Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray has enjoyed a myriad of critical treatment since its first publication. Much of this is due to the paradoxical nature of Wilde's style. In this novel, there is a tension and unique interplay between the discourses of ethics and Decadence as applied to the artistic life. Wilde's attraction to Catholicism also plays a prominent role in his treatment of characters. Although the author's intent remains ambiguous, the course of the novel leads one to the conclusion that there exists a fundamental incompatibility between Decadent and Catholic thought. The purpose of this thesis is to explore this incompatibility in all of its complexity. This thesis utilizes those works that have influenced Wilde, particularly the writings of Huysmans and Pater. Furthermore, it references Catholic writings and how they may apply to the ethical considerations put forth. Also, Wilde's life, as expressed through his letters, is brought to bear upon the analysis of the novel. Several critical writings on The Picture of Dorian Gray are also examined for their relevance and as a means to demonstrate the complex nature of the work and the possibility of a wide variety of interpretations. The thesis concludes with the notion that Wilde's novel cannot be seen as having one central discourse. Art and ethics have a certain interdependence despite conflicts between their fundamental propositions. Finally, the thesis proposes that the lack of resolution in The Picture of Dorian Gray stems from Wilde's developing understanding that would deepen with his profound experiences in the face of imprisonment and mortality.