Corruption of Beauty

After reading the “The Ballad of a Barber,” and some of The Picture of Dorian Gray, I started to think again about the idea of creation of beauty, artist as creator, and corruption of beauty.

In “The Ballad of the Barber,” the barber is known for his abilities to make things beautiful. Just as much as an artist in any other sphere of art, the manipulation of hair and one’s face with makeup is an act of creation. But the barber suddenly loses his ability to do so when he is confronted with the young princess, an already stunning girl. The princess is naturally beautiful. Perhaps, like in “The Decay of Lying,” one’s natural state being beautiful is something hard to understand. If it is not man-made, then it can’t be beautiful. But since the princess already is, perhaps that is why she was killed by the Barber. His act of murder may be a sort of morbid creation itself. He could not understand or handle her natural beauty, and so had to get rid of it, or one-up it with her murder, in a twisted way.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian is also already beautiful. With Basil, he is admired for such beauty. He is confined to the inside world, where he sits for portraits and enjoys his influence over Basil. He’s like a princess sitting in a castle. But Lord Henry gets him out of the castle. Again, this sense of twisted manipulation comes in. Lord Henry enjoys corrupting Dorian, he has this power over him that he utilizes. Dorian is described using flower-like imagery, showing he is beautiful, pure, fragile, and corruptible. Henry likes to think that he created Dorian out of his influence, like I’m sure the Barber felt he created beautiful things out of his influence. Perhaps, like the Barber, Lord Henry does not know what to do with something so naturally beautiful except to corrupt it. That is the only thing you can do to something that you can’t make any more beautiful: try to ruin it. Or maybe, to try and make it one’s own. Murdering the princess gave the Barber a tie to her. I’m not sure yet if Lord Henry is really trying to “ruin” Dorian, but I get the sense that he has this compulsion to corrupt, and a compulsion to make Dorian his own.

I’m interested to see how Lord Henry and Dorian’s relationship develops throughout the rest of the story, and if it is going to go down a similar path as the princess’s fate.

2 thoughts on “Corruption of Beauty”

  1. You both have made great posts and insights into Lord Henry’s corruption of Dorian and how that might lead to Dorian’s subsequent psychological deterioration through the line that Caroline pointed out! I also wanted to nuance the post and bring up Basil and Lord Henry’s relationship, which is largely an enigma to me. Lord Henry is the corrupter of art while Basil is the capturer of art, yet they are still friends for some reason. I do not know how their relationship has formed from the beginning of the novel or what Dorian sees in being friends with somebody like this. Clearly, he understands from the first chapter that Lord Henry will be a bad influence on Dorian, and he either underestimates Lord Henry’s ability because his attempt at gatekeeping Dorian from Lord Henry is weak at best. In some twisted way, I wonder if Basil wants Dorian to be corrupted? Why is he still friends with Lord Henry considering his characteristics, knowing he is a bad influence over beautiful things? I feel like time will only tell in the novel. And then Caroline brings up the question that perhaps Dorian was always corruptible to begin with, with the line that “[Dorian] is horribly thoughtless, and seems to take a real delight in giving me pain” (24). How do we fit this in the relationship between artist and art?

  2. This is a great post and brings up a some of the thoughts I had about how the relationship between Lord Henry and Dorian will play out. I’ve never read Dorian Gray before, but I am anticipating that, like Dorian’s beauty will deteriorate as he ages like Lord Henry warned, he may have a psychological deterioration of sorts as well, from the pressures of all the attention he receives. I think we should also consider how the other characters may be “ruined” by Dorian. I’m thinking in particular about the passage we discussed in class: “Now and then, however, [Dorian] is horribly thoughtless, and seems to take a real delight in giving me pain. Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to some one who treats it s if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day” (24). It’s interesting to think about how the muse can manipulate the artist. Perhaps, the way that Basil reveals his soul in his portraits is a method of creation or artistic expression for Dorian. Dorian exposes the innermost thoughts and feelings of Basil and plays with them. While he is a manipulated by Lord Henry, Dorian certainly manipulates Basil, and maybe he will corrupt Lord Henry as the story continues. It seems that all of the relationships in the novel are transactional in some way. While Dorian lends his beauty to Basil’s artwork, he is certainly taking from him in order to serve his ego. This transactional element emphasizes the fact that none of these relationships are sustainable.

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