The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Alternately Admiring and Judgmental
Hmm…well, this sounds complicated, but we'll stick to it. We get the distinct feeling that the narrator here is torn between fascination and disgust – Lord Henry and Dorian's depraved philosophy is both appealing and revolting at the same time. This narrator is certainly interested in the beliefs espoused by the decadent characters here – the descriptions of Lord Henry's brilliant wit and rhetorical skill (see Chapter 3) express a complete admiration and fascination with this character. The descriptions of Dorian's incredible physical beauty are likewise invested with the same kind of near-obsessive, swooning admiration.
However, because this was a book intended for publication and sale, the narrator has to come down pretty harshly on these immoral characters – the tone grows increasingly judgmental and critical towards the end of the novel. We start to see that Lord Henry is a truly warped and flawed being, and that Dorian himself grows less and less compelling as he gets more paranoid (after all, as we overheard on an episode of America's Next Top Model, desperation is not sexy). The tone of the narration is also extremely judgmental throughout with regards to characters who aren't worthy of praise – ones that are either too stupid or too uncultured to merit Wilde's interest, or are just women (for example, Mrs. Vane and Lord Henry's wife, Victoria).