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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

A Dorian Gray Hot Take to End All Hot Takes

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.

Once again, happy Pride to all my LGBTQIA+ readers. I hope you’re continuing to have a safe and happy Pride Month.

Animated Pride flag that says Happy Pride.

Now I don’t have a book review for you today. I have a hot take for you instead. I know it has been awhile since I’ve gifted you a Hannah Hot Take post. Yes it is that time. It’s time for me to basically be this meme:

Crazed man in front of investigation board.
I truly don't know if I make sense half the time, and this is very much my face while writing these posts.

I got a good one for you today though. Raise your hand if you are familiar with Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray? It is most certainly Wilde’s most famous work, and one of the most famous pieces of Gothic Literature. Like, it’s definitely in the top five of Gothic Lit. So everyone’s hands should be raised by now.

Book cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

There is so much that I could say about this piece. So many different directions I could take today’s post. There are so many think pieces out in the world already regarding Dorian Gray and his actions. Which is why I’m not going to talk about him. Screw Dorian Gray. He’s had his time to shine. He’s in all the TV shows and movies. Let’s focus on someone else. And by someone else I mean Basil Hallward.

You see, Basil Hallward is actually the Devil.

"What a twist."
Did I jump the shark by using this gif? I think I did lol.

I guarantee that is not something most of you thought I was going to say. If you were to look up think pieces regarding the Devil in The Picture of Dorian Gray, then you would see a lot of articles that come up claiming Henry Wotton is the Devil. Or you’d find a decent amount of pieces saying that Henry is the devil’s advocate and Basil is god’s advocate. Nay, nay I say! Basil is the Devil!

Devil from SNL.
For all intensive purposes, this is how we shall imagine Basil for the duration of this post.

I’ll start at the beginning. A spoiler alert for the entirety of The Picture of Dorian Gray is in order I guess. So let’s crack into it.

Now, when I said I’m starting at the beginning, I really mean it. We’re actually gonna focus a lot on the starting chapter. The Picture of Dorian Gray opens with Basil and Henry discussing Dorian’s portrait. And boy, are there a ton of clues that point towards Basil being the Devil in this chapter alone. The opening conversation boils down to Henry asking Basil to showcase the portrait at a gallery, but Basil continuously denies this request. The following is a direct quote from Basil as to why he refuses to show said portrait:

"The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul."

As you may know, Dorian Gray doesn’t age or get hurt throughout the course of the story. His portrait ages for him. If he is injured, then his portrait takes on the injury and eventual scar. As long as his portrait survives, nothing bad can technically happen to Dorian. In order for this to occur though, Dorian must sell his soul to the Devil. Which he does so after crying about how he’ll never be as pretty as he is now. Typically this is the point where most literary critics state that the Devil agrees to the soul trade or is when Dorian’s portrait begins to age for him. I don’t agree with that though. At least not entirely. Don't get me wrong, I believe this is the beginning of the portrait aging for Dorian. But I believe that someone had to create and give this vessel said ability prior to Dorian crying over the portrait. Once again, I give you this quote from Basil:

"The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul."

It seems to me that Basil is saying he’s aware that this portrait is special in some way shape or form. Like there is magic, or whatever you want to call it, already in the portrait and all that’s left to do is for Dorian to state his bargain. Basil knows something about this portrait that others don’t. Sure, one can claim that Basil is simply being humble at this point in the story, but I truly think there’s more to it. This portrait has power, and who created it? Basil. But how does it get this power to make Dorian never age? Because the person who created it put it there. And who was that again? Basil, aka the Devil who arguably has some sort of magic/demonic power.

Satan from SNL.
Look! Basil is even admitting he made the vessel.

Now, Henry does asks Basil to elaborate on the previous quote. As Dorian’s portrait is regarded as Basil’s masterpiece, it would make sense to display this perfect example of realism. Again, Basil doesn’t want to do that though, and when asked to elaborate he simply states:

"Perhaps you would hardly believe it."

Believe what though, Basil? What are you talking about? What’s up with this cryptic talk? What are you referring to at this point of time? We know the following facts: Basil created this portrait. He’s dedicated hours upon hours of his time to craft it. He’s poured his heart and soul into it. And maybe he put something more into it as well…? Something darker. Something unknown to the masses. Some form of magic or dark arts perhaps? Something that no one would believe if he told the truth. Something like claiming to be the actual Devil.

Child nodding head.
Are you starting to agree with me yet?

I do not believe that Basil created this magical portrait for Dorian to be corrupted by vices and sin though. Upon first glance, that may be a thought given my claim is Basil is the Devil. But no. Not only is Basil the Devil who is capable of creating a vessel for Dorian to essentially live forever, but he did so because he’s in love with Dorian. And what does he love so much about Dorian? That he’s uncorrupted by humanity! That’s what he loves about Dorian. Basil himself has sinned. The Devil is the prototype of sin and has committed them all. But when readers look at Dorian, he is pure and sinless; at least in the beginning.

In the first chapter, Basil constantly brings up Dorian’s good nature to Henry. As I’ve said, Dorian is a pure soul, and Basil doesn’t want Henry and Dorian to meet as the former will essentially corrupt the latter. Given how adamant Basil is against these two men meeting, I think Basil is aware of what will occur should said pair meet; and Basil does not want that as Dorian is pure in his eyes. He simply wants Dorian to be his pure, soft boi for all time.

Satan from SNL.
Basil thinking of Dorian:

When Dorian becomes corrupt, Basil is the first one to speak up. He’s highly against it. Vice and corruption are not the reasons Basil created Dorian’s portrait in the first place. He did it so his friend, and hopefully his future lover, can remain a “perfect” man forever. A pure, uncorrupted man! A man unlike himself.

Basil alludes to how he has committed the seven deadly sins during the beginning of the story. There are cryptic clues regarding this all throughout the text, but they’re mostly in the beginning. He’s very lustful for Dorian, it's a fact that everything out of his mouth regarding Dorian is lowkey horny, and Basil is also a prideful person. See not wanting to display the portrait as a source of his pride and also his vanity as an example. Basil is an all-around sinful person and goes on and on about how sin is a part of him. Much like how sin is a part of the Devil. I said it before and I’ll say it again, the Devil is the prototype for sin, and the Devil in this story is Basil. A man full of sin who is capable of creating a vessel for his crush to live forever and never age.

Thank you for joining me today, Book Nerds. I hope you enjoyed these mussing from my mind. I shall bid you all adieu. We're going to remain in the realm of Gothic Literature next week. I'll see y'all then.

Until next time, stay safe, wash your hands and read some good books for me.

Bears waving.
See y'all next week, bye!

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