‘The Novels contrasting settings portray a gulf between social classes in Victorian Society’ How far and in what ways do you agree with this view of The Picture Of Dorian Gray?
Within Oscar Wilde’s novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, the author opposes the East End of London to the West End, creating a gulf between social classes in the Victorian Society. By incorporating Dorian Gray to these settings, Wilde is able to emphasise the difference of the lifestyles between these two ends of London.
Within the first nine chapters of the novel, the Theatre – where Dorian first lays his eyes and bids his farewell to Sibyl Vane – is a prominent location. ‘A tawdry affair’, Dorian, Lord Henry and Basil stand out amongst the crowd in their ‘horrid little private box’ overshadowing the people ‘in what [Dorian] suppose[d] they called the dress circle’. As Wilde uses Dorian himself to explain his view of the Theatre, it portrays this separation of social classes, which is then emphasised by the fact that Dorian is in a ‘private’ box; placing himself above the working class both physically and mentally. In comparison to this, Sibyl and her brother James Vane also experience themselves in an unusual location for their class, however only James notices, as Sibyl is too busy thinking of her ‘Prince Charming’. Wilde depicts James Vane as a ‘common gardener’ in Hyde Park, as ‘the passers by glanced in wonder’ at his ‘coarse ill-fitting clothes’. In describing James Vane’s clothes as ‘coarse’, Wilde opens another gulf of social classes within the Victorian Society.
In continuation with the Vane family, Wilde also depicts the household of Sibyl, her brother and her mother to convey an image of the conditions the working class would live in during the Victorian era. The ‘one arm-chair that their dingy sitting-room contained’ conveys a sense of imperfection, and incompleteness; the chair only has ‘one arm’, it is slowly falling apart. This can be compared with Lord Henry’s ‘exquisite’ library, as Wilde also depicts the interior of here. The ‘olive stained oak’, ‘persian rugs’ and ‘blue tinned China’ show the detailed ornaments in Lord Henry’s library, also creating an image of what the wealthy, upper class Victorian society were able to afford in difference to the Vane family. Moreover this comparison of classes is emphasised by their locations; the Vane household being in the East End of London, wheras Lord Henry’s library is in Mayfair, in the West End.
Wilde’s contrasting settings in the novel are able to portray a gulf between social classes, from the ‘horrid’ box in the East End theatre to the ‘beautiful roses’ in Basil Hallward’s studio. This class indifference in the Victorian Society is made clear by Wilde through the use of detailed description.