© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.


The Yellow Book

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

This is a thinly veiled reference to J.K. Huysmans' À Rebours ("Against Nature"), an incredibly important novel of the Decadent period. In both the original text and Wilde's summary of it, its incredibly wealthy protagonist devotes his life to seeking as many aesthetic sensations as he can, regardless of what society says. He is a representation of what Dorian could become – a robotic being with no true emotions and no true relationships – looking for only the next new sensation. Upon reading it, Dorian sees aspects of his own life reflected back at him in this character's life. However, Wilde made some notable changes (like the explicit mention of the protagonist's lost beauty, which just makes Dorian even more scared that he'll lose his looks) to make it more fitting to his novel.

Most importantly, the yellow book represents the "poisonous" influence Lord Henry has on Dorian; Henry gives the book to Dorian as a kind of experiment, and it works horrifyingly well. Its hedonistic, decadent message makes it a kind of guide book for Dorian, who lives his whole life in pursuit of its ideals. Ultimately, as we're reminded, it's Lord Henry's fault for poisoning Dorian with the book, which comes to stand in for all of Henry's extravagant, selfish, dangerously seductive philosophical ideas.

back to top