Just Guys Being Dudes, Dudes Being Guys

In my blog post last week, I talked about how the references Wilde made to the Symposium in “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” and at his trial were used as a defense for having close relationships with men and admiring their beauty. In class on Wednesday, we talked about homosocial relationships between men and how that featured in The Picture of Dorian Gray. To me, it seems like this use of homosocial relationships in Dorian Gray is used as a defense for Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian’s relationship in the same way that the Symposium is used as a defense for Shakespeare and Willie Huges’ relationship in “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.”

In class, we talked about how certain homosocial behavior is viewed as acceptable only if all the participants in this behavior are straight. For instance, during a men’s basketball game, it’s perfectly acceptable to give your teammate a butt pat. However, if either of those players isn’t straight, the act is viewed with entirely new meaning. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry and Basil being completely obsessed with Dorian’s beauty can just be viewed as, to use a colloquial turn of phrase, dudes being guys, guys being dudes. Straight is often seen as the default, even today. Therefore, unless explicitly stated, Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian can be read as completely straight, and the admiration of Dorian’s beauty is just perfectly acceptable homosocial behavior. In fact, if you see anything queer about their relationship, you’re probably the weird one. 

This can all tie back to the Preface of Dorian Gray, where Wilde says that this work is just meant to be a thing of beauty, and if you find anything off with it, there’s something off with you. He’s saying that no one should try to look past the surface level of Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian’s relationship with each other. They’re all just good buds, and it’s perfectly cool for good buds to be obsessed with each other. What’s interesting to me is that this defense actually worked for a while, because as mentioned in class, for years, queerness wasn’t even mentioned when studying The Picture of Dorian Gray. Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian were just viewed as friends, albeit friends who corrupted each other, but just friends nonetheless. I just think it’s interesting how for so long, no one really wanted to peer beneath the surface of Dorian Gray.

Dorian’s Immobility and Mobility

Our discussion today had me thinking a lot about the philosophies that Wilde is portraying through his characters, as well as how Wilde himself fits into the narrative of his own novel, but then I started thinking about the physical world in The Picture of Dorian Gray. I brought up the point in class that the whole reason for Basil’s downfall becomes his trust in Lord Henry. He believes that Dorian will become influenced by Henry, and “the influence would be bad” (26). At the end of chapter six, Basil mourns the “strange sense of loss” of Dorian becoming influenced by Henry and then states that “life had come between them” (70). I’m not going to be focusing on the word strange and the homoerotic implications it has in this blog post (although it’d be cool if somebody commented on it!), but rather I want to talk about how we can understand the relationships through their physicality and mobility. I find it interesting that at the beginning of the novel, when first introduced to Basil and Dorian’s relationship, the artist and the art, Dorian is physically immobile. He stays confined and seems satisfied simply being inside his studio. There is a part after where Dorian goes out to the garden because he is impatient with posing, but it happens after he meets Lord Henry. After Lord Henry, Dorian cannot be confined to the studio anymore, as a subject of art. He creates the subjects now; he goes from dinners to outings to the theater with Lord Henry, who makes Dorian into somebody physically a part of the world, somebody that can move around unlike when Basil confined him to the art studio. This makes sense with the line that “life had come between” Basil and Dorian, and life is Henry personified because Henry is integrating Dorian into all of the societal outings and sensory experiences that life has to offer over the studio.

            I’m not quite sure what to make of this argument as well as the level of nuance that Basil is creating backdrops and environments in the portrait that are not a part of the physical realm since they are birthed from his artistry and his mind, which is also an interesting perspective to consider. I think that the material and physical world will start to tell us some things about the contradictory philosophies we are reading that come from all the characters. What does it mean that Basil is “confining” Dorian? Is it a bad thing to become integrated into the society of dinners, outings, and theater? How does Basil’s trust become his downfall; what does it say about him?