On Chapter 11 of The Picture of Dorian Gray


In Chapter 11 of his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde declares bankruptcy in a way that allows him to continue to do business. He stands with buttonholed green carnation in the witness box to demonstrate the importance of being (or at least appearing to be in) earnest whilst one is defending oneself against gross indecency. The courtroom is a sort of “hall of mirrors” in which Dorian, Wilde, Des Esseintes, and the reader become (sometimes distorted and confusing) reflections of one another. Wilde privately asks the reader to consider, “Is the cover of the book you now hold not also yellow?” The Irish Bard, pronouncing in his own defense, wields a redecorated Sturm und Drang to hypnotize his would-be executioners with what would appear to the naked eye as a moral: “The wages of sin is death”[sic] (Romans 6:23, Queen James Bible). Perhaps there is no greater thrill for the reprobate than to perform his or her decadence in public unbeknownst to the pedestrian. For Wilde, the supreme indulgence is words. Even as the jury is convicted that the wantonness of The Picture of Dorian exists in service to a higher moral, he disrobes before the court in a way that only those with a discerning (if self-congratulatory) eye can see. Again, Wilde’s supreme indulgence is words. But like all good perverts, he cannot help himself. The second-to-last paragraph is made of only one sentence but that sentence has four hundred and fifty-seven words. The first two words of the second group of a hundred are “two hundred.” This paragraph, indicative of the whole chapter and by extension the novel, is like a portrait itself. It appears (simply) to be something recognizable upon first glance but upon subsequent viewings the subtler nuances go on ad infinitum.

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