Oscar Wilde's Influences on "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

Oscar Wilde, a literary genius of the late 19th century, crafted "The Picture of Dorian Gray" under the profound influence of his upbringing, academic pursuits, and philosophical explorations. Throughout his life, Wilde's development was shaped by diverse factors, from his mother's influence during his early years to the profound impact of Aesthetics, Epicureanism, and his personal experiences. These multifaceted influences converged to produce one of the most intriguing works of horror fiction in literary history.

The Maternal Influence: Speranza's Effeminate Grace

Oscar Wilde's early life was significantly influenced by his mother, Speranza, who played a pivotal role in shaping his attitude towards life and beauty.

There are anecdotes suggesting that Speranza, desiring a daughter, initially dressed Oscar in girls' clothes during his infancy, contributing to an effeminate aspect of his character. While this may have inadvertently played a role in Wilde's homosexuality, it also instilled in him a unique appreciation for grace and beauty, qualities often overlooked by his male contemporaries.

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Speranza's literary preferences, favoring the works of Bulwer-Lytton and Disraeli over plainer Victorian fiction, laid the foundation for Wilde's inclination towards highly artificial novels. Moreover, their shared admiration for Charles Robert Maturin's Gothic romance, "Melmoth the Wanderer," serves as a crucial link between Wilde's family and the thematic elements found in "The Picture of Dorian Gray." The eerie settings and haunting portraits in Maturin's novel foreshadow Wilde's own exploration of decadence and moral decay.

This maternal influence extended beyond mere fashion choices. Speranza's encouragement for Oscar to value highly artificial novels over plainer works of Victorian fiction fueled Wilde's development of a philosophical and analytical mind.

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This analytical prowess would later shy away from mainstream ideas, giving birth to a literary genius with a mind of its own. Maturin's "Melmoth the Wanderer" provided a narrative template that Wilde would draw upon in creating the haunting narrative of Dorian Gray's life and portrait.

Wilde's formative years were shaped not only by maternal guidance but also by the societal norms of middle-class Victorian England. The practice of dressing young boys in petticoats during infancy, as was customary in that era, inadvertently set in motion a chain of events that influenced Wilde's perception of gender roles and aesthetics. The juxtaposition of societal expectations and Wilde's inclination towards beauty would later manifest in the intricate layers of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," where societal norms are challenged and the pursuit of beauty takes center stage.

Aesthetic Education at Oxford: Ruskin, Pater, and Epicureanism

During his college years at Oxford, Wilde encountered the Aesthetic movement, spearheaded by influential figures such as John Ruskin and Walter Pater. Ruskin's lectures on The Aesthetic and Mathematical Schools of Florence left a lasting impression on Wilde, shaping his awareness of the intrinsic connection between art and English life. Pater, with his work "Studies in the History of the Renaissance," provided Wilde with a philosophical perspective that championed the cultivation of a deep response to beauty.

Wilde's exposure to Epicurus, the Greek philosopher advocating pleasure as the highest good, further fueled his aesthetic pursuits. The Victorian aesthetes, including Wilde and Pater, delved into sense-perception, wholeness, and the soul, mirroring Epicurean ideals. Wilde's belief that external beauty masks inner moral decrepitude, as exemplified in "The Picture of Dorian Gray," underscores the profound impact of Epicurean philosophy on his literary endeavors.

Wilde's engagement with Aesthetics extended beyond passive learning. He became acquainted with John Ruskin's ideas through attending numerous lectures, shaping his concerns for social questions and emphasizing the essential connection between art and English life. Even in later years, Wilde continued to draw inspiration from Ruskin's works such as "Fors Clavigera" and "The Poetry of Architecture." The synthesis of Ruskin's ideas and Wilde's sensibilities resulted in a unique perspective that found its way into the fabric of "The Picture of Dorian Gray."

Wilde's time at Oxford was a pivotal period not only for his intellectual development but also for the formation of enduring friendships that would influence his artistic endeavors. The exchange of ideas with fellow students and professors, including Max Müller, Professor of Comparative Philology, enriched Wilde's understanding of beauty and its intrinsic connection to life. The intellectual ferment of Oxford, with its vibrant discussions on aesthetics and philosophy, laid the groundwork for Wilde's later exploration of these themes in his literary works.

Moral Ambiguity and Wilde's Self-Influence: Lord Henry Wotton

Beyond academic and familial influences, Wilde's own life experiences played a significant role in shaping the character of Lord Henry Wotton. The concept of Moral Ambiguity, skillfully utilized in the novel, reflects Wilde's mastery of doubt as an art form. Lord Henry, a character both likable and repulsive, emerges as a product of Wilde's exploration of his own personality, particularly during a visit to the studio of painter Basil Ward.

Wilde's encounter with a handsome young man sitting for a portrait sparked the idea of a character, Dorian Gray, whose exterior remains youthful while the portrait ages. This concept, born out of Wilde's own musings on the transience of beauty, serves as the core theme of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," showcasing Wilde's ability to intertwine his personal experiences with his literary creations. Lord Henry Wotton, with his explosive personality and intriguing moral stance, becomes a vessel for Wilde to explore the complexities of human nature and societal expectations.

Furthermore, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" was not a sudden creation but a culmination of Wilde's thoughts and observations over several years. The novel's publication in 1890 was preceded by Wilde's visit to Basil Ward's studio six years earlier. Wilde's remark about the pity of a glorious creature growing old, juxtaposed with the wish for eternal youth, laid the foundation for the narrative's exploration of the consequences of such desires. Lord Henry Wotton, in essence, embodies Wilde's contemplation on the fleeting nature of beauty and the potential pitfalls of a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.

Wilde's fascination with the duality of human nature, embodied in Lord Henry's character, was not only an exploration of societal norms but also a reflection of Wilde's own internal conflicts. His personal struggles with societal expectations, his homosexuality, and the tension between the pursuit of beauty and the constraints of morality found expression in the nuanced characterizations within "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Wilde's self-awareness and introspection seeped into the narrative, creating layers of complexity that continue to captivate readers and scholars alike.


In conclusion, Oscar Wilde's life was a tapestry woven with diverse influences that manifested in the creation of "The Picture of Dorian Gray." From the effeminate grace imparted by his mother to the intellectual stimulation provided by Ruskin and Pater at Oxford, and the philosophical underpinnings of Epicureanism, Wilde's journey was a rich tapestry of experiences and ideas. The seamless integration of his personal reflections into the narrative, especially through the character of Lord Henry Wotton, underscores Wilde's mastery as a writer and his unique contribution to the realm of horror fiction.

Wilde's ability to traverse the boundaries of societal norms and challenge conventional ideas about beauty, morality, and human nature is a testament to his enduring influence. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" stands not only as a work of literary brilliance but also as a reflection of Wilde's profound understanding of the human condition. As we delve into the layers of Wilde's influences, it becomes clear that his magnum opus is a mosaic of personal experiences, philosophical musings, and societal critiques, making it an enduring masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers across generations.

Updated: Dec 15, 2023
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Oscar Wilde's Influences on "The Picture of Dorian Gray". (2016, Jul 05). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-influences-of-oscar-wilde-essay

Oscar Wilde's Influences on "The Picture of Dorian Gray" essay
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