On the very first day of class this semester, we read the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. The first few lines were, “The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim” (27). My main takeaway from this class is how wrong that statement is. Over the course of this semester, through analyzing Wilde’s work, Wilde as a person was revealed to us. Because of the society Wilde lived in, he had to conceal his queer identity, but Wilde’s queerness shines through in his work.
My research paper focuses on how Wilde was able to identify with Plato’s Symposium—a work that focuses on how the relationship where an older man mentors a younger man is the highest form of love—in a time when there wasn’t any other form of queer representation. Identifying with the Symposium allowed Wilde to see his queer identity being represented as beautiful in a time when homosexual acts were reviled. Therefore, Wilde enacted the relationship dynamics of the Symposium in his relationship with Bosie and other young men, where the younger men would inspire him and he would mentor and praise them. However, even if we didn’t learn anything about Wilde’s biography this semester, we’d learn a lot about Wilde and his connection to the Symposium just by examining his work.
Although The Picture of Dorian Gray was meant to “conceal the artist,” Wilde very much reveals himself and his ideas in this work. The Symposium isn’t referenced in Dorian Gray, but the inspiration is apparent. The relationship between Basil and Dorian is one where an artist is inspired by the beauty of a younger man. Basil says, “Dorian, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I was dominated soul, brain, and power by you” (89). This relationship seems to mirror Wilde’s relationship with Bosie, but Dorian Gray was written before this relationship. Dorian Gray is actually a representation of the relationship dynamic put forth in the Symposium as the highest form of love. Basil and Dorian seem to prefigure Wilde and Bosie. Through analyzing Wilde’s work, we can see how Wilde places himself in the tradition of Plato by connecting the Symposium to Dorian Gray and then to himself. However, even though Wilde and his characters were acting out the “highest form of love,” Wilde still lived in a time that didn’t accept queerness, and both his characters’ and his own life ended in tragedy.
Wilde is a fascinating and tragic figure, and I really appreciated being able to learn about him over the course of the semester. Despite Wilde’s efforts to conceal himself in his art, being able to analyze his works this semester really enabled me to understand Wilde as a person. In turn, since I know more about Wilde as a person, I can appreciate his works even more.