Mythes et héros / Myths and heroes : The picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde - Anglais - Terminale STMG

Mythes et héros / Myths and heroes : The picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde - Anglais - Terminale STMG

Voici un cours de Terminale STMG sur la notion d'Anglais Myths and heroes. Le thème proposé est : The picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde.

Vous retrouverez dans ce document une courte biographie d'Oscar Wilde, ainsi qu'un résumé de son roman : Le portrait de Dorian Gray, et les principaux personnages et thèmes qui en ressortent.

Téléchargez gratuitement ce document Mythes et héros pour votre Bac STMG.

Mythes et héros / Myths and heroes : The picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde - Anglais - Terminale STMG

Le contenu du document

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a famous novel written by Oscar Wilde at the end of the 19th century. The story is based on the idea of the double, the doppelgänger, which is a popular literary motif. This very dark theme develops the idea of characters that have a double personality: a good, decent personality when they face the world and interact with people, and an evil, dark personality that they try to hide and keep a secret. This idea was for example used by Robert Louis Stevenson in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). 

At the end of the 19th century, a lot of progress was made in science and psychology appeared. The interest in the human mind increased and was explored by doctors, but also artists and writers. In literature, this interest was translated into novels that examined the dark side of human thoughts and experiences. 

Oscar Wilde was also interested in the beauty of Art for its own sake. In the Preface of the novel, he explains his opinion and claims that art is useless, and is only made to be beautiful (much like the French poet Baudelaire, who in the middle of the 19th century defended the theory of “l’Art pour l’Art”.) Wilde shares the same idea, and The Picture of Dorian Gray can be classified as following the principles of aestheticism: the exercise of beauty in Art. 

 

A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF OSCAR WILDE

 

Oscar Wilde is an iconic author and playwright born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854. During his childhood, Wilde was a bright spirit, interested in books and education, especially Roman and Greek studies. He was a brilliant student and got many Scholarships thanks to his great results. He was admitted to Oxford, where he also excelled as a student, and he started to write poetry around that time.

After his studies, he became a lecturer, travelling to London and New York, and later to in Ireland, to give conferences on literature and aestheticism. He quickly became very popular for his lectures and met a lot of prominent writers of his time. In 1885, he became the editor of a woman’s magazine; and he was notorious for his interest in fashion and general lifestyle (he was a dandy.) 

He published his first and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, in 1891. It was first received badly by the critics, who thought the story was shocking, dark and immoral. Thus, Wilde wrote the Preface to explain his thoughts on aestheticism, and this Preface is still very important today to understand it. After his novel, Wilde wrote a lot of plays, like Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) or The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). His plays were satires of the London aristocracy, and were popular for their wit, sharp dialogues and comedy.  

Even though he married in 1884 and had two children, Wilde’s homosexuality was not a secret, and this is what eventually led to his end: in the 1890s, he had a love affair with a man named Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas’s father learned about the affair, and accused Wilde of homosexuality. In 1895, after a trial, he was condemned for “gross indecency” (homosexuality was against the law) and spent two years in prison.

After his time in prison, Wilde came out physically and emotionally weakened. He didn’t write any major works after this time, and spent the last years of his life in a precarious situation (he was left quite poor after his condemnation). He died of meningitis at the young age of 46, in 1900. Today, his personal life and his works still make him one of the most important artistic figures of the end of the Victorian era.

 

 

oscar-wilde-anglais-terminale

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

 

A SUMMARY OF THE NOVEL (IN FRENCH)

 

Le Portrait de Dorian Gray se passe à Londres, à l’époque victorienne. Dorian Gray est un jeune homme de la bonne société britannique, il possède une grande beauté physique et un intérêt pour l’art. Un jour, il est présenté au peintre Basil Hallward, qui est immédiatement séduit par Dorian Gray et décide de l’utiliser comme modèle pour ses peintures. Il peint donc plusieurs portraits, notamment des mises en scène mythologiques. Hallward finit par peindre un portrait de Gray tel qu’il est, et le montre à son ami Lord Henry Wotton, un dandy typique de cette période, très instruit, sociable et quelque peu excentrique. Celui-ci trouve que le portrait de Dorian Gray est le plus beau tableau que le peintre ait jamais réalisé, et souhaite rencontrer Dorian. 

Basil Hallward présente donc Dorian Gray à Lord Henry Wotton, et ceux-ci s’entendent très bien. De par les idées et le charisme imposant de Wotton, Hallward craint que l’homme n’ait une mauvaise influence sur Dorian. Celui-ci échange une conversation sur l’art, la beauté et la fuite du temps avec Wotton, durant laquelle Wotton insiste sur l’importance de la jeunesse, sur ses bienfaits et ses avantages. 

Alors qu’il rentre chez lui avec son magnifique portrait peint par Hallward, Dorian Gray pense toujours à sa discussion avec Wotton et devient inquiet. Sa beauté et sa jeunesse, qui sont ses principales forces, ont été capturées dans son portrait, et Dorian prend peur à l’idée de vieillir un jour et de perdre cette apparence et cette identité. Dans un moment de peur et de panique, il émet le souhait de rester jeune pour toujours, et que le portrait vieillisse à sa place. Son souhait se réalise lorsqu’il décide de donner son âme pour ce vœu.

 

Sans qu’il s’en aperçoive, le souhait de Dorian prend effet. Il passe de plus en plus de temps en compagnie de Wotton, celui-ci influence énormément la pensée de Dorian et lui donne l’idée de vivre de façon hédoniste, pour la recherche de la beauté et du plaisir. Ainsi, Dorian rencontre Sybil Vane, une jeune actrice de théâtre, et en tombe amoureux. Il est captivé par sa beauté et son jeu d’actrice.  Cependant, lorsque celle-ci tombe également amoureuse de Dorian, l’appelant son Prince Charmant, et qu’il promet alors de l’épouser, Sybil cesse d’être une bonne actrice et son jeu devient très mauvais (elle se dit submergée par l’amour qu’elle ressent pour Dorian.) Déçu et indigné que Sybil ait perdu le talent d’actrice qui l’avait séduit, Dorian la rejette cruellement et refuse de l’épouser.  Après l’avoir abandonnée, il rentre chez lui et remarque un détail troublant : son visage sur le portrait peint par Hallward a changé d’expression et il affiche un rictus mauvais. Dorian réalise, choqué, que son souhait invraisemblable parait avoir fonctionné. Dès le lendemain, Wotton lui apprend que Sybil s’est suicidée. Dorian ne ressent ni culpabilité ni tristesse lorsqu’il apprend la nouvelle. Il voit cette mort comme une image de beauté tragique ; et dès ce moment il est trop tard : Dorian ne ressent plus le mal et le vice, qu’il va commettre par la suite avec excès. Ces mauvais sentiments sont directement transférés sur son portrait, tandis que lui ne ressent plus rien. Pour protéger son secret, il cache son portrait d’un grand voile et ne veut plus le montrer à personne.

Son âme étant désormais corrompue, Dorian Gray sombre de plus en plus dans le vice, dédiant sa vie à la beauté, au plaisir et aux sensations, sans aucune notion de moralité. Cet instinct est motivé par Wotton, qui lui fait lire un roman qui énonce ces principes de vie hédoniste. Dorian s’intéresse à l’art et aux objets précieux, il court de fête en fête, dans les endroits les plus sombres de Londres. Les années passent ainsi, et Dorian voit son portrait se dégrader peu à peu, portant les marques de ses vices, alors que lui reste toujours aussi jeune et beau (et donc garde son apparence innocente.) Dix-huit ans passent ainsi, pendant lesquels Dorian vit sans aucun souci, son existence étant préservée grâce à son souhait. Néanmoins des rumeurs courent à son sujet, et Dorian devient de plus en plus obsédé par son portrait, inquiet qu’il soit découvert. 

Un soir, Basil Hallward se rend chez Dorian pour le confronter et lui faire part de son inquiétude face aux rumeurs qui courent sur le jeune homme dans la bonne société londonienne. Dorian finit par céder et montre à Basil son portrait, dont les traits sont déformés par le vice. Hallward prend peur, et, dans un accès de rage, Dorian poignarde Hallward et le tue. Il tient le peintre responsable de ce qui lui arrive, puisque c’est lui qui a créé le portrait. Pour se débarrasser du corps, il fait du chantage à un de ses anciens amis, un médecin, qui finit par faire disparaitre le corps de façon extrêmement cruelle : il le dissout avec des produits chimiques. Peu de temps après, cet ancien ami se suicide, sans aucune émotion de la part de Dorian qui souhaite juste garder son secret.

 

Alors qu’il se trouve à Londres un soir, dans une fumerie d’opium, Dorian se rend compte qu’il est dans la même pièce que le frère de Sybil Vane, James. James découvre Dorian lorsqu’une jeune femme l’appelle “Prince Charmant”, le surnom que lui donnait la défunte Sybil. James cherche alors à venger la mort de sa sœur, mais Dorian tente de se protéger en jouant sur son apparence : comme il a toujours l’air d’un jeune homme, il explique à James qu’il ne peut être l’homme qui a brisé le cœur de Sybil, l’affaire s’étant produite dix-huit ans auparavant (Dorian a l’air beaucoup trop jeune, puisqu’il ne vieillit pas alors que les autres personnes autour de lui ont vieilli.) S’il réussit à échapper à James à ce moment-là, Dorian craint toujours pour sa vie et se réfugie dans une de ses résidences secondaires en province. Un jour, il découvre un homme mort près de là, abattu par hasard ; il s’agit de James, qui avait cherché à le retrouver malgré tout. Dorian est soulagé d’être débarrassé de cette menace, et est heureux d’avoir la vie sauve. Pour s’amender du mal qu’il a fait par le passé et tirer un trait sur cette vie dissolue, Dorian essaye de devenir un homme bon et faire le bien autour de lui. Néanmoins, son esprit est trop marqué par le mal, et il ne parvient pas à avouer ses péchés. Espérant que son portrait ait retrouvé sa jeunesse et sa beauté grâce à cette volonté (assez faible) de rédemption, Dorian jette un coup d’œil à son portrait. Ses espoirs volent en éclats lorsqu’il réalise que son portrait, en plus de toujours porter les marques de vieillesse et d’horreur causées par son vice, porte à présent une expression d’hypocrisie repoussante, montrant qu’il est trop tard pour changer et que sa véritable identité est bien celle d’une âme laide et corrompue. 

Pris de colère et de désespoir, Dorian se saisit du poignard qu’il a utilisé pour tuer Hallward et le plante dans le portrait. Le roman se conclut sur la découverte macabre du serviteur de Dorian : au pied du tableau de son maitre, qui a retrouvé son aspect originel, sa jeunesse et sa beauté, il trouve le corps d’un vieil homme, hideux et défiguré, le poignard planté en plein cœur.

 

the-picture-of-dorian-gray-oscar-wilde

Dorian Gray and his portrait, from the 1945 film adaptation

 

THE MAIN CHARACTERS

 

- Dorian Gray:  

 

He is the protagonist of the story. His surname gives a hint as to his troubled personality: “gray”, like the colour, shows the struggle in his appearance between black and white, ugliness and beauty, evil and good. At the beginning of the story he is a very young man, wealthy and privileged; like a younger, less corrupt version of Lord Henry Wotton. Because of his youth, he is impressionable and easily influenced, this is why Wotton’s view and ideas will drive him to become obsessed with his own beauty and the search for pleasure in life. When his portrait starts to change, Dorian slowly loses all conscience of his acts, and ends up feeling no guilt or sadness at all. The more his portrait ages, the more he loses humanity and soul. However, when he kills his friend Basil, Dorian starts to feel consumed by his own sins. He is tortured by the evil he’s done, but it is too late for him to change: when he tried to become a better man, his portrait reflects hypocrisy. He has been too far in vice and evil to be able to become a good human being again. This is what ultimately leads to his involuntary suicide.

 

- Basil Hallward

 

Basil is a painter who, when he meets Dorian, is fascinated by him and makes him his muse. He clearly feels love for Dorian (this is where the assumption of homosexuality comes in the story), and this obsession influences the way he sees his young muse: Basil sees Dorian as the epitome of beauty, as an innocent soul that can be corrupted by Wotton. The character of Basil Hallward shows the influence of appearances and beauty in the story: beauty is associated with kindness and good, and Basil can’t believe the rumours about Dorian’s evil behaviour that are spread around London. He thinks that, because Dorian is still young, beautiful and innocent-looking, he has not done any wrong. Basil shows the danger of believing in appearances and looks, which can hide very dark secrets.

 

- Lord Henry Wotton

 

He is a London nobleman and is the perfect representation of the dandy. He is witty and intelligent man, who enjoys life and the pursuit of pleasure. He sees a lot of potential in Dorian’s youth and beauty, and has a big influence on the progress of the novel because he is the one who pushes Dorian to experience vice and pleasure as much as he can. Wotton is not afraid to criticise the Victorian society he lives in, and he is the voice that carries the principles of aestheticism, which Oscar Wilde believes in. However, we can notice that even though he promotes a hedonistic life, Wotton doesn’t fall into evil and lives a generally quiet and formal life. Unlike Dorian, whose youth and inexperience push him to evil, Wotton is only the advocate of this philosophy, not its representative.

 

 

THEMES AND IDEAS EXPLORED IN THE NOVEL

 

- The double, split personality

 

This is the theme that stands out the most in the novel. Dorian is split between his young, pure appearance and the darkness and ugliness of his soul, which only his painting really shows. The portrait is in fact a sort of mirror, which shows him who he really is, the part of him that nobody sees. As said previously, the Victorian era is an era of scientific progress and exploration of personality, so the theme of double personality is a way to explore even further this dark idea, which fascinated society at the time. The two sides of a human’s being personality are shared between good and evil, and this story shows the fight between the two. At the end, the moral is quite dark and pessimistic: evil wins, as Dorian Gray doesn’t manage to win over his evil side and ends up dying because the good in him has disappeared. This is the same ending as we see in Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: in both novels, evil wins and the man is crushed by his demons. This sombre exploration of human psychology pushes the barrier of the rationality that is usually characteristic of the second part of the 19th century.

 

- Art for Art and aestheticism

 

Wilde was an advocate of aestheticism, which considered that Art’s only purpose is to be beautiful. In the Victorian era, the general idea was that art had to be useful, it was used to denounce social and political issues (for example, Charles Dickens wrote to condemn extreme poverty in some parts of London, and also used his status as a writer to publish texts about death penalty.) Thus, literature at the time, especially with Realism, had an aim, a goal to achieve. However, aestheticism arose in opposition to this belief: writers and artists who praised aestheticism believed that Art was not made to denounce or to have an active role in society. Art was just made to be beautiful, and it should not have any moral role at all. In the Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde’s prose is typical of that movement, with a rich descriptive vocabulary, the importance of art and culture, the richness of details about the senses. This is why the novel shocked many critics when it was published: Wilde focussed on the beautiful, on the images, and completely left out morals. In his story, Wilde wants to show how evil can be beautiful, when it is sublimed by Art. This is the same idea as Baudelaire developed in France, with his poetry, in Les Fleurs du Mal (1857). The poet’s claim was “extraire la beauté du Mal”, and this is exactly what Wilde does with Dorian Gray, mixing the appearance of his young, beautiful character, with a dark and corrupt spirit inside him. 

 

- The superficiality of society

 

Wilde was an Irish man and a homosexual in the conservative Victorian society of London. As a consequence, he criticises society and points out its vices in a lot of works, especially his plays. In this novel, the main criticism of society comes from Wotton, whose sharp intelligence allows him to always say what he thinks, which makes him quite a controversial character. He is not afraid of criticising society and opposing it, by praising pleasures in life (whereas the Victorian society was quite conventional and strict). Furthermore, Wilde criticises the importance of appearances and the superficiality of society. Dorian Gray is seen by his peers as a decent man, because he is young and handsome, and looks innocent. Basil Hallward can’t believe the rumours about Dorian because of his angelic appearance, and Dorian himself uses his image to hide his horrible vices. Etiquette and decency were very important in the Victorian society, but they could hide evil behaviours and personalities, and this is what Wilde denounces by stressing the difference between Dorian’s appearance and the ugliness of his spirit.

 

Useful words:

- turn-of-century: fin de siècle

- for its own sake: en soi, pour soi-même

- playwright: dramaturge

- scholarship: bourse

- lecturer: professeur d’université, chargé de conférence

- aim: but, objectif

- notorious for: célèbre, connu pour

- wit: intelligence, esprit

- eventually: finalement

- weakened: affaibli

- a hint : un indice

- youth : jeunesse

- guilt : culpabilité

- assumption : supposition

- split : fractionné, partagé

- to praise : acclamer, faire l’éloge de 

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