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martedì 28 aprile 2015

Letteratura inglese - Oscar Wilde - Analysis of two passages taken from The Picture of Dorian Grey + The Praface + his philosophy of life

Chapter IX of The picture of Dorian Gray page 106-107 (photocopy)
Gautier was one of the writers who had a great influence on Oscar Wilde. He stated that nothing is truly beautiful, but that which serves no purpose[1]. Everything useful is ugly because it expresses some need and the needs of man are ignoble and disgusting.
     The passages underlined summarize the most important ideas of Walter Pater’s “Conclusion” to his Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873). Pater’s “Conclusion” to the Renaissance can be considered the philosophical manifesto of the Aesthetic Movement.
In his “Conclusion” to The Renaissance Pater describes life as an insignificant and discontinuous sequence of impressions. He states that the aim of life is not the fruits of experience but experience itself. The consequences of this kind of philosophy are that there is no lasting commitment in life and that the effects of an action are not taken into consideration. Man is driven by (=è spinto da) curiosity about life to search/hunt continually for new sensations.
“Conclusion” to The Renaissance (page 186-190)
Marius the Epicurean is a philosophical novel. It is the story of a young Roman patrician who seeks a valid philosophy of life considering various positions and then abandoning them until he feels attracted to a Christian view of life. Pater wrote this novel because he felt he needed to clarify the ideals he had expressed in his “Conclusion” to The Renaissance as he was afraid they might have a negative influence on young immature students.
Pater was a shy, retiring person and he was very surprised when he realised that Oscar Wilde and his friends regarded him as their master (= maestro).
Experience is reduced to a swarm of impressions and it is a perpetually changing flux. He also says that impressions are fleeting.
He states that the end of life is experience, that is to say, the capacity of experiencing the greatest possible number of impressions.
Walter Pater was sceptical about theories and doctrines and instead of recommending a continuation of the search for truth which had dominated Oxford in the first half of the 19th century, he assured his readers that the quest for truth was pointless because truth is relative. He also encouraged them to enjoy life to the full, to relish (= gustare) its sensations, especially those provoked by art. He believed that it is in art that the finest sensations are to be found and that it is in art that we can hope to fix forever intense moments of our life.
Page 190, lines 18-20: Dorian knows no moral order and the only thing that remains for him is to intensify his life by a large number of intense sensations.

The new hedonism (page 355 of Performer) is based on the Epicurean school of philosophy, in which pleasure is the only good (= bene) in life. Hedonism played a great role in the moral and philosophical debate of the 1870s and 1880s in Oxford led by Francis Herbert Bradley and other philosophers. Bradley, however, didn’t believe in pleasure for pleasure’s sake (= fine a sé stesso). He developed his idea in the framework of a general polemic against the Utilitarian ethics (= etica utilitaristica) promulgated by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.
Utilitarians stated that actions are good in proportion to their utility. By “utility” Bentham meant the extent of happiness an action can promote. He stated that public acts should promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Walter Pater was the theorist of the Aesthetic Movement: this movement was concerned with much more than the enjoyment of beauty and the search for new sensations.
Another work which had a great importance for Dorian / great influence on Dorian was Huysmans’ A Rebours[2] (1884). It has been noted that there are intertextual connections between Dorian Gray and A Rebours. Huysmans dedicates a large part of this novel to the sensory pleasures experienced by Jean Des Esseintes’ consumption of luxury goods (= beni di lusso), beautiful artefacts (= oggetti artigianali) and fine ornaments[3]. For the most part, Des Esseintes seems to devote his time to contemplating jewels, perfumes and works of art. There’s a strong similarity between Des Esseintes’ house and Dorian’s house in Grosvenor.
A Rebours is regarded as one of the most significant writings of literary Decadence in France. Writings categorized/classified as Decadent draw attention to unique sensory experience, distorted psychological states and perverse forms of pleasure.
At the beginning of the 1890s, Oscar Wilde stood as a representative of the decadent development from Gautier to Huysmans because of the similarities between his writings and their poetics. Huysmans and other decadent writers drew on a number of previous writers among whom Gautier and his Preface to a novel entitled/called Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835).
Another important writer on whom Huysmans drew was Baudelaire and his collection of poetry called Les Fleurs du Mal (1857). Both Gautier and Baudelaire upheld/supported/were in favour of the view of art for art’s sake, that is to say, the notion that art exists only for itself, not for a didactic or moral purpose.
Dorian Gray is regarded as the most important example of Decadent literature because it describes the fall of an anti-hero. This is a novel which contains almost all the elements ascribed to[4] literary Decadence, among which a narcissistic egotism, a scorn (disprezzo) for moral and social conventions, the search for pleasure and experience for the sake of experience.
This novel is also regarded as the expression of a fin-de-siècle (= di fine secolo) crisis both of culture and of society. The symptoms of this crisis are the negation of social obligations and the withdrawal[5] of the individual from the society to a position of egocentric self-fulfilment. Another symptom is the link between Aesthetic education and corruption in the aristocracy.
The causes of this crisis are to be found mainly in the weakening of religious faith, a certain scepticism towards scientific cosmology[6] and rapid changes in the environment brought about by/due to industrialization. These factors contributed to an intellectual climate in which the old orders (the old values, rules and beliefs) began to crumble/break up before the new ones had established themselves. The new hedonism is a response to this crisis/upheaval in terms of escapism (= evasione). The individual was to renounce any active role in the reshaping of society and (was to) occupy himself with the satisfaction of his own needs.

The novel also represents a transition between Victorianism and the modern age.
The Picture of Dorian Gray can be seen as a challenge to Victorian values and ideals but it never really breaks free from them. For example, Basil is a moralist and an idealist: his moral values are essentially middle-class, they consist of such criteria as honour, goodness, purity and a clean name. He doesn’t regard his gift as a painter as the status symbol of an aristocratic elite, but as something which might separate him from ordinary people.
Lord Henry Wotton[7], by contrast, is a moral anarchist, an irresponsible intellectual, a dandy, and a cynical man. He represents a counter (= opposta) position to Basil Hallward.
In the hedonistic programme which he sets out for Dorian the aim of life is the uninhibited self-fulfilment of the individual. In this programme self-denial[8] is regarded as depressing and obligations to others do not exist. He tells Dorian that one’s own life is the important thing, moreover (= inoltre) Lord Henry considers the exteriors (all what can be seen and touched) as more important than the interior (the realm[9] of the spirit).
In this view of life bodily beauty is seen as the wonder of wonders and since beauty is above all the privilege of youth, this is a time which must be savoured/enjoyed to the full (= con pienezza).
Dorian’s error is to take Lord Henry’s theories as practical guides for life. He doesn’t realize that they represent the cynicism of a rich and bored idler. Following Lord Henry’s advice Dorian confines his interests to the satisfaction of all his desires, but the final effect of this is lack of meaning, disillusionment and boredom. His dissolute life[10] leads to isolation from society and loss of identity.

Isolation from society is expressed through the technique of the narrated monologue. This is a device which conveys (= comunica) the subjectivity of the character’s view of reality. This literary device occurs more frequently in the passages where Dorian becomes aware of his beauty and appropriates Lord Henry’s ideas as his own[11]. It also occurs in the passages where Lord Henry reflects on his influence over Dorian.
The narrated monologue anticipates the “stream-of-consciousness” technique later used by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. As regards the themes of the novel, loss of identity and isolation from reality are among the most important themes of modern literature.
The subject matter and the narrated monologue are counterbalanced by (= compensate da) adherence to certain traditional conventions of the novel, in particular the omniscient narrator. An example of the use of an omniscient narrator is to be found / occurs in line 40 on page 355 (Perfomer).



Basil’s studio (page 353)
Line 5: the “divan of Persian saddle-bags” is a couch (=divano) covered in carpeting (=tappezzeria) made in designs which imitated the saddle-bags carried by camels.
Line 10: “Japanese effect”: Japanese art grew in popularity in the West after the signing of the Kanagawa Treaty in 1854, when Japan was opened to international trade. This treaty marked the end of Japan’s long period of seclusion, which had begun in the 17th century. In 1862 a department store was opened in London selling furniture and porcelain (a kind of ceramics) coming from Japan. The name of this department store was Farmer and Roger’s Oriental Warehouse, later known as Liberty & Co. This department store started an artistic trend which would become known as “Japonism” ten years later. Japonism means the influence of Japanese art on western culture. Japanese art influenced in particular the decorative arts. At Oxford Wilde gained a reputation for recollecting Japanese white and blue china: this kind of china had previously found favour with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was the founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. A number of artists known to Wilde, notably Whistler, included/incorporated Japanese designs in their work. Oscar Wild’s house in Chelsea featured[12] many Japanese designs.
Line 9: “tussore-silk” is a kind of silk originated in India and China. It is coarse (= ruvida) and brown and it was mainly used for carpets, curtains, women’s clothing and parasols.
Line 32: in the 1890s and the early 1900s[13] in the East End of London there were places where people could smoke cigarettes containing opium to experience new sensations.
Line 25: The Grosvenor Gallery in New Bond Street (very near Mayfair, Wilde’s favourite area) was opened in 1877 and it exhibited works that were experimental both in form and subject. In 1877 Whistler exhibited a painting entitled Nocturne in Black and Gold. This was an elite gallery which became closely associated with the Aesthetic Movement, of which Wilde was the main representative. Financial difficulties led to the closure of the gallery in 1890. The Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House was opened in 1768 by King George III, and the first president of this gallery was Sir Joshua Reynolds (this gallery can still be visited in London).

COMPREHENSION (Basil's studio)
1)    The room’s furnishings described are the divan of Persian saddle-bags, the long tussore-silk curtains, the huge window producing a kind of Japanese effect and the full-length portrait clamped to an upright easel (= cavalletto) in the centre of the room.
The description of the room’s furnishings conveys a sense of exquisite refinement and taste for exotic decoration. The studio is described in a slightly Bohemian[14] way: the divan is covered in carpeting which imitates the saddle bags …

2)    A huge window (probably a French window[15]) opening onto the garden.
3)    Lord Henry Wotton is lying on the divan of Persian saddle-bags smoking several cigarettes. He is also looking at the flowers through the French window (looking onto the garden). There are lilac, laburnum and honey-suckle. It’s a beautiful summer day and the scent of the flowers in the garden fills (= riempie) the studio. Lord Henry is also looking at the shadows of the birds flying past the French window, flying behind the curtains.
4)    The kind of cigarettes Lord Henry is smoking tells us something about the corruption of the aristocracy, which went hand-in-hand with their education.
Lord Henry is impressed by the painting of Dorian Gray and he urges (insiste perché) Basil to exhibit it at an art gallery: he advises him to show it at the Grosvenor Gallery.
Lines 18 to 20 tell us that Basil was a solitary painter. Basil rejects Lord Henry’s advice saying that he will never exhibit his painting because he has put so much of himself into it.
Lord Henry’s way of speaking is witty (= acuto), ironical and sometimes even paradoxical. It reflects his sophisticated education. Basil’s speech[16], by contrast, is earnest (=onesto) and straightforward (= diretto, schietto).
5)    They are discussing whether the picture should be exhibited at the Grosvenor: Lord Henry Wotton thinks that this could be a very important opportunity for Basil, because he could  become famous. Basil, by contrast, doesn’t want to show his painting because it’s too personal to be exhibited.

The first passage opens in Basil’s studio, where the painter is completing a full-length portrait of Dorian Gray. It is a beautiful summer day and the room is filled with the fragrance coming from the flowers of the garden. Lord Henry is lying on the divan, is smoking an opium-cigarette while admiring a painting. He tells Basil to exhibit Dorian’s portrait at the Grosvenor Academy, but Basil states that he will never show it because it has too much of himself in it.
In the second passage Dorian is drawn into conversation by Lord Henry who sets out his philosophy of life, which he summarizes as New Hedonism. In this philosophy the aim of life is an uninhibited self-development and the highest values are beauty and youth.
When he sees his portrait, Dorian is very impressed. He looks at it as if he saw his beauty for the first time. Then he is distressed/pained (= molto addolorato) by the thought of losing it and he wishes he could remain young forever while his portrait becomes old and ugly. Wilde conveys Dorian’s intensity of emotion through the use of stylistic devices such as parallel constructions (“if it were …”), the emphatic use of the conjunction “if”, and the use of exclamation marks. The repetition of “how sad it is” also gives the reader a clear idea of Dorian’s emotional state, of his concern (=preoccupazione) about losing his beauty and becoming old and wrinkled.
Lord Henry speaks in witty aphorisms[17]: for example, line 10 contains a paradox.
Dorian’s desire to preserve his beauty and youth while his portrait bears (= subisce) the alterations of age and his willingness (= disponibilità) to sell his soul to the devil to this end (= scopo) can be seen as a variation on the theme of the double, a theme which was quite popular in the 19th century. The most important novel dealing with this theme is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).
Dr. Jekyll is a physician (= medico) who is aware of the duality/mixture of good and evil in his own nature. One day he discovers a drug, which enables him to make for himself a separate personality (Mr. Hyde) which can absorb all his evil instincts.
Dorian’s willingness to sell his soul to the devil also recalls the pact with the devil, which can be found in the legends of Faust[18]. Faust is the main character of a play by Goethe. He is a necromancer or an astrologer who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power. The relationship between Lord H. Wotton and Dorian resembles (= assomiglia) that between Mephisto, the servant of the devil, and Faust in Goethe’s play.
Dorian’s personality is split into two parts. One physical and the other spiritual: the link between the two parts is the changing portrait. Dorian’s portrait represents his conscience, it is a visible emblem of his soul and it changes in order to reflect Dorian’s vice[19] and progressive degeneration. This process begins when Dorian appropriates Lord Henry’s ideas.
The Preface
The Preface to Dorian Gray was first published in the Fortnightly Review. It was written in response to the harsh criticism with which Dorian Gray had been received by a number of critics. It was later included in the second edition of the novel (1891). The Preface is a series of aphorisms/witty statements about the purpose of art, the role of the artist and the value of beauty. Later it came to be regarded as the Manifesto of the Aesthetic Movement.
“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it” and “All art is quite useless” are two concepts expressed by Gautier in his Preface to Mademoiselle De Maupin. What Gautier asks in Mademoiselle de Maupin is: “What is the use of art? What is the use of music?”. Through these questions, he suggests that all forms of art are useless.
Caliban is a misshapen being (= essere malformato) who tries to rape Miranda, the daughter of Prospero, Duke of Milan. Caliban is the son of a vicious/malevolent and powerful witch that dominates the island where Prospero and Miranda are shipwrecked. The story of Prospero and Miranda is told by Shakespeare in The Tempest (1611). Wilde compares the 19th century to a misshapen being (Caliban).
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of young artists and writers who first met in 1848. The most prominent members were painters such as Millet, Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Their main aim was to reform English painting by rejecting the established academic style in favour of a revival of (= ritorno a) the simplicity and pure colours of the Pre-Renaissance period (the period before the Italian painter Raphael). Rossetti was also a poet and as a poet he belonged to the tradition of sensuous[20] and highly musical poetry which can trace its origin back to Keats and would later be represented by men like Oscar Wilde and a later generation of poets. These poets insisted on the fact that poetry and art in general must be exclusively concerned with the beautiful, not with the useful or the didactic. Rossetti formed his view of poetry through a close (= rigoroso) study of Keats’s poems and letters.
Another artist who anticipated the Aesthetic Movement was Swinburne: he was educated at Eaton and Oxford, where he was influenced by Rossetti. He was among the first in England to state that poetry must be independent of moral/didactic aims. Swinburne was also an enthusiastic supporter of Republican ideals and the cause of the Italian Risorgimento. He met Mazzini in London in 1867 and in the same year he wrote Song of Italy. Four years later, in 1871, he wrote Songs before Sunrise: these are poems which express his support for Mazzini



[1] a eccezione di ciò che è inutile
[2] A ritroso
[3] any objects that are used to decorate something
[4] attribuita a
[5] To withdraw = ritirarsi
[6] “Cosmology” means “the study of the Universe, its origin and development
[7] Henry Wotton is Oscar Wilde’s mouthpiece (a person who speaks of the half of another person)
[8] abnegazione (to deny = negare)
[9] regno
[10] moral decline/downfall = declino morale
[11] fa proprie le idee di Lord Henry
[12] had as an important feature
[13] [nine hundreds]
[14] He rejects bourgeois (middle-class) values and doesn’t identify himself with the values that led to industrialization.   He leads a casual life, which is different from the life of other people of his time; he is interested in art, music and various forms of literature.
[15] Porta.finestra
[16] way of speaking
[17] an aphorism is a short clever sentence expressing a general truth
[18] German name for Faustus
[19] criminal behaviour
[20] full of images appealing to the sensesChapter IX of The picture of Dorian Gray page 106-107 (photocopy)
Gautier was one of the writers who had a great influence on Oscar Wilde. He stated that nothing is truly beautiful, but that which serves no purpose[1]. Everything useful is ugly because it expresses some need and the needs of man are ignoble and disgusting.
     The passages underlined summarize the most important ideas of Walter Pater’s “Conclusion” to his Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873). Pater’s “Conclusion” to the Renaissance can be considered the philosophical manifesto of the Aesthetic Movement.
In his “Conclusion” to The Renaissance Pater describes life as an insignificant and discontinuous sequence of impressions. He states that the aim of life is not the fruits of experience but experience itself. The consequences of this kind of philosophy are that there is no lasting commitment in life and that the effects of an action are not taken into consideration. Man is driven by (=è spinto da) curiosity about life to search/hunt continually for new sensations.
“Conclusion” to The Renaissance (page 186-190)
Marius the Epicurean is a philosophical novel. It is the story of a young Roman patrician who seeks a valid philosophy of life considering various positions and then abandoning them until he feels attracted to a Christian view of life. Pater wrote this novel because he felt he needed to clarify the ideals he had expressed in his “Conclusion” to The Renaissance as he was afraid they might have a negative influence on young immature students.
Pater was a shy, retiring person and he was very surprised when he realised that Oscar Wilde and his friends regarded him as their master (= maestro).
Experience is reduced to a swarm of impressions and it is a perpetually changing flux. He also says that impressions are fleeting.
He states that the end of life is experience, that is to say, the capacity of experiencing the greatest possible number of impressions.
Walter Pater was sceptical about theories and doctrines and instead of recommending a continuation of the search for truth which had dominated Oxford in the first half of the 19th century, he assured his readers that the quest for truth was pointless because truth is relative. He also encouraged them to enjoy life to the full, to relish (= gustare) its sensations, especially those provoked by art. He believed that it is in art that the finest sensations are to be found and that it is in art that we can hope to fix forever intense moments of our life.
Page 190, lines 18-20: Dorian knows no moral order and the only thing that remains for him is to intensify his life by a large number of intense sensations.

The new hedonism (page 355 of Performer) is based on the Epicurean school of philosophy, in which pleasure is the only good (= bene) in life. Hedonism played a great role in the moral and philosophical debate of the 1870s and 1880s in Oxford led by Francis Herbert Bradley and other philosophers. Bradley, however, didn’t believe in pleasure for pleasure’s sake (= fine a sé stesso). He developed his idea in the framework of a general polemic against the Utilitarian ethics (= etica utilitaristica) promulgated by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.
Utilitarians stated that actions are good in proportion to their utility. By “utility” Bentham meant the extent of happiness an action can promote. He stated that public acts should promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Walter Pater was the theorist of the Aesthetic Movement: this movement was concerned with much more than the enjoyment of beauty and the search for new sensations.
Another work which had a great importance for Dorian / great influence on Dorian was Huysmans’ A Rebours[2] (1884). It has been noted that there are intertextual connections between Dorian Gray and A Rebours. Huysmans dedicates a large part of this novel to the sensory pleasures experienced by Jean Des Esseintes’ consumption of luxury goods (= beni di lusso), beautiful artefacts (= oggetti artigianali) and fine ornaments[3]. For the most part, Des Esseintes seems to devote his time to contemplating jewels, perfumes and works of art. There’s a strong similarity between Des Esseintes’ house and Dorian’s house in Grosvenor.
A Rebours is regarded as one of the most significant writings of literary Decadence in France. Writings categorized/classified as Decadent draw attention to unique sensory experience, distorted psychological states and perverse forms of pleasure.
At the beginning of the 1890s, Oscar Wilde stood as a representative of the decadent development from Gautier to Huysmans because of the similarities between his writings and their poetics. Huysmans and other decadent writers drew on a number of previous writers among whom Gautier and his Preface to a novel entitled/called Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835).
Another important writer on whom Huysmans drew was Baudelaire and his collection of poetry called Les Fleurs du Mal (1857). Both Gautier and Baudelaire upheld/supported/were in favour of the view of art for art’s sake, that is to say, the notion that art exists only for itself, not for a didactic or moral purpose.
Dorian Gray is regarded as the most important example of Decadent literature because it describes the fall of an anti-hero. This is a novel which contains almost all the elements ascribed to[4] literary Decadence, among which a narcissistic egotism, a scorn (disprezzo) for moral and social conventions, the search for pleasure and experience for the sake of experience.
This novel is also regarded as the expression of a fin-de-siècle (= di fine secolo) crisis both of culture and of society. The symptoms of this crisis are the negation of social obligations and the withdrawal[5] of the individual from the society to a position of egocentric self-fulfilment. Another symptom is the link between Aesthetic education and corruption in the aristocracy.
The causes of this crisis are to be found mainly in the weakening of religious faith, a certain scepticism towards scientific cosmology[6] and rapid changes in the environment brought about by/due to industrialization. These factors contributed to an intellectual climate in which the old orders (the old values, rules and beliefs) began to crumble/break up before the new ones had established themselves. The new hedonism is a response to this crisis/upheaval in terms of escapism (= evasione). The individual was to renounce any active role in the reshaping of society and (was to) occupy himself with the satisfaction of his own needs.

The novel also represents a transition between Victorianism and the modern age.
The Picture of Dorian Gray can be seen as a challenge to Victorian values and ideals but it never really breaks free from them. For example, Basil is a moralist and an idealist: his moral values are essentially middle-class, they consist of such criteria as honour, goodness, purity and a clean name. He doesn’t regard his gift as a painter as the status symbol of an aristocratic elite, but as something which might separate him from ordinary people.
Lord Henry Wotton[7], by contrast, is a moral anarchist, an irresponsible intellectual, a dandy, and a cynical man. He represents a counter (= opposta) position to Basil Hallward.
In the hedonistic programme which he sets out for Dorian the aim of life is the uninhibited self-fulfilment of the individual. In this programme self-denial[8] is regarded as depressing and obligations to others do not exist. He tells Dorian that one’s own life is the important thing, moreover (= inoltre) Lord Henry considers the exteriors (all what can be seen and touched) as more important than the interior (the realm[9] of the spirit).
In this view of life bodily beauty is seen as the wonder of wonders and since beauty is above all the privilege of youth, this is a time which must be savoured/enjoyed to the full (= con pienezza).
Dorian’s error is to take Lord Henry’s theories as practical guides for life. He doesn’t realize that they represent the cynicism of a rich and bored idler. Following Lord Henry’s advice Dorian confines his interests to the satisfaction of all his desires, but the final effect of this is lack of meaning, disillusionment and boredom. His dissolute life[10] leads to isolation from society and loss of identity.

Isolation from society is expressed through the technique of the narrated monologue. This is a device which conveys (= comunica) the subjectivity of the character’s view of reality. This literary device occurs more frequently in the passages where Dorian becomes aware of his beauty and appropriates Lord Henry’s ideas as his own[11]. It also occurs in the passages where Lord Henry reflects on his influence over Dorian.
The narrated monologue anticipates the “stream-of-consciousness” technique later used by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. As regards the themes of the novel, loss of identity and isolation from reality are among the most important themes of modern literature.
The subject matter and the narrated monologue are counterbalanced by (= compensate da) adherence to certain traditional conventions of the novel, in particular the omniscient narrator. An example of the use of an omniscient narrator is to be found / occurs in line 40 on page 355 (Perfomer).



Basil’s studio (page 353)
Line 5: the “divan of Persian saddle-bags” is a couch (=divano) covered in carpeting (=tappezzeria) made in designs which imitated the saddle-bags carried by camels.
Line 10: “Japanese effect”: Japanese art grew in popularity in the West after the signing of the Kanagawa Treaty in 1854, when Japan was opened to international trade. This treaty marked the end of Japan’s long period of seclusion, which had begun in the 17th century. In 1862 a department store was opened in London selling furniture and porcelain (a kind of ceramics) coming from Japan. The name of this department store was Farmer and Roger’s Oriental Warehouse, later known as Liberty & Co. This department store started an artistic trend which would become known as “Japonism” ten years later. Japonism means the influence of Japanese art on western culture. Japanese art influenced in particular the decorative arts. At Oxford Wilde gained a reputation for recollecting Japanese white and blue china: this kind of china had previously found favour with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was the founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. A number of artists known to Wilde, notably Whistler, included/incorporated Japanese designs in their work. Oscar Wild’s house in Chelsea featured[12] many Japanese designs.
Line 9: “tussore-silk” is a kind of silk originated in India and China. It is coarse (= ruvida) and brown and it was mainly used for carpets, curtains, women’s clothing and parasols.
Line 32: in the 1890s and the early 1900s[13] in the East End of London there were places where people could smoke cigarettes containing opium to experience new sensations.
Line 25: The Grosvenor Gallery in New Bond Street (very near Mayfair, Wilde’s favourite area) was opened in 1877 and it exhibited works that were experimental both in form and subject. In 1877 Whistler exhibited a painting entitled Nocturne in Black and Gold. This was an elite gallery which became closely associated with the Aesthetic Movement, of which Wilde was the main representative. Financial difficulties led to the closure of the gallery in 1890. The Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House was opened in 1768 by King George III, and the first president of this gallery was Sir Joshua Reynolds (this gallery can still be visited in London).

COMPREHENSION
1)    The room’s furnishings described are the divan of Persian saddle-bags, the long tussore-silk curtains, the huge window producing a kind of Japanese effect and the full-length portrait clamped to an upright easel (= cavalletto) in the centre of the room.
The description of the room’s furnishings conveys a sense of exquisite refinement and taste for exotic decoration. The studio is described in a slightly Bohemian[14] way: the divan is covered in carpeting which imitates the saddle bags …

2)    A huge window (probably a French window[15]) opening onto the garden.
3)    Lord Henry Wotton is lying on the divan of Persian saddle-bags smoking several cigarettes. He is also looking at the flowers through the French window (looking onto the garden). There are lilac, laburnum and honey-suckle. It’s a beautiful summer day and the scent of the flowers in the garden fills (= riempie) the studio. Lord Henry is also looking at the shadows of the birds flying past the French window, flying behind the curtains.
4)    The kind of cigarettes Lord Henry is smoking tells us something about the corruption of the aristocracy, which went hand-in-hand with their education.
Lord Henry is impressed by the painting of Dorian Gray and he urges (insiste perché) Basil to exhibit it at an art gallery: he advises him to show it at the Grosvenor Gallery.
Lines 18 to 20 tell us that Basil was a solitary painter. Basil rejects Lord Henry’s advice saying that he will never exhibit his painting because he has put so much of himself into it.
Lord Henry’s way of speaking is witty (= acuto), ironical and sometimes even paradoxical. It reflects his sophisticated education. Basil’s speech[16], by contrast, is earnest (=onesto) and straightforward (= diretto, schietto).
5)    They are discussing whether the picture should be exhibited at the Grosvenor: Lord Henry Wotton thinks that this could be a very important opportunity for Basil, because he could  become famous. Basil, by contrast, doesn’t want to show his painting because it’s too personal to be exhibited.

The first passage opens in Basil’s studio, where the painter is completing a full-length portrait of Dorian Gray. It is a beautiful summer day and the room is filled with the fragrance coming from the flowers of the garden. Lord Henry is lying on the divan, is smoking an opium-cigarette while admiring a painting. He tells Basil to exhibit Dorian’s portrait at the Grosvenor Academy, but Basil states that he will never show it because it has too much of himself in it.
In the second passage Dorian is drawn into conversation by Lord Henry who sets out his philosophy of life, which he summarizes as New Hedonism. In this philosophy the aim of life is an uninhibited self-development and the highest values are beauty and youth.
When he sees his portrait, Dorian is very impressed. He looks at it as if he saw his beauty for the first time. Then he is distressed/pained (= molto addolorato) by the thought of losing it and he wishes he could remain young forever while his portrait becomes old and ugly. Wilde conveys Dorian’s intensity of emotion through the use of stylistic devices such as parallel constructions (“if it were …”), the emphatic use of the conjunction “if”, and the use of exclamation marks. The repetition of “how sad it is” also gives the reader a clear idea of Dorian’s emotional state, of his concern (=preoccupazione) about losing his beauty and becoming old and wrinkled.
Lord Henry speaks in witty aphorisms[17]: for example, line 10 contains a paradox.
Dorian’s desire to preserve his beauty and youth while his portrait bears (= subisce) the alterations of age and his willingness (= disponibilità) to sell his soul to the devil to this end (= scopo) can be seen as a variation on the theme of the double, a theme which was quite popular in the 19th century. The most important novel dealing with this theme is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).
Dr. Jekyll is a physician (= medico) who is aware of the duality/mixture of good and evil in his own nature. One day he discovers a drug, which enables him to make for himself a separate personality (Mr. Hyde) which can absorb all his evil instincts.
Dorian’s willingness to sell his soul to the devil also recalls the pact with the devil, which can be found in the legends of Faust[18]. Faust is the main character of a play by Goethe. He is a necromancer or an astrologer who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power. The relationship between Lord H. Wotton and Dorian resembles (= assomiglia) that between Mephisto, the servant of the devil, and Faust in Goethe’s play.
Dorian’s personality is split into two parts. One physical and the other spiritual: the link between the two parts is the changing portrait. Dorian’s portrait represents his conscience, it is a visible emblem of his soul and it changes in order to reflect Dorian’s vice[19] and progressive degeneration. This process begins when Dorian appropriates Lord Henry’s ideas.
The Preface
The Preface to Dorian Gray was first published in the Fortnightly Review. It was written in response to the harsh criticism with which Dorian Gray had been received by a number of critics. It was later included in the second edition of the novel (1891). The Preface is a series of aphorisms/witty statements about the purpose of art, the role of the artist and the value of beauty. Later it came to be regarded as the Manifesto of the Aesthetic Movement.
“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it” and “All art is quite useless” are two concepts expressed by Gautier in his Preface to Mademoiselle De Maupin. What Gautier asks in Mademoiselle de Maupin is: “What is the use of art? What is the use of music?”. Through these questions, he suggests that all forms of art are useless.
Caliban is a misshapen being (= essere malformato) who tries to rape Miranda, the daughter of Prospero, Duke of Milan. Caliban is the son of a vicious/malevolent and powerful witch that dominates the island where Prospero and Miranda are shipwrecked. The story of Prospero and Miranda is told by Shakespeare in The Tempest (1611). Wilde compares the 19th century to a misshapen being (Caliban).




[1] a eccezione di ciò che è inutile
[2] A ritroso
[3] any objects that are used to decorate something
[4] attribuita a
[5] To withdraw = ritirarsi
[6] “Cosmology” means “the study of the Universe, its origin and development
[7] Henry Wotton is Oscar Wilde’s mouthpiece (a person who speaks of the half of another person)
[8] abnegazione (to deny = negare)
[9] regno
[10] moral decline/downfall = declino morale
[11] fa proprie le idee di Lord Henry
[12] had as an important feature
[13] [nine hundreds]
[14] He rejects bourgeois (middle-class) values and doesn’t identify himself with the values that led to industrialization.   He leads a casual life, which is different from the life of other people of his time; he is interested in art, music and various forms of literature.
[15] Porta.finestra
[16] way of speaking
[17] an aphorism is a short clever sentence expressing a general truth
[18] German name for Faustus
[19] criminal behaviour
[20] full of images appealing to the senses

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