully entitled him to become a member..”
As a gentlemen of that time it was expected of him to treat other people especially women with respect and with decency in a courtly or even chivalrous manner or in other words “Recollect, the desire of imparting pleasure, especially to the ladies, is one of the essential qualifications of a gentleman.” Actually, the author presents scandals and rumours that reveal Dorian Gray who brings shame and pain to women as this following quotation illustrates “Women who had wildly adored him, and for his sake had braved all social censure and set convention at defiance, were seen to grow pallid with shame or horror if Dorian Gray entered the room.” Hence it follows that Dorian Gray does not follow the implicit code of conduct for gentlemen appropriate for his social position. He shows opposition and rebels against the conventions of polite society.
 Landow, George P. “Victorian and Victorianism” <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/Etiquette.html> 23.08.2005
 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary <http://www.merriam-webster.com> 19.08. 2005
 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary <http://www.merriam-webster.com> 1 9.08. 2005
 p. 41 in Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Penguin Popular Classics, London 1994
 Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Penguin Popular Classics, London 1994, p. 41
 Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Penguin Popular Classics, London 1994,
 Carpenter, O. Lucien: Universal Dancing Master:, 1880 <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/Etiquette.html> 23.08.2005
 Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Penguin Popular Classics, London 1994, p. 163
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