Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Dorian Gray- The Dracula Connection and Relevance

A Wish and Aftermath

When Dorian Gray realise that even when his youthful charm and handsome looks fade one day, his life-like portrait will retain all his beauty for eternity, he makes a pact with evil. He wishes for his body to remain young and his portrait suffer all the hits that the passing time lands on him, which is granted. Dorian Gray plunges headlong into material pleasures and milk the beauty all around him, while his picture absorbs all the resultant decay- physical and psychological. But he finds only heartbreak and tragedy on this path. 
Cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Social Impact

The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only novel written by Oscar Wilde, the renowned poet. The novel strikes you hard and makes you introspect on all your life and all the choices you made living it. No wonder it was controversial when it was published a century back..! Strict Victorian morality codes were ruthless to the overall lack of a moral axis and homo erotic undertones of the story. The novel was deemed unfit for the consumption of public by several critics. 

The stigma attached with the novel may have become more rooted after the arrest of Wilde on charges of homosexuality after some years of it's publication. Passages from the novel was read in the trials and no reputed publisher wanted to attach themselves with the novel. For some time it was even sold with the label of literary erotica. 

But with the end of the Victorian era, novel became more widely read and appreciated. Many were surprised to find out that, despite of the portrayal of offensive crimes and immoral lifestyle (according to the times), the novel can be easily read as a moral parable. It actually proclaim that excessive dependence on material pleasure decays one's own existence. 
Victorian Morality- A Painting

Parallels With Dracula

I found The Portrait of Dorian Gray, very similar to Dracula in some aspects. Both were written at a time when decades of strict Victorian morality was stifling the British society. The inner wounds were feverishly trying to find a way out. Dorian Gray and Dracula, probably were the results of this severe suppression of a society's baser needs. There are several common themes found in the two novels, like homoeroticism and a deep craving for the retention of youth. 

The title characters mock the prevalent societal norms and it's moral codes. They don't consider morality as an aspect of life. Never ending thirst is the basic need of both of them. For Gray, it is the need to get hold of everything that is beautiful. For Dracula, in the guise of blood, it is actually the thirst to satisfy carnal needs and attain everlasting life. Permanent youth is supposed to be a gift, but it turns out to be a curse for both. In pursuing physical pleasures both of them falls headlong into a deep pit of decay and into the resultant tragic end. 

I was very surprised to know the connections between the two novels. Bram Stocker was a friend of Wilde, though later he never wanted to associate with him in any way. Bram Stocker's wife, before getting married to him had an affair with Wilde and most probably, maintained the relationship. Dracula was written immediately after the scandalous trials of Wilde on charges of being homosexual. 
Oscar Wilde

Wilde had proclaimed that he wanted to be Gray and several actual characteristics of Wilde is probably superimposed on Gray. His physical looks were strikingly great and in his trials it was established that he had associations with several brothels, male prostitutes and blackmailers, just like Dorian Gray in the novel. It seemed Wide was enacting a Dorian in his life. 

Bram Stoker's portrayal of Dracula, probably is a veiled impression of Wilde. Moral debauchery displayed by Dracula may be Bram Stoker's shocked reaction to a former friend's seeming fall into a life of decay. So in a way Dracula may be an unsympathetic version of Dorian Gray himself. 
Bram Stoker

My Views on Dorian Gray

The Portrait of Dorian Gray can be read in different ways. As a horror story, as a moral story, as social criticism or as a psychological thriller, it stands tall in every reading. I would like to analyse it metaphorically. For me being Dorian Gray is to be enamored with external looks and trying to preserve them by any means. 

Initially Gray is an innocent kid who everyone adore for his boyish charm. The artist Basil, who makes his portrait, is his self esteem, which has portrayed an image of Gray with much adoration. Lord Henry, who corrupts Gray, is his inner demon which worries that the features of Gray that makes him valued in society will be lost with time and Gray will lose relevance. Gray become ready to preserve his exterior beauty on the expense of his self esteem. 
Sacrifice of self esteem & embrace of pleasures... 

In this process the first victim is his love Sybil, his kindness and compassion. The loss of his humane values shocks Gray initially but encouraged by his inner demon Lord Henry, he forgets his self esteem and plunges into material pleasures. In novel, we see that when Basil tries to reclaim the portrait it is already too late. The portrait is now a horrible picture of an ugly and bitter person. Gray murders Basil, his self esteem and gets more dangerously involved in his nefarious activities and culminates in his irredeemable and inevitable doom. 

I believe this novel is a perfect critic of modern way of living where ends justify the means and preservation of outward appearances deeply flaws our inner portrait irretrievably. Classics are artworks that stays relevant to the times it is read and The Picture of Dorian Gray can be called undoubtedly a classic. 

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