The Depiction of the Double Life in The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘Those who go listed below the surface do so at their own danger’. If the visual outside of an individual is the ‘surface area’, it is presumed that below this surface is sensibility and emotion. Wilde alerts versus penetrating too deeply, or at all, the conscience; the danger that you can not experience enjoyment to the exact same strength when moral effect has been thought about haunts the novel. The phrase ‘dreadful pleasure’ is thus both antithetical and associated. Dorian is just able to lead a life of ‘satisfaction’ through remaining blind to his ‘dreadful’ sacrifice of others; enjoyment is practically magnified with the understanding that it was born of another’s suffering. Yet, the mythic quality dictates that this separation of morality and unheeded enjoyment is unsustainable and, as fresh paint does, the effects of sin start to permeate to the reduced conscience. It is to a self-afflicted ‘danger’ when Dorian submerges, albeit temporarily, ‘below the surface area’ and realises he can not live a life soulless. Once he has actually submerged in his conscience, he can no longer reach this best surface area, and inevitably drowns.

To avoid degeneration is to live a life based upon balance of two components. The very phrase ‘double life’ is associated with the Gothic doppelganger, a balance accomplished through each double being human, or human-like kind. Wilde complicates this by choosing an inanimate things as the doppelganger, providing an imbalance between the 2 and 3 dimensional; Dorian exists in a truth whereas the image, as art, can only ever be a representation of life. As human and painting are studied at the same time as if both were art, the 2 doppelgangers are momentarily two-dimensional: looking now at the evil and aging face on the canvas, and now at the fair young face that laughed back at him from the sleek glass (Wilde, p. 117). Despite the third individual narrative, this perspective is briefly from the mirror’s reflection. The description offered then transforms from a separated account to a story with altered perception; Dorian’s mirror image is not arguably not a sincere reflection, however a built picture of how he perceives himself. The reader must also undergo this impaired vision that damages fact, viewing the narrative through a ‘thin blue [wreath] of smoke’ (Wilde, p. 6). An additional layer of doubling is suggested in the reflection, another two-dimensional version of Dorian that can not physically dedicate to any action but will witness the ensuing inescapable ‘horror’ as an audience at the theatre would. Halberstam comments that ‘art serves to separate Dorian from his hideous other spatially’ [1], requiring a concentrate on ‘spatially’. Morality lacks physical substance, and is instead part of the soul. Yet the painting functions as a physical representation of the effects of sin on Dorian’s soul, which subsequently permits this continuous reprieve of morality. In almost anthropomorphising the painting, it is given a half life; capable of simulating the bodily, however biologically there stays a lack of cognitive thought. As a ‘reasonable young face’, a beautifully visual outside is likewise what Dorian pursues, aligning himself more with the painting than a wholly human character. He for that reason views this state of imbalance in between ‘surface’ and substance as the perfect state, with the physical kind of one double and the ethical loss of sight of the other. It death remains almost an inevitable act of nature, as balance requires to be brought back.

In living a double life, secrecy is invariably a requirement for each life to separately function as society expects. A female naivety is perhaps implied in Sibyl Vane, the innocent actress, as she exposes her entire self theatrically to audiences regularly. Similar to many characters in Wilde’s unique, the ‘double life’ divides the character in to the initial, probably ‘true’ character and the double, a representation or replica. In Dorian picking what is presumed to be the secondary ‘double’, love is both aestheticised and cheapened; he desires the characters she plays, the performative layer of her identity: ‘I left her in the forest of Arden, I shall find her in an orchard in Verona’ (Wilde, p. 71). The action of’ [leaving] her’ not only foreshadows inescapable abandonment, but suggests how Dorian envisions Sibyl in a world of Shakespearean love. In referencing Arcadian areas– the ‘forest’ and orchard’– Wilde constructs a pseudo-romance with a time frame; an arcadia is in harmony with nature, whereas Dorian’s love lacks authenticity and is unworthy of this literary elevation. In declining to disentangle a constructed, thought of vision of her from truth, Dorian enjoys only, to whatever extent he mentally can, what Sibyl outwardly constructs. Apparently, Sibyl as a character lacks the easiest of emotional depth to have enough substance to split her identity in two. It is perhaps the precise effect Wilde strives for; the story does follow Sibyl beyond the theatre, however still only notes her virtuous charm and theatrical mannerisms. For that reason, she appears to us exactly as she does to Dorian. Nevertheless, Sibyl’s doubling is possibly not as apparent as Dorian’s, which occurs physically. She is split rather by Dorian’s perception, with the 2 versions of her occupying truth or his imagination. Possibly the act of presenting Basil and Harry, who encourage an obsession with beauty, to his creative landscape also introduces a sense of truth. This unexpected interjection of reality and the transition from Sibyl’s ethereal double, to the ‘charming’ yet ‘absurdly artificial’ (Wilde, p. 77) declines the reliability Dorian looks for in the constancy of decorative charm. The ‘terrible’ in Sibyl’s ‘double life’ thus depends on her terrible loss of sight: she is uninformed that her secondary identity, the double life, is a building and construction, and she need not this substance of emotion to satisfy her predominantly decorative.

Max Nordau’s Degeneration argues there is a fundamental need for boundaries biologically, and socially. In ‘unchaining the monster of man’ and ‘trampling under foot […] all barriers which enclose brutal greed […] and desire of enjoyment’ [1], society becomes an anarchy of base, animalistic propensities that are usually supressed by inflicted limits. Dorian, unbeknown to effect, unchains the beast within himself through declaring himself unsusceptible to ethical repercussion. After one set of boundaries is torn down, a various set of physical borders is frantically set up in an attempt to keep an ordered control. This is attempted through the gothic concept of the locked door. Yet, as the old school space appears to function as the heart to his home, the painting acts as the central organ to Dorian’s body. Outside the room, Dorian is able to temporarily claim a physical, psychological and ethical liberty. Inside the room, this ‘double life’ decreases again to one, and he becomes one with the painting. When Dorian eliminates Basil Hallward, the blood that appears on the painting parallels the physical, then metaphorical, blood on Dorian’s hands also as he ‘dug the knife into the great vein that lags the ear, crushing the male’s head down on the table’ (Wilde, p. 144). The biological requirements of the ‘great vein’ anaesthetizes the sin through presenting the function as a cosmetic surgeon’s work, with a controlled result, instead of manslaughter, a consequence of uncontrolled, disorderly feeling. Desensitisation occurs further through removing Basil of his name, decreasing his identity to a characterless ‘guy’. A name activates an association and psychological reaction, so in implicating anonymity, Dorian refuses to even understand the situation to himself. This rejection of emotive ability lines up Dorian with the image as he declines to acknowledge a conscience, presenting himself as a two dimensional canvas that is impacted only physically. The language of the entire passage continues to stress this, as it stays observationally specific in seeing details of environment, but mentally vague. From this chapter onwards, Dorian’s attempted double life becomes more difficult to preserve. Physically, the painting remains in the school room, however mentally it begins to haunt Dorian’s ideas to the point of hysterical fear, a ruthless concern that weighs on what soul he has actually left. Keeping borders, as Nordau suggests is necessary to life, is for that reason ultimately unrealistic. The ‘monster’ within male needs just to have its chains loosened up a little, in order to neglect boundaries entirely.

There can be no argument that Dorian, as the lead character, leads a double life. What is feasible is recognizing the point where his soul splits. Some might assert that this splitting takes place through action, when Dorian accidentally causes Sibyl’s death, or begins his ungoverned sinning. It rather happens in idea, and most significantly impact: as soon as he becomes ‘poorly conscious that totally fresh impacts were at work within him’ (Wilde, p. 21), he is no longer his own initial. Whilst he may not exercise completely his double life at this moment, in believed he has been divided in imitation of Harry. Wilde splits Dorian in many directions– ethically, physically, psychologically, and spiritually– that a real ‘original’ variation just seems to exist for an amazingly little number of pages.


Halberstam, J., in The Modern Gothic and Literary doubles: Stevenson, Wilde and Wells, by Linda Dryden (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., 2003)

Nordau, M., Degeneration (Lincoln & & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1993)

Wilde, O., ‘Beginning’ in The Image Of Dorian Gray, (Surrey: Alma Classics Ltd, 2008)

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