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In this one sentence, Wilde encapsulates the complete principles of the Aesthetic Movement popular in Victorian England.
In the novel, Lord Henry Wotton trumpets the aesthetic philosophy with an elegance and bravado that persuade Dorian to trust in the principles he espouses; the reader is often similarly captivated.
It would be a mistake, however, to interpret the novel as a patent recommendation of aestheticism.
Oscar Wilde, however, proposed that the principles of the Aesthetic Movement extend beyond the production of mere commodities.
In Joseph Pearce’s biography, , Pearce recalls Wilde’s own perspective on the popular movement. I mean a man who works with his hands; and not with his hands merely, but with his head and his heart.
Rather, the proponents of this philosophy extended it to life itself.
Here, aestheticism advocated whatever behavior was likely to maximize the beauty and happiness in one’s life, in the tradition of hedonism.Lord Henry lectured to the impressionable Dorian, “We are punished for our refusals. Wilde, through Lord Henry, laments the stifling nature of his contemporary Victorian society and how the supposed morality it boasts necessitates self-denial and rejection of life’s most beautiful aspects.Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us. Lord Henry warns that without an enthusiastic embrace of aestheticism, one will perpetually anguish with the desire of precisely what he must deny himself, all for the sake of propriety.The ruination of Dorian Gray, the embodiment of unbridled aestheticism, illustrates the immorality of such a lifestyle and gravely demonstrates its consequences. And the moral is this: All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment” (Wilde 248).Aestheticism does well to condemn the renunciation of desires, but it is an excessive obedience to these desires that is subversively dangerous.Art should be beautiful and pleasure its observer, but to imply further-reaching influence would be a mistake.The explosion of aesthetic philosophy in English society, as exemplified by Oscar Wilde, was not confined to merely art, however.Opponents of a purely aesthetic lifestyle will certainly cite what they consider an inevitability: one’s desires and impulses, though when acted upon result in a more pleasurable life, will at times be undeniably immoral.It is at these times that the virtues of the wholly aesthetic life become questionable.To the aesthete, there is no distinction between moral and immoral acts, only between those that increase or decrease one’s happiness; yet, refutes this idea, presenting a strong case for the inherent immorality of purely aesthetic lives.Dorian Gray personifies the aesthetic lifestyle in action, pursuing personal gratification with abandon.