Kailie Kipfmiller Charley ENG 210 Essay 2 16 November 2012 “I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream — I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the malady of medievalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal — to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal, it may be. But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself” (20-21). Hellenism and Homoerotic Relationship in The Picture of Dorian Gray
Ancient Greek culture has become deeply rooted and entwined with modern literature; themes, motifs, symbols, and a variety of literary devices are borrowed from its classical customs. The Picture of Dorian Gray, despite being written during the 19th century, frequently references Greek customs such as mythology and the worth of beauty and youth. The protagonist, Dorian Gray, is idolized by two men who portray the young man as a Greek godlike figure, enticed by his picture-perfect looks and naive personality.
Lord Henry, a man who thrives off scandal, succeeds to corrupt Dorian’s innocence while Basil, an artist who love for the boy is pure, stands by helplessly. While both men develop intimate relationships with Dorian, the bond between boy and Lord Henry is instantaneous and ablaze with excitement. Homosexual tendencies are prevalent throughout the novel; however, never directly addressed because same sex relations were considered vulgar and socially unacceptable in the 19th century.
Throughout his novel, Lord Henry criticizes the current culture’s lack of acceptance and glorifies the ancient Greek Hellenistic culture, where homoeroticism was socially accepted, common, and frequently occurred often between adolescent boys and older men. In Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the allusion of Hellenism- in reference to the peculiar fixation Lord Henry exhibits, along with his intense opinions on passions, and his attempts to influence Dorian to mbrace these urges- conveys a subliminal theme of homoeroticism. The typically factual Lord seems to get carried away in genuine enthusiasm while delivering his influential speech to Dorian, bringing a moment of transparency to his character that alludes to homosexual urges: ‘I believe that if one man were to live his life fully and completely, were to form every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream– I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy” (20).
Henry is represented as someone who speaks based on gathered facts rather than true emotion and who usually delivers his points with aphorisms; however, this speech is delivered in longer sentences, as if he is ranting on, which occurs when one is genuinely involved with an idea. The beginning of this passage eases into a parallel sentence structure by keeping the same syntax (were to…every) and gradually shortening the sentences, which mimics the rise of action in Lord Henry’s speech. “…were to live out his life fully and completely, …were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream”). The phrase “I believe” reveals a longing for this to happen, and is repeated, which strengthens his adamancy. By hoping for a single man to step up, as opposed to a group of men, Lord Henry is suggesting that no men at all are truly living his life to its full extent because of the emotions, ideas, and dreams that are restrained.
At this point in the speech, the conflict that is preventing these men from expression isn’t revealed. The source of the conflict remains a mystery, as well as what exact feelings/thoughts/dreams are being held captive; this vagueness creates the sense that these repressions are extremely sinful. Clues throughout the book lead us to believe that Lord Henry’s sins are of homosexual nature. Upon influencing Dorian, he notices the boy’s distress and addresses his unconscious passions, thoughts, and dreams that “might stain [his] cheeks with shame” (21).
Shame, evidently, continues to be the key factor holding these men back from acting on these passions and thought and dreams. Also, because the Lord specifically mentions men and not women that hinder to this urge suggests it must only be unacceptable to the male gender. The diction in the beginning of Lord Henry’s influential speech oozes with a sense of personal longing by all men, and, this out of character behavior creates a moment of transparency where Henry has become vulnerable by showing his true self instead of his natural facade. Lord
Henry expresses a peculiar fondness of the Hellenic age over his current culture, emitting a tone of his longing for a more accepting society of the unconventional; this wish projects a desire for the acceptance of homosexual actions. As a result of acting on these forbidden passions, the Lord believes “the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the malady of medievalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal—to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal” (20). This seems to be the climax of his speech and therefore illustrates the importance of returning to this ancient Greek age.
Namely, to speak on behalf of the entire earth is a monumental notion, and exemplifies the outstanding faith he has in this proposal’s success. The word ‘gain’ (as opposed to obtain, receive, etc. ) indicates that the world would be rewarded something beneficial for this man’s demanding effort. The phrase “fresh impulse of joy” used to describe the world’s possible gain indicates that joy would come from acting on these pure urges. The malady of medievalism suggests that Lord Henry is criticizing the current society’s attitudes.
By using the term “medievalism”, he is insulting the current culture by likening it to a time of outdated attitudes and conservatism, or refusal to accept unconventional ways. The use of ‘maladies’ indicates that these negative thoughts are ingrained within society and go untreated, mostly because the issue is ignored. In context of when Wilde wrote this novel, homoeroticism was highly frowned upon by society, yet never directly addressed; therefore, this specific part of Lord Henry’s speech shows to be subtext for the perplexity of homoeroticism being unacceptable in the modern time.
Furthermore, the era in which the Lord desires positively correlates with the Greek code of homoeroticism. In an earlier conversation between Lord Henry and Basil about Dorian, Basil explained to Lord Henry the effect the boy had on him: “Unconsciously he defines for me the lines of a fresh school, a school that is to have in it all the passion of romantic spirit, all the perfection of the spirit that is Greek” (11). Basil is comparing Dorian’s strong affect on him to the passionate romance of Greek customs, alluding to the acceptance of same-sex relations.
The denotation of a “fresh school” in this context means an emotion of pure leisure; therefore, this leisure to Basil is of idolizing of the Dorian in a romantic logic. The reference of the ‘spirit that is Greek’ indicates an era of those who were much more dignified and candid than present-day; an era of brave characters in which Basil thinks so highly of he sees it to be flawlessness. The parallel of ‘all the passion of romantic spirit’ and ‘all the perfection of the spirit that is Greek’ implies that those who acted on their passions proved to be the ones with the most courage, in which Basil speaks of with admiration.
In his speech to Dorian, Lord Henry appears to project the same feeling of admiration as Basil. Both use the word “fresh” to describe these intimate desires and relate them to the ancient Greek era and associate the vitality of courage, found in the Hellenic age. Henry also connects bravery to those of the ancient Greek by claiming that if men did act on what they feared to, their society would resemble the Hellenic ideal. The acceptance of homoeroticism in the Hellenic era and Lord Henry’s fondness of this culture allude to the implication that the Lord withholds these types of urges.
However, in contrast to Lord Henry’s momentary candid optimism, he shows bitter resentment towards his faith in the courage of men, and ultimately attempts to influence his friends to embrace these sexual urges. Falling action is seen directly after idealizing the Hellenic age: “But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself” (20). Being held up to an “ideal” involves the risk of failure, which undoubtedly results in cautiousness and a hindrance of living life fully. Here, Henry is reflecting on the cowardice of men for fearing the risk of failure, or bring rejected by society.
This implies that the outwardly courageous traits are not true to the man’s internal emotions, but a mere facade. In retribution of this cowardice, Lord Henry attempts to influence his friends to embrace and act on momentary sexual urges. For example, the Lord approaches Dorian in the garden, stepping close and touching him, which makes Dorian overwhelmed with a feeling of awakening. He lingers on the fact that suddenly “there had come someone across his life who seemed to disclose to him life’s mystery” (23).
The sensual way that the Lord approaches the boy along with Dorian pondering this new feeling suggests that Lord Henry has successfully made Dorian aware of his sexual urges. The way Lord Henry interacts with men, tempting them to give way to their socially unacceptable desires, also deduces his character to a man who exhibits these sexual urges himself. Seeing as Hellenic culture emanates a world where one was not identified and ridiculed by his or her sexual orientation, it is reasonable to infer that the character Lord Henry- rom the context of his influential speech to Dorian- inhibits homosexual urges. In a moment of transparency while influencing Dorian, Lord Henry deviates from his characteristic aphorisms and is consumed in passion while talking about the problems with the current society. He firmly believes that if men were to find the courage to act out their desires forbidden by society, they would return to a Hellenic ideal, a period unaffected by unconventional ways.
His avid diction alludes to himself relating to being unable to act on these urges. The context clues of the Hellenic age allowing same-sex romantic passions, and the shame associated with same-sex relations in modern times, indicate that these forbidden urges that the Lord speaks so vaguely about are homosexual urges, giving way to the underlying theme of homoerotic theme in Oscar Wilde’s controversial novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Works Cited Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. United States: Modern Library, 2004. Print