There are many parallels between Basil and Wilde. In the novel, Basil tells Lord Henry that Dorian is "absolutely necessary" to him (p. 9): "my life as an artist depends on him" (p. 14). And he tells Dorian: "You became to me the visible incarnation of that unseen ideal whose memory haunts us artists like an exquisite dream" (p. 114). This was written before Wilde met the individual to whom, in retrospect, it seems to refer. While revising the serial version of his novel for publication as a book, Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, to whom he later wrote: "I can't live without you," and "You are the atmosphere of beauty through which I see life. You are the incarnation of all lovely things" (1962, p. 358, italics in original, and p. 363). Basil confesses his idolatry of Dorian; similarly, Wilde, in a letter to Douglas, writes: "I shall be eternally grateful to you for having always inspired me with adoration and love" (p. 397). Basil's infatuation with Dorian Gray thus anticipates Wilde's infatuation with Lord Alfred Douglas. This suggests that Basil is the author's "persona." Indeed, Wilde acknowledged his likeness to Basil in a letter to Ralph Payne: "I am so glad you like that strange coloured book of mine: it contains much of me in it. Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be — in other ages, perhaps" (p. 352).
Dorian represents a type by which Wilde was fascinated. The word "fascinating" comes from fascinum, which means 'spell." A sudden fascination with someone or something is determined by unconscious factors. On the one hand, Dorian is an image of the Jungian self; on the other, he is a protagonist. In his capacity as hero, he may be defined as the "dream-ego." It is significant that Dorian shares his author's psychological typology: both are extraverted intuition types (see note 10). The dream-ego thus reveals an important aspect of the author's personality.
The persona reveals how an individual sees himself. Although largely determined by unconscious factors, the choice of "mask" adopted by an individual is also prey to all the falsifications of consciousness. The dream-ego, on the other hand, belongs entirely to the unconscious. As such, Dorian may be defined as the carrier of Wilde's "authentic" unconscious personality.
There is perhaps no more famous homosexual in literature than Oscar Wilde. But this interpretation of the central relationship in his only novel suggests that his homosexuality may not be an expression of his "authentic" character. An analogous situation is recorded by Katherine Bradway (1982):
Experience in working with homosexual men and women has shown me that the contrasexual "other" is still found in the unconscious. The female figures in a homosexual man's dreams, for example, had been confined to his mother until he dreamed of a girl standing in the rain playing music. Later he dreamed:
Dream: I find a woman who is ill. We climb some perilous stairs and she loses her footing. I save her at the risk of my own life.
The first dream presents the image of the anima with no interaction with her. The second portrays the urgency of saving the feminine part of himself. This sequence is similar to those I find in dreams of heterosexual men: the activation of the anima, followed by the rescuing of the anima. And with this comes the possibility of relating to women, to the world, and to their unconscious in a new way. (pp. 283-84).
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, the situation never proceeds beyond that represented by the girl standing in the rain playing music — i.e. the anima as a young girl symbolically inviting Dorian (and thus, by extension, Wilde) to relate to her: Sibyl's voice is similarly associated wth music.
Wilde's "authentic" representative falls in love with a girl suggestive of Artemis, a virgin goddess who, from a man's point of view, symbolizes an incubation period during which he should develop his anima by way of deepening his commitment to a real partner (i.e. Constance Wilde). In contrast, his "persona" is fascinated by a handsome young man. If Dorian's experience is the more "authentic", then the unconscious of this famous homosexual was urging him to relate to the feminine, both as an image, and as a woman. However, because the carrier of his innermost personality is afraid of the latent power of female sexuality, he "translates" an authentic experience of the anima into its closest possible equivalent — an image of a young man of great beauty, also on the threshold of adulthood — and worships this image instead. To escape from the fear which feminine sexuality arouses in him, Wilde hides behind his persona (= mask): that of an aesthete and a homosexual.
- Introduction: Fear of the Feminine-Private in the Picture of Dorian Gray
- Music: Emotion and Feeling
- Actaeon and Artemis
- Narcissus and Echo
- Adonis and Venus
- Fear of the Feminine
- Confusion of the Anima and the Self
- Wilde: The Persona and the Authentic Unconscious
Last modified October 2002
Last modified 8 June 2007