A “Careful Carelessness”

The discussion we have had about how Wilde has related to each character in A Picture of Dorian Gray has fascinated me. And, I am still particularly curious about the idea of the way Wilde presented himself versus his true self. As we have discussed in class, a way we can view Wilde is through the many parallels between him and the characters of Lord Henry, Basil, and Dorian. 

My train of thought first begins with Dorian’s character, after the point of his “poisoning.” To the outside eye, Dorian is beautiful, but troublesome. He seems to negatively impact everyone he has a close relationship. He has become the poisoner, and though it is not reflected physically, it is reflected in the portrait. And that display of his soul deteriorating is ruining his life. Because he cannot reveal who he truly is, because his real self is locked away in a closet, he is breaking down, and taking those around him down with him. But, this was partly learned behavior, taken from Lord Henry. But then why is Lord Henry not facing the same consequences? Perhaps it is because Lord Henry does not take anything seriously, including his own words or feelings. He is capable of contradicting himself and changing his mind constantly. Dorian is not. 

This makes me think about the idea of aestheticism and the preface of the book. Are we meant to not take ourselves seriously, lest it destroys our soul? Are we meant to not look beyond the surface? Oscar Wilde certainly made others think that is how he thought. But, we learned that in university Wilde curated a feeling of nonchalance, in witty humor and knowledge, despite locking himself away to read for a good portion of the day. We referred to this in class as a sort of “careful carelessness.” Was this what Lord Henry was doing as well? Putting in so much effort to appear uncaring? To never reveal what is truly underneath? But then how is it that in the book Basil’s greatest work was the result of baring his soul in his art? Was this book Wilde baring his soul, or just another contradiction? 

A Picture of Dorian Gray certainly presents many contradictions about aestheticism, to the point where I find it sort of comical. And maybe that is Wilde’s point, to in part confuse the reader for his own amusement. But, perhaps that is what he wants us to think, when in reality this is, like Basil did, a way that Wilde showed his soul through art. Wilde has built this image of “careful carelessness” to the point where it makes it hard for us to really know the truth, even now. In my opinion, I think Wilde truly is revealing himself in this work, but I am curious to see how his tone changes, if it does, in the next works we read, particularly De Profundis.