The Picture of Dorian Gray: Epigrams Analysis

Category: Literature
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“Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid.” – Lord Henry (p. 14)

During this part of the novel, Basil will not show Lord Henry his painting of Dorian Gray because it “shows too much of himself” in it. Lord Henry told Basil that he is being vain because the picture looks nothing like him. With this epigram, Lord Henry is essentially stating that real beauty is brainless. He believes that art should be meaningless and just be made for viewing pleasure. If one focuses too much on the details of something, such as a person or piece of art, then the beauty behind it will disappear. On the next page, this quote is expanded upon as Lord Henry states that thinking and being an intellectual will make people age faster, thus becoming “something horrid.” In today’s world, many successful people do not have a pleasing appearance. For example, the 2018 Nobel Prize winner for physiology, James P. Allison, has made great achievements. Based on his accomplishments, one can assume he is a great intellect. However, upon looking at his picture, Allison clearly has lost some of the beauty he could have maintained if he had pursued something else. I do not agree with Lord Henry because for these successful people, the beauty may not be in appearance, but it is in their mind.

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“The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it.” – Basil Hallward (p. 15)

During this part of the novel, Basil accidently told Lord Henry the name of the man he was painting. Basil was explaining how he liked to keep names secret because it makes his life seem more mysterious. This epigram shows how Basil likes to keep to himself to enjoy it longer. If someone is keeping things to themselves, they are able to cherish it and know that they have something to themselves. It’s a selfish action in the purest of ways because everyone wants to hold onto something sentimental before letting everyone enjoy it too. A honeymoon is the best example for this. People get married and go away on some sort of secluded getaway to enjoy each other’s company before going back into the real world where other people need to use them too.

“Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know.” – Lord Henry

(p. 15)

At this part in the novel, Basil is addressing Henry’s actions and the way he is never wrong and never moral, and in other words Henry simply exists. This conversation is happening because Henry is bashing the idea of marriage. Basil is countering by saying that Henry is very good at marriage so he should not say horrible things about the idea of commitment. I believe this epigram means that people pretend to be normal, and natural, but are hiding the emotions that make them human. In relation to the marriage comments, in the real world, I think that people in unhappy marriages put on a show of love to persuade people that their relationship has no issues. I think this is the most prevalent in modern day celebrity relationships, some of which are simply for publicity such as for the promotion of a movie or book. For example, Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron had a three year relationship that was initially created for the publicity of the movie High School Musical. People create an image of what life is supposed to look like so nobody can tell when a person might be going through an actual hardship.

“The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.” -Lord Henry (p. 29)

At this point in the book, Lord Henry is talking about how women look at marriage wrong and they expect too much commitment. He believes that some marriages fail because women expect too much. This conversation is occurring because there is an insinuation that Dorian Gray may be in a romantic relationship with Lord Henry in the future. This epigram states that a caprice, which is a sudden change in behavior, lasts longer than passion. Linking this to the idea that women expect too much, the passage indirectly states that passion disappears faster in people who expect a life-long commitment rather than those who understand that it may by temporary. In real life, this can be seen with divorce. People stand in front of loved ones to declare their love for their partner, only to eventually lose that love they assumed was eternal. A change in behavior could last longer than a life-long passion if that passion was already doomed from the start.

“I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects.” – Lord Henry (p. 18)

During this part of the book, Basil is explaining how he and Dorian became friends at Lady Brandon’s party. Basil makes a comment stating that Lord Henry has no friends nor does he have enemies, he is indifferent to all. Lord Henry then states this epigram which concludes his views on friendship. If he chooses friends based on looks, he too can have an appealing appearance. If Henry chooses acquaintances for their character, everyone else will simply assume he also has a good character. However, if he chooses enemies for their intellect, he can also be pushed to outsmart them and remain the best. In summary, Lord Henry chooses to surround himself with people that he can benefit from. In real life, Trump has a similar, more opposite view. He makes other people look worse than he does so he eventually looks better. For example, Donald Trump has opened an investigation on Barack Obama for a past association with Ukraine which makes Trump seem like the better president for doing so.

“What you have told me is quite a romance, a romance of art one might call it, and the worst of having a romance of any kind is that it leaves one so unromantic.” – Lord Henry (p. 21)

At this point in the novel, Lord Henry tells Basil that Dorian Gray may not remain as he is in the portrait. Basil’s idea of Gray will not last long and eventually Basil might not like some aspect of Dorian’s personality or looks. This conversation is happening because Basil is admitting that he likes Dorian and that he will be infatuated with him forever. This epigram is showing how when people think of what is romantic, they have a certain image in their head. Romance means something different to each person. When they finally meet someone, their expectations are not met because they had this grand image of the romance they would receive. People have high expectations when it comes to romance so when those expectations are not met, there is a level of disappointment involved which can be “unromantic” as stated in the novel. In real life, people have lots of unmet expectations in all aspects of life, not just in romance. An example could be the saying that “life is not a fairytale.” Everyone has these high expectations of college, romance, travel, etc., but each of these experiences come with a dose of reality which people do not expect.

“That is one of the great secrets of life- to cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul.” – Lord Henry (p. 155)

At this point in the novel, Lord Henry and Dorian Gray have met for the first time. Basil is telling Lord Henry not to occupy Dorian for too long so he can finish his masterpiece. Lord Henry walks away and goes back to the garden and finds Dorian smelling lilac blossoms when he states his “great secret of life.” This is a mantra that Dorian kept repeating to himself and ended up interpreting it wrong. In summary, this epigram means that the soul can be corrupted by uncontrollable senses, but if one can overpower their senses, without thinking about desire, they can please the soul. The soul and all of the senses go together. A classic example of this is weight loss. If a person accidentally breaks a diet because they cannot control cravings, they feel bad about themselves. However, if they curb the cravings, in the long run they feel proud and satisfied with themselves and their progress.

“I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.” – Lord Henry (p. 41)

During this point in the chapter, Lord Henry has gone to his aunt’s house for lunch and they are talking about a friend’s proposal and how her father runs an American store. They continue to talk about Americans, both positively and negatively, when Sir Thomas makes a statement about how reasonable and interesting Americans really are. This conversation is happening because the lunch party is talking about the intellect difference between Americans and themselves. This epigram shows how people reason during arguments. Lord Henry is explaining how when people use knowledge or reasoning, they have an advantage over their “opponent.” Some people cannot keep up intellectually, but can keep up physically. By using reason, people have an unfair advantage because they know it is the other person’s weakness. In the real world, an example can be the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare. In this fable, the hare is so far ahead, he thinks that he can relax while to tortoise catches up. However, as the hare relaxes, the tortoise outsmarts him and keeps going. The tortoise eventually wins by using reason and not just physical force.

“Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.” – Lord Henry (p. 47)

During this point in the chapter, Dorian Gray is telling Lord Henry about how he wants to marry Sibyl Vane. Dorian is admitting that he is in love with Sibyl and how he thinks she is a genius but Lord Henry states that no woman is a genius. This conversation is happening because Lord Henry is trying to explain how there are only two types of women, “plain and colored,” and how Dorian must be able to acknowledge the difference. This epigram shows how Lord Henry is trying to influence how Dorian treats women. He tries to convince Dorian that women only care about their looks and not their knowledge. Lord Henry goes to explain that men would trade their morality for a genius mind. I do not agree with this epigram at all. A real life example would be the movie Legally Blonde. In this movie, the main character gets judged for only focusing on her looks so she goes and proves them wrong by going to Harvard to be a lawyer.

“Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” -Lord Henry (p. 46)

During this chapter, Lord Henry is speaking to Dorian and Lady Henry. Dorian had just met Lord Henry’s wife and she is explaining how she had seen Dorain before and the trio start talking about foreigners. Lord Henry walks in and starts explaining that he was late because he was trying to find an old brocade and had to bargain for it. This epigram explains how people focus on buying physical objects that hold monetary value over things that really matter in life such as friends, family, and happiness. An example of this could be the movie A Christmas Story. The main character, Scrooge, lost sight of what the holidays are about and was visited by three ghosts to help him find what was really important in life.

“A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures.” – Lord Henry (p. 53)

During this chapter, Lord Henry is listening to Dorian as he explains Basil’s careless actions when dealing with art. Lord Henry goes into detail about how it does not make sense for Dorian to be jealous of Basil because he does not care enough about what he does. This epigram is Lord Henry’s view that a good poet puts all of their feelings and lives into good poetry, to a point where there is nothing left in that poet. This shows that they have given their all to their work which means that the poetry will be strong. He continues to say “the worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look.” I believe this means that the less a poet thinks about structure, the more they write from the heart, which will in turn have a more meaningful outcome. In real life, Robert Frost wrote a blank verse poem called, “An Old Man’s Winter Night.” This poem does not rhyme but is incredibly famous for its imagery. The story telling in this poem is so strong that it does not need to rhyme to attract readers.

“A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her.” – Lord Henry

(p. 151)

At this point in the novel, Lady Narborough is talking to Lord Henry and Dorian about how she believes Dorian is in love. However, Dorian convinces Lady Narborough that she is wrong and they begin to talk about marriage and how men like to “live like bachelors.” As they continue, Lord Henry states that there is no such thing as a happy marriage. The epigram that follows explains how a man cannot be happy if he is in love. Lord Henry is trying to separate happiness from love as love is a feeling and happiness is a frame of mind. If one falls in love, their minds can change. Additionally, Lord Henry is trying to say that falling in love takes an effort that makes men unhappy. I do not agree with this statement because I believe that with the right person, love should bring happiness. For example, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were married back in 1998. Seven years later, this famous couple divorced when Brad Pitt admitted that he was in love with Angelina Jolie and they immediately started dating. Brad Pitt might have not been in love with Jennifer Aniston and that is why he was not happy, but he fell in love with Angelina Jolie and became so happy that he divorced his wife.

“I admit that I think that it is better to be beautiful than to be good. But, on the other hand, no one is more ready than I am to acknowledge that it is better to be good than to be ugly.” – Lord Henry (p. 164)

At this point in the novel, the Duchess of Monmouth starts talking to Lord Henry while Dorian goes to get flowers. Lord Henry starts blaming the Duchess for flirting with Dorian. This conversation is happening because the Duchess could mentally catch up with both of the men. This epigram means that being ugly is the worst thing that anyone could possibly be. People do not have to be good to be followed or liked, they will follow anyone who is beautiful regardless of what they do. Lord Henry is essentially stating that he values being beautiful above all. In real life, the perfect example of this epigram is the stereotype of popular kids. They are followed solely because of their looks, regardless of their actions, whether it is positive or negative.

“To be popular, one must be a mediocrity.” – Lord Henry (p. 164)

During this point in the book, the Duchess of Monmouth is explaining how her maid gets annoyed when she takes a long time to get ready. Dorian told the Duchess to fire this maid but she says that she could never because her maid makes her fancy hats. This epigram is stated right after and the Duchess is quick to respond saying that women do not have to be mediocre to have a good reputation. This epigram means that if someone is not average, they can never be popular. People will not like someone if they are better in any way, they will in turn be faced with jealousy. For example, in the movie, Cinderella, the main character is hated because she was more beautiful than her stepsisters and she managed to marry the prince. This timeless movie directly represents what this epigram means.

“I like to know everything about my new friends, and nothing about my old ones.”- Lord Henry (p. 38)

At this point in the novel, Lord Henry questioned his Uncle George about Dorian Gray’s parentage. He was trying to find out more about Dorian to explain some of the infatuation Basil had for him. This conversation also helps Lord Henry develop an understanding about Dorian to the point where Henry also develops some type of feeling for him. This epigram shows how Lord Henry likes to figure out who a person is and then move onto the next because he already knows everything about his old friends. Since he knows everything about his old friends because they were new at one point, there is nothing left for him to know. I do not agree with this epigram because I believe that people should not know everything about their friends. If they know everything there is to know, there is nothing to learn about a person. In real life, when people find out all about a certain topic, it makes them lose interest in that topic. For example, if someone hears the spoilers to a movie, they do not feel the need to watch the movie. In their eyes, they already know everything about the plot so there is no need to watch what they already know.


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The Picture of Dorian Gray: epigrams analysis. (2021, Oct 20). Retrieved from