“Love” in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Love is a notable theme found in many texts, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde also follow this pattern. In both of these texts, however, love is more often confused with infatuation with an idealized version of the person.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian is seen as the object of affection by both Basil and Lord Henry. Early on, Basil’s affections for Dorian Gray are hinted to be quite strong, with Lord Henry claiming “No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him” (19). Lord Henry too becomes enamored with Dorian, but rather than being fond of the man himself, he views Dorian as more of a work of art than a human being.
Lord Henry tells Dorian directly “You are a wonderful creation” (23). He continually delights in molding Dorian, and having a direct influence on another person. He discusses how he “would seek to dominate him—had already, indeed, half done so. He would make that wonderful spirt his own” (38). Once Lord Henry has decided that he wants to have a say on whom and what Dorian is, he only sees him how he wants to see him. Near the end of the novel, Dorian attempts to confess to Lord Henry about his murdering Basil. Lord Henry, however, refuses to even humor the idea, insisting “It is not in you, Dorian, to commit a murder” (203). He goes on further to evaluate him and tell Dorian, “You are still the same” (206). No matter what Dorian says to the contrary, Lord Henry still claims “Yes; you are the same. I wonder what the rest of your life will be…. You are quite flawless now” (206). He had an ideal of Dorian built up in his mind, pleased that he could have a notable effect on someone else, as when they first met he was “amazed at the sudden impression that his words had produced…” (22). Lord Henry was certainly attracted to Dorian, and many critics have read his attention towards him as love, but his complete disregard for Dorian as a human being with separate emotions shows what a detached “love” it is.
Similarly, Angel regards Tess as one with a made up past, and he forms his own opinion of what an ideal wife should be. When he is repulsed by her story of what happened to her, he tells her he no longer loves her, and has been loving “another woman in your shape” (183). Later when she asks if he forgives her, he says yes, but does not reply when Tess inquires about his current feelings of love for her. In that moment, any love he felt for her ceased to exist. He was too disgusted by her past to see beyond it, or consider how these events may have affected her. Instead, Angel is too fixated on how his ideal of Tess doesn’t actually match the reality of his wife. As soon as he cannot pretend anymore, he can’t love anymore either.
Despite the mutual attraction and imaginary romances existing in these texts, there is no actual existing love. Instead, the people in them are treated as imaginary items that are shaped and molded to fit the ideals of the admirer. If reality proves otherwise, it is either ignored, or the admirer removes themselves from the romance entirely. And neither of these responses constitutes genuine love by our societal standards.
Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the D’Urberville. S.l.: Harper, 1964. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Charlottesville, VA: U of Virginia Library, 1993. Print.