A Queer Reading of Dorian’s Mobility and Immobility

I wanted to make another post related to my previous one. For those who didn’t read it, I made an argument that Basil keeps Dorian physically confined by demanding him to sit for his portrait. At the same time, Lord Henry, who is epitomized as “Life,” renders Dorian physically mobile (70). He gets integrated into society: attending plays, dinner parties, and other outings. Initially, I thought the argument was odd; I spent some time reconciling with it. Lord Henry is the one who influences Dorian, who is a significant contributor to his corruption. How is somebody who makes Dorian more mobile somebody who also makes him immobile by implanting his ideas of influence? After finishing the novel this week and thinking my argument did not make sense in the grand scheme of the story, I found out it did have a place with a queer reading. The discussion on Wednesday in class about concepts such as the closet helped me arrive at this conclusion and look deeper into the confession scene I pointed out in class.

Again, a lot of the language in the confession scene was overtly queer, with Basil making “a strange confession” about how he “was dominated, soul, brain, and power by [Dorian]” (93, 94). However, the most explicit part in this scene for me lies when Dorian says, “you and I are friends, Basil, and we must always remain so” (95). Basil then says, “You have got Harry” (95). I found it interesting that both of these situations are incompatible, according to Basil; Dorian, for some reason, cannot both be friends with Lord Henry and Basil. I also found it intriguing that Basil states he will be exhibiting the portrait in Paris close before the confession scene. Dorian is entirely against it: “Was the world going to be shown his secret? Were people going to gape at the mystery of his life?” (92). One could read it in the light that Dorian does not want the world to see his aged, disfigured self in Basil’s portrait. However, the proximity of both pieces of text in the narrative is too close not to correlate them together. I read it to be that Basil exhibiting the portrait to the world is an allegory for displaying his true self and homosexuality; Dorian does not want to be a part of this due to his fear and the “corruption” that life has inflicted upon him. This is supported because Basil says, “’ every flake and colour seemed to me to reveal my secret… I felt that I had told too much, that I had too much of myself in it’” (94). Since Dorian is hiding the portrait in his childhood schoolroom, where nobody can access, and only Basil sees, it operates similarly to the metaphorical closet. It reminded me of Giovanni’s Room (a fantastic novel, and James Baldwin is a great author!). At first, Dorian is confined to the studio with Basil, sharing a secret and creating a truly beautiful portrait. Then “Life” or Lord Henry comes in all his influence, and Dorian becomes corrupted in his integration into society, no longer confined to the room where virtually no public perception exists. Dorian’s killing of Basil reflects this decay of that part of himself, the part he wants to hide.

One thought on “A Queer Reading of Dorian’s Mobility and Immobility”

  1. Great post! I also found myself thinking that Basil wanting to display the portrait was a way of revealing his homosexuality and true self, as you said. But that wouldn’t only expose Basil, but also Dorian, because it is such a true reflection of his soul. Basil is the only one who Dorian lets inside the closet to look at the portrait, he is the only one who Dorian reveals his true self to. I think this is a large source of Dorian’s frustration towards Basil, and later will to kill. Dorian couldn’t risk anyone else knowing.

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