What If? Writing Prompts: Horror V

It’s the month of Halloween again, so here are some new “What If?” Writing Prompts for you to enjoy! This week’s set of prompts is centered around the genre of horror. What sorts of scary stories can you write from these ideas? Have fun!

What if… every time you had a dream about someone you know, that person died within 24 hours?

What if… you woke up with blood on your hands and no memory of how it got there?

What if… your dog started acting as though it wanted to eat you?

What if… you heard scratching against your bedroom door at night… even though you didn’t own a pet?

What if… the local haunted house attraction turned out to be filled with real monsters?

Good luck spinning some more tales of horror!

If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!

My Thoughts on Despair, Hope, and Creativity

So it’s been a brutal last several weeks, hasn’t it? From a conga line of devastating hurricanes to a humanitarian crisis in a U.S. territory to a mass shooting labeled the worst in American history, it’s almost as if 2017 is trying to set some sort of horrible historical record.

I’ll be honest: it’s times like these when I can’t help but feel glad my blog posts are written and scheduled in advance, because there’s nothing like the world seeming like it’s falling apart to totally kill creativity. The hurricane-every-week situation of September was bad enough, and then what happened in Las Vegas last week broke me. Instead of spiraling into a dizzying rant about all the anger and frustration I feel, however, I’ll let Jimmy Kimmel sum it up better than I ever could:

Honestly, a part of me felt guilty for not saying anything about Las Vegas on my blog last week. I mean, when tragedy strikes, everyone feels obligated to say something before all the buzz dies down, right? And it’s not like I haven’t acknowledged tragic events before; it’s almost become a habit for me to dedicate a poem to the victims of a major attack within a week.

But this time, I just didn’t have the energy. I didn’t like thinking about it, much less talking or writing about it. So I figured I’d just share my thoughts on my personal Facebook page and move on with my blog like everything was normal.

But then I started reflecting on that mentality. Why was I thinking about the latest in a series of national tragedies like it was just another social media meme doomed to fade after a week? Why should we stop talking about the people who have suffered and are still suffering from any recent event just because it’s not the trending topic anymore? Should I not write about an issue that matters because I “missed the boat” and it might upset readers who are trying to forget about it? I don’t think so.

What you’re reading now is the result of days of processing, a sudden urge to vent, and hours of careful editing to get my thoughts straight. Maybe it still needs some work—editing is never truly finishing—but I can only write so much on the subject without losing my mind.

To be clear, this is not a political rant. I’m not trying to shove my thoughts on climate change or gun control in anyone’s face. I’m not even focusing on the events themselves. This is more of a creativity rant, or rather, a lack-of-creativity rant. So here goes nothing.

Recent events have reminded me of how much despair can drain one’s ability to create. As a writer, it’s a strange feeling not to be able to write. Emotion is the fuel of good fiction and poetry, after all, so you’d think real-life tragedy would be perfect material for art. But emotion also affects inspiration, and when there’s simply too much negativity to handle, it takes an incredible effort just to sit at a keyboard and type out a half-decent story.

2017 has been a particularly difficult year for me, not just because of what’s going on in the world, but because of major changes in my personal life. As soon as I finished my Master’s program at the end of 2016, I left home, hopped on a plane to California, and moved in with my long-distance boyfriend of seven years.

For almost a year now, I’ve had a front-row seat to some of the most emotionally exhausting events of my lifetime. To give an idea of how much current events have affected my creativity, I used to have at least three weeks’ worth of blog posts scheduled in advance at all times. Now I’m lucky if I can get up to two weeks ahead.

But a reflection on recent events has also reminded me that despair is only half of a cycle that includes hope. Somehow, every time tragedy strikes, a little light still finds its way through the shadows and rekindles that spark of creativity and inspiration. Whether it’s a blog post, a short story, a poem, or another page of my novel, the will to create always returns.

It’s hard to stay positive when the world insists on knocking you down over and over, but if I’ve learned anything in all the time I’ve been writing, it’s that creativity is one of the greatest manifestations of hope. I may write less than usual sometimes, but I’m always writing, and that definitely counts for something. It means that deep down, hope is still alive and well.

I’ve been told that I’m an empath, a person who feels other people’s emotions. I’m no stranger to being overwhelmed by negative energy, and it’s certainly made its way into my writing more than once. But while some of my most inspired fiction and poetry has come from a place of sadness or anger, I’ve realized that the creativity I feel in those moments is rarely about the emotion itself; more often, it’s about conquering those bad feelings and battling through the darkness to get to the light.

Maybe that’s why despair affects me so much: it feels less like an emotion and more like a void for all the others. It fights dirty, robbing me of the only weapons I have to fight back. But it hasn’t won yet, and as long as hope and creativity remain, I know it never will.

So to all my fellow artists, the best takeaway I can offer you is this: try not to let despair stifle your creative nature, because it’s both your best defense and your strongest weapon. Hold on to your hope and remember that there will always be a light at the end of the darkness. Sometimes a short piece of fiction or a simple poem written from the heart is all the reminder you need to keep moving forward.

On a final note, those of you familiar with my blog know that I share posts about creative writing every single Wednesday, all year round. I almost didn’t share this post today. I could have written all my thoughts out and just kept them to myself and let my blog skip to the Wednesday piece originally planned for today. But obviously, the fact that you’re reading this now means I decided these thoughts were too important not to share. I only hope they’ve resonated with someone in the good way I intended.

Thank you for reading. Stay hopeful, keep fighting for positive change, and please, no matter how hard it seems, never stop creating.

5 Major Themes and Motifs in Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet”

It’s the first week of October, so regular readers of mine, you know the drill: it’s time to dive once again into my all-time favorite story, Romeo & Juliet! In the past, I’ve covered five points in the story that are often missed, the reasons it really is a great love story, a review of the book with both the play and the musical adaptation, and five lessons about love that can be learned from this story. Now I’m ready to cover even more of this timeless classic!

This year, I decided to dig a little deeper into the story and dedicate my annual R&J post to the literary devices that uphold it. So on that note, here are five major themes and motifs in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Enjoy!

1) The Power of Love

But my true love is grown to such excess / I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth. – Juliet Capulet (2.6.33–34)

This one is kind of a given, but it’s such a prominent theme in Romeo & Juliet that it forever warrants a place at the top of the list. Though debates reign about the extent of the roles of fate, hatred, and violence in the play, it’s obvious that love is by far the most powerful force in this story. It brings the young lovers together, motivates them to risk everything to be together, and drives them to their tragic end. So let’s explore how powerful love really is in Romeo & Juliet, shall we?

“Then have my lips the sin that they have took.” (1.5.110)
Romeo and Juliet share their first kiss (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)

To start, it’s important to define the type of love that dominates the play. There’s no question that the love in Romeo & Juliet is romantic, but what often gets overlooked is the fact that it’s also amoral. While other poets before him romanticized love as a beautiful and pure emotion, Shakespeare was more interested in portraying it as an intense and violent force that drives people into chaos and overpowers all other priorities, including life itself.

“You kiss by th’ book.” (1.5.112)
Romeo and Juliet find a moment of privacy at the Capulet Ball (Romeo & Juliet, 2013)

The greatest evidence of love’s intensity in Romeo & Juliet is the wide variety of descriptions and metaphors it receives throughout the play. In the sonnet that makes up Romeo and Juliet’s first conversation, love is described in religious terms, while in the prologue of Act II, the feeling is equated to magic. Its dangers are also mentioned by other characters: Friar Laurence warns Romeo about the fickleness of young love, while Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech outright criticizes the delusions of lovers’ dreams. Juliet even loves Romeo so much that she hardly has enough words to express her feelings all at once. Every character in the play seems to have an opinion on love, yet not one of them manages to describe it completely. It seems love, at least according to Shakespeare, is so powerful that it can’t be contained in any one definition.

Though the love in Romeo & Juliet is romantic, it’s far from idealized. Unlike the cheesy version in the bad poetry Romeo recites about Rosaline, Shakespeare’s depiction of love is a far more passionate and chaotic emotion that can evoke an astonishing amount of beauty and tragedy in a short period of time. No wonder this story is still so popular today; every time I read it, there’s something new to learn about love!

2) The Inevitability of Fate

A greater power than we can contradict / Hath thwarted our intents. – Friar Laurence (5.3.153–54)

The star-crossed lovers meet their untimely end (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)

If love is the strongest theme in Romeo & Juliet, fate is a close second. From the opening lines of the chorus, it’s made clear to the audience that the young lovers are pretty much doomed from the start. While there is a solid argument that society is really to blame for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, the fact that Shakespeare peppered his play with references to fate, fortune, and the stars hints at the idea that every circumstance leading up to the main characters’ tragic end was always out of their control.

Notably, the role of fate in this story isn’t just clear to the audience; it’s also evident to the characters themselves. Through the second half of the play, after Mercutio and Tybalt are killed, death always seems to linger in the corner of the lovers’ minds. They’re both haunted by omens—such as each other’s pale faces after spending the night together or Juliet’s vision of Tybalt’s ghost before taking the sleeping potion—and though they try to stave off the looming threat of tragedy, it soon becomes clear that their story can only end in their untimely deaths.

The inevitability of fate is emphasized by the many forms it takes throughout the play:

  • The feud between the Capulets and Montagues, which is purposely never explained
  • References to fate by the characters – “O, I am fortune’s fool!” (3.1.141), “Then I defy you, stars.” (5.1.24)
  • Friar Laurence’s letter failing to reach Romeo
  • Romeo dying just before Juliet wakes up

While fate often seems like an external and impersonal divine force driving the characters’ lives, it also manifests as the direct forces influencing Romeo and Juliet’s choices. The rivalry between the noble households culminates in the double murder that complicates the lovers’ marriage, and Capulet’s decision to change the day of the wedding contributes to the rush of events that leads to the final tragedy. Even the protagonists themselves play directly into the hands of fate. The irony of Romeo’s decision to die alongside Juliet is that by trying to defy fate, he inadvertently brings it about: Juliet kills herself as soon as she finds him dead, thus completing the tragic sequence of events set in motion from the play’s very first scene.

Juliet stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger and dies by his side (Romeo and Juliet, 1968)

Much like love, fate in Romeo & Juliet is an amoral and overpowering force that none of the characters can resist. Despite all their efforts to love each other in peace, Romeo and Juliet can never escape their tragic destiny as the “pair of star-crossed lovers” who “take their life”, immortalizing them as the ill-fated couple of one of the greatest love stories ever told.

3) The Duality of Passion (Love and Violence)

If the entire story of Romeo & Juliet could be summed up in one word, that word would be passion. Almost every scene in the play involves characters succumbing to powerful emotions that drive their actions and, consequently, the plot. Observe:

  • “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” (2.2.133–35)

    Act I: Montague and Capulet servants fight each other in the street (establishing the long-standing feud), Romeo agrees to attend the Capulet ball for the chance to see a girl he thinks he loves, Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love at first sight

  • Act II: Romeo risks death by trespassing into the Capulet orchard to see Juliet again, Romeo and Juliet declare their love for each other, Romeo proposes to Juliet the next day (via the Nurse), Romeo and Juliet get married
  • Act III: Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel for crashing the Capulet ball, Mercutio fights Tybalt to defend Romeo’s honor, Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo fights and kills Tybalt to avenge Mercutio, Romeo almost kills himself out of guilt, Romeo spends the night with Juliet, Capulet threatens to disown Juliet if she doesn’t marry Paris in two days
  • Act IV: Juliet threatens to kill herself if Friar Laurence can’t help her get out of marrying Paris, Capulet gets so excited about Juliet becoming obedient that he moves the wedding up to tomorrow, Juliet drinks the sleeping potion Friar Laurence gives her to fake her death
  • Act V: Romeo buys poison to kill himself after hearing that Juliet has died, Paris blocks Romeo from entering the Capulet tomb upon assuming he’s there to vandalize Juliet and Tybalt’s bodies, Romeo kills Paris outside the Capulet tomb, Romeo drinks the poison and dies beside Juliet, Juliet wakes up and stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger, Montague and Capulet reconcile over their children’s deaths

Notice how virtually every important action in this play is caused by some intense emotion, whether it’s overpowering love or violent hatred. What’s especially intriguing about the passion in Romeo & Juliet is that love and violence, however polar they may seem, are constantly intertwined. Indeed, the shadow of death hangs over the play’s characters from the prologue to the final scene, and it always manifests as a consequence of passion, as much in love as in hate.

“Ha, banishment? Be merciful, say death.” (3.3.12)

The connection between love and violence in Romeo & Juliet is most evident in the actions and thoughts of the lovers themselves. Both Romeo and Juliet threaten to kill themselves at the first obstacle to their love, each one imagines the other looking dead the morning after their wedding night, and their intensely passionate “star-crossed love” culminates in their double suicide. While their goal is always to keep their love pure, the fact that they both resort to violence to achieve that end supports the story’s major theme of passion as a powerful and blinding force that few can resist.

By all accounts, passion seems to be the cause of all the conflict and grief in Romeo & Juliet. Then again, without passion, there would be no story in the first place, would there?

4) Light and Darkness

More light and light, more dark and dark our woes. – Romeo Montague (3.5.36)

“Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds” (3.2.1)

A particularly prominent motif in Romeo & Juliet is the imagery of light and darkness. This motif manifests most frequently in night and day, as much of the action in the play happens either at night or in the morning. And while it doesn’t necessarily highlight any moral statement, the light and dark imagery of Romeo & Juliet does provide an interesting contrast throughout the story.

The most famous example of this imagery is during the balcony scene when Romeo describes Juliet as the sun, being so beautiful and radiant that she has the power to turn night into day. Another well-known example of this contrast is the morning after their wedding night, when the lovers playfully argue about the time of day before Romeo leaves for Mantua. These scenes highlight differing perspectives of the world and emphasize how Romeo and Juliet seek refuge in their love to oppose the reality that threatens to separate them.

“Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.” (3.5.1)

Unlike many other stories that use this motif to symbolize good and evil, the light and darkness in Romeo & Juliet are far more neutral. The lovers favor darkness because it gives them the privacy they desire, yet they see only light in each other. And although it never plays a direct role in their story, the contrast of light and dark does permeate the play until it culminates in a final poetic union: the darkness of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths and the light of hope in their families’ reconciliation.

5) Individuality vs. Social Conformity

“Alla stoccata carries it away.” (3.1.77)

While love and fate pull most of the strings in Romeo & Juliet, the lives of the main characters are further complicated by the obstacles imposed by their society. Throughout the story, Romeo and Juliet struggle (with varying degrees of success) to defy the social institutions that oppose their love, such as:

  • Family and patriarchy
  • Religion
  • Law and social order
  • Masculine honor

Yet despite the challenges they face, the young lovers repeatedly prove that their love is stronger than the social norms that threaten to keep them apart. Juliet defies her father’s authority in order to marry the man she loves and remain loyal to him to the end. Romeo compares Juliet to the sun and considers her more beautiful than the goddess of the moon, while Juliet refers to Romeo as the “god of my idolatry” (2.2.114). While still banished, Romeo returns to Verona to see Juliet one last time before he dies. Romeo refuses Tybalt’s challenge for Juliet’s sake (though he later succumbs to the pressure of honor after Mercutio is killed).

By constantly rebelling against their world, Romeo and Juliet establish themselves as individuals who seek to distance themselves from the obligations their public social lives impose upon them. Yet despite their best efforts to rebel through individuality, these social institutions continue to force them further into a corner until they’re left with only one option for escape. If anything, the greatest tragedy of Romeo & Juliet is that as powerful and beautiful as their love is, they can only find peace from their poisonous society through the ultimate form of darkness and privacy: an eternity together in death.

“For never was a story of more woe, / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” (5.3.309–10)

What are your thoughts on these themes and motifs in Romeo & Juliet? Any other interesting themes you would add to this list?

10 Signs Your Mom is the Biggest Supporter of Your Writing Career

Writers need a lot of support to make it through their careers. For many of us just starting out, the bulk of that support comes from family, and of all the relatives who motivate you, few do it better than your mom. Given that she’ll always love you no matter what, you know she’s been there for you since the beginning of your life, and she’ll always be there for you to the end!

This week marks a special occasion for that amazing woman in my life, so today I want to honor her with a creative writing post highlighting all the awesome ways she’s supported my dream to be a writer. For your consideration, here are ten signs your mom is the biggest supporter of your writing career. Thanks for all your support, Mom!

1) She gave you the book that made you want to become a writer in the first place – In my case, that was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book my mom had read as a child and recommended to me when I was nine years old. It changed my life!

2) She’s bought you dozens of books throughout your life – From a Roald Dahl collection to the Harry Potter series to The Mists of Avalon, much of my writing has been inspired by books my mom gave me when I was growing up. If your mom gave you plenty of books when you were a kid, you’ll likely find traces of those in your writing too!

3) She didn’t laugh when you told her you wanted to grow up to be an author – If anything, she encouraged your dream and promised to read every single one of your books (which of course you promised to give her free copies of). Bonus points if she bought you the books and/or courses on writing that helped you get there.

4) She brags to everyone she knows that her daughter/son is a writer – Maybe this embarrasses you a little, since most writers prefer to keep to themselves, but hey, free marketing is always a plus!

5) She’s always the first to read your stories – And she loves every single one. Seriously, you could probably write the goriest thriller ever and your mom would still tell you she enjoyed it (though it might be safe to assume she at least skipped over some parts).

6) She’s always the first to review your books – And it’s always five stars across the board. You couldn’t ask for a more devoted fan!

7) She thinks everything you write is amazing – Your mom can never find a single flaw even in the first drafts of your work. This makes her a terrible beta reader but an excellent motivator!

8) She insists that you’re a better writer than most famous authors – And even though you know it’s not true, you appreciate that she’ll always be your biggest fan.

9) She encourages you to keep writing even when you want to give up – She didn’t invest all that time and energy supporting you just to watch you quit on your dreams. Now get back to writing that future bestseller!

10) No matter how successful you really are, you’ll always be a bestselling author in her eyes! – And could you really ask for greater support than that?

Is your mother your biggest fan? How many of these signs fit her? What other signs would you add to this list?

Today’s post is dedicated to my mother, whose love and support have always kept me going on my writing journey. Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you!

Off The Bookshelf: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Last year, I reached my first-ever Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of ten books, most of which were historical fiction. I’ve already covered Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen in my Off the Bookshelf segment, so today I’m switching over to another author whose novel I really enjoyed: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde!

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Summary

The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only novel written by Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. First published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in July 1890, the novel exists in three versions: the censored 13-chapter edition published in the magazine in 1890, the revised 20-chapter book edition published in 1891, and the uncensored 13-chapter edition submitted to the magazine with all of Wilde’s original material intact. The story follows the moral corruption and downfall of Dorian Gray, a handsome yet narcissistic young man whose vanity leads him to wish that a painting of himself will age in his stead. After his wish comes true, Dorian succumbs to a hedonistic lifestyle of vice and sin from which his insatiable desire for pleasure leaves him little chance to escape.

Review

If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that! – Dorian Gray

A brief disclaimer: Because Wilde’s novel exists in three different forms, each one differs slightly from the others, in some cases affecting the plot. The version I read is the 1891 20-chapter book, so this is the edition that will be referenced throughout this review.

Movie poster for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

The Picture of Dorian Gray has often been compared to the Faust story, in which a dissatisfied scholar sells his soul to the Devil for unlimited knowledge and pleasure. Similarly, in a moment of weakness and newfound vanity, Dorian offers up his soul for the chance to remain young and handsome forever. In response to this wish, the painting becomes a mirror of Dorian’s soul and begins reflecting the effects of his actions that his body will now be spared. This inciting incident plays into the themes of valuing youth and beauty above all else and the consequences of choosing pleasure over virtue.

One of the most prominent themes in the book is the conflict between morality and pleasure. Although Dorian initially struggles with his new philosophy, his selfish desires ultimately overpower his guilt: after his romance with the young actress Sibyl Vane ends tragically, the subtle change in his portrait’s face proves his actions will have no visible consequence, as the painting will bear all the marks of his sins for him. After accepting Sibyl’s death as an artistic personification of tragedy, Dorian is free to pursue pleasure without risk and spends the next several years of his life indulging in various forms of gratification. Only in the final chapters of the story does he come to question if perpetual youth was worth the price of his soul.

Indeed, the fact that his artistic lifestyle costs him his soul is what makes Dorian Gray such an enigmatic character. Having given up his emotional depth, the protagonist’s true personality remains a mystery to the reader throughout the story. One detail of the novel that makes this evident is the heavy color motif. So many descriptions in the novel involve color in some way, and while at first I dismissed these vivid descriptions as the flowery writing of a poet, I later recognized their allusion to the main character’s internal conflict. The paradox of The Picture of Dorian Gray is that by giving up his soul for the pursuit of pleasure and the perpetuation of beauty, Dorian is no longer able to appreciate either—that is, in a world full of color and beauty, Dorian’s soulless existence is perpetually gray. Thus, Wilde’s novel—at least the revised version—supports the idea that art alone cannot bring happiness; one must have emotional depth in order to appreciate it.

From left to right: Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian Gray, Basil Hallward (Dorian Gray, 2009)

Aside from Dorian, the story features two other important characters: Basil Hallward, the painter of the infamous picture, and Lord Henry Wotton, a witty aristocrat who advocates “New Hedonism”. Both are equally fascinated by Dorian’s beauty but stand at opposite ends of his moral spectrum: Basil represents conformity to moral standards while Lord Henry represents the temptation of sin. In this way, these two gentlemen play the roles of Dorian’s “shoulder angel and devil”, respectively, and personify the novel’s overarching conflict between virtue and hedonism: Basil sees only beauty in Dorian and encourages him to remain virtuous, while Lord Henry lauds his youth and persuades him to live for pleasure above all else. And although Dorian never escapes from the guilt the painter evokes in him, the fact that the story plays out far worse for Basil than for Lord Henry further supports the novel’s theme of beauty’s superiority over virtue.

Interestingly, The Picture of Dorian Gray presents an unusual example of an unscrupulous protagonist who repeatedly dodges moral justice. While Dorian influences several people to unfortunate ends throughout his life, he himself doesn’t get what he deserves for almost the entirety of the novel. While this may be an allusion to Wilde’s aesthetic beliefs, it’s more frequently interpreted as a comment on society’s superficiality and hypocrisy; although several rumors emerge about Dorian’s immoral exploits over the years, his peers nonetheless continue to accept him because he’s beautiful and, by all appearances, innocent. Yet as with any Faustian story, sin is ultimately punished in the end, thus completing the theme of eternal pleasure coming at an exceedingly high cost.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is an intriguing novel, a mix of Gothic horror with social and artistic commentary that never seems to settle on a single form. Even the moral of the story is not so black and white as its similarity to the Faust fable would suggest, as the main character doesn’t suffer the consequences of his actions until the very end, and even then justice is brought about by his own hands. Yet by all accounts, with its enigmatic themes, poetic motifs, and structure of an unusual moral fable, Wilde has created nothing less than an outstanding and fascinating work of art.

Inspiration

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. – Oscar Wilde

In a strange meta twist, the most fascinating aspect of The Picture of Dorian Gray may actually be the author’s preface in the book edition. When Oscar Wilde first submitted his manuscript for publication, the editor of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine censored the story, removing roughly 500 words without the author’s knowledge. Nevertheless, the novel was widely decried as a violation of public morality. A year later, upon publishing the revised book version, Wilde issued a preface to address these criticisms and defend his work, claiming in this artistic manifesto that the only point of art is to be beautiful, not to serve a moral purpose.

Dorian’s painting, before and after
(Image source: TV Tropes)

Yet in The Picture of Dorian Gray, the eponymous painting itself serves a moral purpose by shedding light on the high price of vanity. Despite the author’s advocacy of aestheticism, his novel suggests that art always contains some degree of meaning: though Dorian constantly tries to immerse himself in a purely artistic lifestyle, he can never escape the haunting lesson in the portrait that bares his corrupted soul. Thus, while he may not have written a truly aesthetic piece, Wilde has nonetheless created a stunning work of art that inspires a poetic theme: art and morality are perpetually intertwined.

As far as artistic inspiration, this novel certainly has its fair share of philosophy. One of the most intriguing aspects of the story is Lord Henry’s powerful influence over the naïve young Dorian. Although Lord Henry’s beliefs contrast heavily with the standards of his time, he speaks with such wit and persuasive language that one can’t help but be drawn to his ideas, however misguided they are. Indeed, the only character immune to these ideas is Basil, whose conventional mindset keeps him morally grounded but makes him utterly boring in the eyes of his impressionable muse. Reading Lord Henry’s speeches, I could easily understand how any weak-minded individual would embrace his poisonous philosophy, which thankfully is revealed to be shallow and impractical by the second half of the story. If anything, the novel is a cautionary tale about the consequences of trying to live such a hedonistic life: the pursuit of pleasure may satisfy the senses with each experience, but it still isn’t worth giving up one’s soul.

Overall, I found The Picture of Dorian Gray to be an enjoyable and intriguing read. Its themes of morality, superficiality, and artistic living make it a notable addition to literature’s vast collection of moral fables. Yet the fact that Wilde was such a strong proponent of aestheticism raises the ultimate question: if his philosophy was to create “art for art’s sake”, should we really put so much weight on the moral themes of his only novel, or take a step back to simply glimpse these undertones while admiring the beauty of his work?

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