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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde's best-known work and only novel. Published as a novella first in 1890, it features a beautiful young man who is swept up in a Faustian bargain. Dorian Gray, who has recently been inspired to live as an aesthete, becomes the subject of a painting by his friend Basil Hallward. The painter, who believes that Dorian has opened up a new vein of brilliance in his art, claims it is his finest work, and promptly falls in love with young man. The man responsible for Gray's hedonistic mindset is Lord Henry Wotton (or Wilde himself), a man who espouses a life of sensual pleasure over morality or ethics. Upon witnessing the painting, Dorian expresses his wish, however whimsical, that the painting would age and not he. When his wish becomes true, Dorian, who feels no repercussions for his actions, spirals into a life of of vice and debauchery.

Upon its publication in novella form, both in the US and in England, reviewers condemned Wilde's work as horribly shocking and amoral. To address his critics, Wilde expanded his work into a full length novel, which was published in 1891. It included a preface of epigrams by Wilde which elucidate the aesthetic and decadent ideals in life and art: its essence is "art for art's sake," which upended the dreary notion that art should have social, moral or utilitarian purposes. Life is fleeting, and the most important thing is to relish the exquisite sensations life brings, especially those stimulated by a work of art.

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