Study Guide

The Picture of Dorian Gray Writing Style

By Oscar Wilde

Writing Style

Ornate, Bejeweled (Bedazzled?), Punctured With Humor

Wilde really unleashes the rabid hounds of ornamentation on this piece of work. His prose is almost visibly sparkling with gems and gilded bric-a-brac; reading Dorian Gray is like watching an all-out, massively expensive period film. Just take a look at this, the second sentence:

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. (1.2)

What the what? That is a lot of detail. This accumulation of sensory input forces us to slowly go through Wilde's writing phrase by phrase, savoring the surplus of gorgeousness he piles up in his text.

Interestingly, though, the Wilde writing Dorian Gray is the same mastermind behind acerbically hilarious plays like The Importance of Being Earnest, and he doesn't want us to forget that—so he occasionally punctuates these long passages of florid description with a biting comment or two, usually in his witty dialogue. Our favorite is the sassy comment about the scandalous Madame de Ferrol, whose "hair turned quite gold from grief" (15.9) when her third husband died.