The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Chapters Five–Six

Summary Chapters Five–Six

More important than Lord Henry’s philosophy of the role of women, however, is his insistence on the necessity of individualism. As a mode of thinking, individualism took center stage during the nineteenth century. It was first celebrated by the Romantics, who, in the early 1800s, decided that free and spontaneous expression of the self was the true source of art and literature. The Romantics rejected the eighteenth-century sensibility that sought to imitate and reproduce the classical models of ancient Greece and Rome, which were perceived as too stylized to allow for the expression of anything genuine or relevant. Holding the self as the center of creation, Romanticism inevitably emphasized personal freedom, sensory experience, and the special status of the artist. By the time Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, however, the romantic belief that man could realize these things in himself by returning to nature had largely faded. Indeed, Wilde’s novel marks an interesting shift in the changing philosophy of the times. For although the residue of the Romantic movement can be seen in Dorian’s story—Lord Henry advocates that nothing should hinder the freedom of the artistic individual’s development—the means by which that development occurs in the story is noticeably different. In the world of The Picture of Dorian Gray, art is to be made by submerging oneself in society rather than escaping from it.