Style includes the details of writing, such as choice of diction, use of figures of speech, rhythm, tone and so on. Structure however, includes large matters such as the overall construction of a story, like the plot, events and climax. In Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray', the style of writing is very unique, the choice of language is interesting, there is a lot of use of figures of speech and there is a creation of distinct sound and sound patterns.
The structure of the book is also compelling, there are matters of suspense and creation of drama which consequently lead to a climax. In 'Dorian Gray' these two areas seem to contradict eachother, the style could be shown to lead to amoral aestheticism, and the structure could be shown to lead to immoral values. The following essay is an attempt to probe and analyse these two areas and see how they affect ones understanding of the novel and if possible, to find a synthesis between the two.
Aestheticism mainly came about during the Victorian era, where Aesthetes believed life had to be lived intensely, and people gave far more importance to the beauty of things. Oscar Wilde, began to pose as an Aesthete after he went to Oxford, and became somewhat of a celebrity after he was recognised for his talent in poetry. In the late 18th century, a philosopher named Immanuel Kant began to talk about the anatomy of art. 'Art serves no purpose', he says that art exists for its own sake, being beautiful.
He says the artist should not be interested with the social view, simply just to create beauty. Benjamin Constant and Victor Cousin, both great writers of the Aesthetic movement, use the slogan 'L'art pour l'art', art for arts sake. Many people began to take this idea seriously, and not long after, the English Aesthetic movement started and became somewhat fashionable. 'Burn with a gem like flame', said Walter Pater, an English Oxford essayist. Trying to imply that every moment of your life must be beautiful.
If we take a look at the dialogue, it is swarming with wit and irony. The plot of the book shows us the irony of a man giving up his soul just for the beauty of youth, and this being the most fundamental one. Wilde's mastery of wit displayed in the novel is shown through Lord Henry Wotton, 'Well, the way of paradoxes is the way of truth', and 'Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect- simply a confession of failures. Faithfulness! I must analyse it some day. The passion for poetry is in it'.
The preface of the novel is filled with illuminating paradoxes about love, life and mankind. Again, Lord Henry talked to Dorian about his philosophy primarily through witty paradoxes, 'I can't believe anything, provided that it is quite incredible', he also comments on love, 'The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer'. The style of this novel seems to reflect amoral values. The dialogue is clever, comic and witty. This is especially true of the conversations that involve Lord Henry Wotton.
He uses many rhetorical tricks such as antithesis in his conversation, 'Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul', these balanced phrases are used continuously, 'All crime is vulgar, just as all vulgarity is crime', 'There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about', he also uses wit, most of these witticisms occur in dialogue spoken by Lord Henry, 'She is a peacock in everything but beauty. And 'Books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame'.
He makes extensive use of epigrams and aphorisms, along with figures of speech such as simile and metaphor which are freely employed in the dialogue, 'She crouched on the floor like a wounded thing'. The novel is filled to the brim with description. There is use of lush, sensual description. Lord Henry's philosophy of life is that senses should be induldged to the full, this is how on can experience the intensity of life.
This, however, is not just a mindless indulgence but simply a pursuit for beauty. Dorian also believes this, 'They had remained savage and animal merely because the world had sought to starve them into submission or to kill them by pain, instead of aiming at making them elements of a new spirituality, of which a fine instinct for beauty was to be the dominant characteristic'. The novel also contains the description of exclusive objects, ideal rooms and beautiful furniture, 'With a vermillion and gold ceiling and walls of olive green lacquer'.
There are many figures of speech in the novel, 'The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses', as well as this, symbols have also been used, Lord Henry's 'Opium-tainted cigarette', could represent his corruption tainted lifestyle. 'Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of beauty so flamelike as theirs', a laburnum is a poisoness tree, which could represent Dorian, who turned out to be poisoness to many characters.
Dorian collects musical instruments and studies exotic perfumes, showing he is intrigued by beauty and beautiful flowers, luxurious objects, works of art and furnishings. There are also many allusions in the novel which are striking, and many of these are to do with Greek myths and literature, Dorian is compared to Adonis and Narcissus, Adonis was an exceptionally handsome young man who fell so much in love with his reflection, that he was unable to look away and consequently wasted away as he stared at the image.
There is also an allusion to sculpture in Lord Henry's house in Mayfair, where Dorian sees a statuette of Clodion. Wilde also takes a lot of trouble over the rhythms and sounds of his sentences, involving alliteration, 'You will become sallow and hollow-cheeked and dull eyed', this also employs assonance which is the repetition of the vowel sounds. There is also sibilance, the repetition of the 's' sound, 'Like sunlight, or spring-time, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon.
Often created by repetition of adjective, noun pairs or trios is rhythm, 'With his finely-curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. ' The rhetorical tricks such as antithesis also have a good value and help aid the rhythms of the writing, 'Our limbs fail, our senses rot. ' The style of the novel serves the aesthetic movement as it presents the aesthetic and hedonist way of living. The dialogue, description and all the figures of speech that are used throughout the novel are used very well.
But in this novel, Wilde has seemed to take a slightly different approach to aestheticism, this novel is not entirely supportive of the artistic movement, he has written about the calamity and tragedy of aestheticism. However it is a great aesthetic novel showing the fascination of aestheticism along with the dangers of it. The paragraphs above with their examples of Wilde's style are aesthetic in purpose. Wilde employs adhective trios, alliteration, rhythm, epigrams, comedy and allusions with the intention of creating sensual pleasure. He does not intend to promote any ethical or philosophical point of view.
However, this is not true of his use of structure in the novel. In the first ten chapters, the structure is balanced with Lord Henry's early influence on Dorian and Dorian's life as an adult in the last ten chapters. In the first half, Lord Henry indeed proves a bad influence for Dorian, as he begins to follow him in the pursuit for pleasure, they become involved in improper behaviour, which destroys Dorian's innocence and purity. Lord Henry looks to take advantage of Dorian and Basil also begs Henry to stay away by saying, 'Don't spoil him. Don't try to influence him.
Your influence would be bad. The world is wide and has many marvellous people in it. Don't take away from me the one person who gives to my art whatever charm it possesses'. In the last ten chapters, the consequences of Lord Henry's influence is shown as Dorian is corrupted, from a beautiful young boy to a guilty old man, even though his appearance is the same, his soul, seen in the painting, has become distorted and grotesque. But Dorian can be only blamed for his naivety and lack of suspicion. Dorian's moral decay is mirrored by the physical decay of the picture.