Andrew G. Christensen deposited On Being One’s Own Heir: British Portraiture, Metaphysical Inheritance, and The Picture of Dorian Gray in the group LLC Victorian and Early-20th-Century English on MLA Commons 7 months ago
Much scholarship on The Picture of Dorian Gray has focused on its possible textual sources and its place in literary traditions. This article demonstrates that by contextualizing the novel in the history of art and the tradition of British portraiture, we are able to answer significant yet overlooked questions such as why Wilde chose “picture” rather than “portrait” for his title and are better prepared to appreciate the serious themes underlying the fantastical tale. The magical portrait of Dorian is most readily identifiable as a literary gothic motif, yet, in developing his central plot device, Wilde also draws on metaphysical and mystical theories of portraiture current in the British tradition and from throughout the history of art. These, in turn, are rooted in wide-ranging superstitions and other cultural attitudes toward imagery that have proven both influential and enduring. The philosophical symbolism of Wilde’s portrait contributes to a narrative of metaphysical inheritance and an allegory of arrested development through which Wilde is also able to test certain aesthetic doctrines which, however cherished, are seen to fail in Dorian’s case.