Places: The Picture of Dorian Gray

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: serial, 1890; book, 1891

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Mayfair

*Mayfair. Picture of Dorian Gray, TheRichest district of London, lying to the east of Hyde Park, bounded on the north by Oxford Street and on the south by Piccadilly. Most of the significant locations featured in the novel are situated there. The exact location of Lord Henry Wotton’s house, with its oak-paneled library, furnished with Persian rugs, is left unspecified, but his uncle, Lord Fermor, lives in Berkeley Square, one of the most imposing addresses in London, and is a member of one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs, the Albany. Even Alan Campbell, the chemistry expert blackmailed by Dorian into disposing of Basil Hallward’s body, lives in Mayfair, although Hertford Street is one of the least prepossessing thoroughfares in the district.

Dorian’s own town house, inherited from his grandfather, Lord Kelso, is situated in the other famous Mayfair square, Grosvenor Square. It is here that a study in contrasts is developed between the room in which Dorian hides the portrait, his old schoolroom, located at the very top of the house, and the rooms that he furnishes in an extraordinarily lavish fashion with all manner of tapestries, textiles, embroideries, and ecclesiastical vestments.

Schoolroom

Schoolroom. Symbolizing Dorian’s lost innocence, the schoolroom is furnished with a satinwood bookcase, a Flemish tapestry featuring two monarchs playing chess while falconers hover nearby, and a cassone, a large Italian trunk with a hinged lid, which features painted panels and gilt moldings. Dorian used to use this cassone as a hiding place when he was a child. The remainder of the house undergoes a remarkable transformation as Dorian buries the conventional furnishings handed down by his grandfather in a decorative riot of silks, satins, velvets, and other ultrasoft materials. The obsessively conservative Victorians condemned any tendency to luxury as a sign of moral decadence, prompting radical aesthetes like Oscar Wilde to go to an opposite extreme.

Selby Royal

Selby Royal. Site of Dorian’s country house. It was standard practice for every nineteenth century family of any real social standing to maintain a town house and a country house, the former being used for “the season,” the summer months when all London’s key social events took place, while the latter was usually the manor house attached to the family estate. Dorian, like most young aristocrats of his generation, prefers to spend almost all his time in London, but Selby Royal proves a convenient location for the elimination of the vengeful James Vane.

*Euston Road

*Euston Road. London street. In the 1880’s the streets surrounding Euston Station were a modest residential district, considerably more respectable than the poverty-stricken East End although far inferior to Mayfair. It is not surprising that the working-class Vanes are struggling to pay the rent on their apartment in Euston Road, even though Sibyl is appearing at the Royal Theatre in Holborn. The address signifies that the family is desperately ambitious to move up in the world, which is a significant factor in the frustration that leads Sibyl to suicide.

Basil Hallward’s studio

Basil Hallward’s studio. Artist’s studio situated in an unnamed suburb of London, conceptually, if not geographically, midway between Grosvenor Square and Selby Royal. Its French windows look out onto a pleasant garden scented in summer by lilac, laburnum, and honeysuckle, but its interior is furnished in a slightly Bohemian style, with sofas and divans. Like the Vanes, Hallward is operating in a social stratum above that in which he was born.

BibliographyEllmann, Richard, ed. Oscar Wilde: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. An anthology of essays on the works of Oscar Wilde, by a series of well-known authors. Includes two essays on The Picture of Dorian Gray, a contemporary (1891) review of the book by Walter Pater, “A Novel by Mr. Oscar Wilde,” and a 1947 treatment by Edouard Roditis, “Fiction as Allegory: The Picture of Dorian Gray.”McCormack, Jerusha Hull. The Man Who Was Dorian Gray. New York: Palgrave, 2000. A scholarly scraping together of the life of Wilde’s model.Nunokawa, Jeff. Oscar Wilde. New York: Chelsea House, 1995. Part of a series entitled “Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians.” Includes an extensive discussion of The Picture of Dorian Gray as a love story, emphasizing the relationships between Gray and the two other major male characters in the book, Lord Henry Wotton and Basil Hallward.San Juan, Epifanio, Jr. The Art of Oscar Wilde. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1967. An analysis of Wilde’s major works. Includes a long chapter dealing with The Picture of Dorian Gray, which emphasizes Wilde’s treatment of psychology. Also includes a discussion of the work’s influence on later writers.Sedgwick, Eve Kosofky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. A discussion of homosexuality in literature. In her treatment of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the author emphasizes sentimental love rather than sex. Also includes a discussion of the narcissistic qualities of the title character.Weintraub, Stanley. Literary Criticism of Oscar Wilde. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968. A collection of the critical works of Wilde. Of particular interest is the series of letters Wilde wrote to various newspapers in response to the negative criticism the book received when first published.
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