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Logan Tiley
Ms. Winter
British Literature, Period 2
10 May 2016
Looks can be Deceiving
The aestheticism of the Victorian era wrongly associated outward beauty with inward
beauty; conversely, they associated ugliness with depravity. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar
Wilde and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley illustrate how each of these premises are wrong. Dorian
Gray is physically beautiful but morally corrupt. Frankenstein, externally a monster, had a
human capacity for compassion and kindness. The worlds mistaken judgement of these two men
meant ruin for both of them. In support of this argument, the concept of beauty, along with its
inherent dangers of moral detachment, narcissism, and corruption are explored from the Picture
of Dorian Gray. In contrast, ugliness and the attendant search for sympathy are examined through
examples from Frankenstein.
People who are beautiful are not judged for their morality, but primarily on their looks.
When Lord Henry meets Dorian he thinks to himself about how Dorian;was certainly
wonderfully handsomeall the candor of youth was there, as well as all youths passionate
purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world (Wilde, 17). This
introductory moment is essentially the premise of the story, that youth is beautiful, and age and
depravity ruin that beauty.When Dorian realizes that he is being objectified and even captured
for eternity by the artist who paints him on the canvas, he reveals his feelings saying,I know,
now, that when one loses ones good looks,whatever they may be, one loses everythingI am
jealous of everything whose beauty does not die (Wilde, 26). This exact sentiment is expressed

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by John Keats the poem Ode on a Grecian Urn, where the observer is envious of the unchanging
happiness and youth of the figures on the urn, saying,She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy
bliss,/ For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! (Keats,762). . The beautiful images on the urn as
well as on the painters canvas will keep their beauty long after the people they are portraying are
dead and gone. Beauty is an inappropriate life goal because it is fleeting. A part of the worship is
beauty is the disregard for the actual people and their feelings. Duggan states, To the aesthete,
the ideal life mimics art; it is beautiful, but quite useless beyond its beauty, concerned only with
the individual living it (Duggan, 61). Therefore, an ideal life is one of selfish pleasure.
Characters that are involved in situations that lead to guilt often choose to detach
themselves and look from the outside in as the story unfolds. When Dorians ex-fiancee Sybil
Vane commits suicide, based upon their breakup, he feels no responsibility for her death
saying;It has all the terrible beauty of a Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I took a great part,
but by which I have not been wounded(Wilde, 114). Due to the fact that Dorian feels detatched
from Sybils suicide, he feels no regret or sorrow. Instead, he callously judges the events only as
his own experience with tragedy with no concern at all for the other players.Two poems also
illustrate the selfishness of the admiration of beauty. In Tennysons poem The Lady of Shallott,
the lady falls in love with Lancelot from afar, and in breaking a curse on her, dies for him. When
the Lady of Shallott dies, Lancelot simply says; she has a lovely face(Tennyson, 169). He is
completely detached and uncompassionate. In the poem My Last Duchess by Robert Browning,
the Duke in the midst of a party informs his guests saying,Thats my last Duchess painted on the
wall/ looking as if she were alive" (1-2). He objectifies his dead wife in the painting and later on
even notes how her smile is meaningless. The worship of beauty for selfish pleasure advocated

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by aestheticism is realized as a lack of compassion when the beauty takes the form of another
Admiration of ones own beauty leads to narcissism, an unhealthy obsession with ones
looks. The painter Basils admiration for Dorians attractive exterior makes Dorian vain, and
even leads him to the notion that his beauty is everything. It is this vanity that will destroy
Dorian. Aubrey states that "Basil, then, must bear his share of responsibility for encouraging
Dorian on the path that proves so destructive for him. Basil remains of the opinion that outward
looks reflect a persons inward state. Near the end of the book, Basil wants to see Dorians face
to judge whether the terrible rumors he has heard about him are true. Seeing Dorians beauty
intact, Basil says Mind you, I dont believe these rumors at all. At least, I cant believe them
when I see you. Sin is a thing that writes itself across a mans face. (Wilde, 126). Unaware that
the picture rather than Dorian is showing the corruption of his soul, Basil believes that if Dorian
is still beautiful, he is innocent.
Narcissism is also shown to lead to corruption. By the end of the book, Dorian comes to
the conclusion that,it was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had
prayed for. But for those two things, his life might have been free from stain (Wilde 181).
Dorian comes to blame his own beauty, still not taking responsibility for his actions. Figure 1
depicts a youthful yet corrupt prince from the animated film Beauty and the Beast who believes
looks are everything. Duggan sees the ending of the book as a logical consequence of Dorians
self love, stating Eventually, as in the myth of Narcissus, such egotism has its consequences.
When Dorian, disgusted with the decrepit picture of the supposedly "real", destroys it in a fit of
anger, Dorian too is destroyed" (Duggan, 65). Figure 1 depicts a youthful yet corrupt prince from
the animated film Beauty and the Beast who believes looks are everything. In Figure 2 it shows

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how Prince Adam (the Beast) in a fit of rage rips the portrait due to the fact that it is a constant
reminder of the beautiful yet remarkably narcissistic young man he once was when he refused to
let the old hag, secret sorceress, into his home during a terrible storm. Even as the Beast he
loathes his hideous appearances. Narcissism, therefore, leads to corruption, as it did in Dorian
and Prince Adams case.

People that are being judgemental towards

people who lack beauty but have morality,
are people that are likely beautiful but lack
all forms of morality. Once the animation of the Creature is complete Victor Frankenstein
realizes what he has done when he recalls that evening saying,How can I describe my emotions
at the catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had
endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful
the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart (Shelley,
43). Due to the Creatures hideous exterior, Victor decides to abandon the Creature and act as

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though nothing happened, much like how Dorian caused Sybil Vanes suicide and neglects to
even consider his major contribution to her life and death.Victors detachment is based upon
appearances and not on the Creatures thoughts and feelings. In the same story; the Creature tries
to make a friend by introducing himself to William because he believes that,"this little creature
was unprejudiced, and had lived too short a time to have imbibed a horror of deformity. If
therefore, I could seize him, and educate him as my companion and friend, I should not be so
desolate in this peopled earth (Shelley, 130). The Creature wants to make friends with someone
who will see that can see past his ugly facade and find that he is really a nice guy, however, when
he approaches William, the young boy calls him a hideous monster ugly wretch and ogre,
and the misunderstood Creature, trying to silence him, kills him instead. The Creatures ugliness
causes people to reject him utterly.
People who are ugly ask for sympathy and acceptance more than they wish to be
beautiful. With beauty comes lack of morality and caring. The Creature hopes that the cottagers
can see past his deformity and show him some sympathy when he says,.. when I contemplated
the virtues of the cottagers, their amiable and benevolent dispositions, I persuaded myself that
when they should become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues, they would
compassionate me, and overlook my personal deformity (Shelley, 118). Tragically, although the
cottagers seems like sympathetic people, they react to his looks in horror and move away. In the
Hustis article he says thatPrometheus understands that revulsion in the face of hideousness can
only be overcome by an indulgence in benevolent pity. Though Frankenstein is called a modern
Prometheus, Aeschyluss Prometheus does not utterly abandon his creatures. He gives them a
second chance. If Victor, William, or the cottagers would have given the Creature a second
chance, the outcome would likely have been a lot better for all of them. In Frankenstein, the

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Creature says,I falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love
me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding (Shelley, 208). The Creature
feels as though his hopes to find someone who will sympathize with him and look beyond his
appearances were all asinine and he now views the world with hatred and anger. The tragedy of
Frankensteins creature was that he was created with a fully human heart and intellect housed in
a body so repulsive that he was treated as a Creature and not a man.
The aestheticism of Victorian times advocated an appreciation of all forms of beauty and
an avoidance of ugliness. When these concepts are applied to people, they result in the shallow
judgment of individuals by their looks without regard to their inner qualities. When appreciation
of beauty becomes worship of beauty, the results can be detachment, narcissism, and corruption.
When disdain for ugliness encourages the mistreatment of people, the results are an utter lack of
sympathy. In The Picture of Dorian Gray and Frankenstein, both of the main characters are
misjudged in this way with tragic consequences.

Works Cited
Aubrey, Bryan. Critical Essay on The Picture of Dorian Gray. Novels for Students. Vol.
20. Detroit: Gale, 2005. N. pag. Rpt. in Novels for Students. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

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- - -. Critical Essay on The Picture of Dorian Gray. Novels for Students. Vol. 20.
Detroit: Gale, 2005. N. pag. Rpt. in Novels for Students. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.
Browning, Robert. My Last Duchess. Elements of Literature. Ed. Kathleen Daniel.
Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2003. 830-31. Print. Vol. 6 of Literature of Britain
with World Classics. Excerpt from Literature of Britain with World Classics. N.p., 1842.
N. pag.
Duggan, Patrick. The Conflict between Aestheticism and Morality in Oscar Wildes The
Picture of Dorian Gray. Journal of the Arts and Sciences Writing Program (2010): n.
pag. Print.
Hustis, Harriet. Responsible Creativity and the Modernity of Mary Shelleys
Prometheus. 2003. Childrens Literature Review. Ed. Tom Burns. Vol. 133. Detroit: Gale,
2008. N. pag. Print.
Keats, John. Ode on a Grecian Urn. Elements of Literature. Ed. Kathleen Daniel.
Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2003. 761-62. Print. Vol. 6 of Literature of Britain
with World Classics. Rpt. of Ode to a Grecian Urn. Literature of Britain with World
Classics. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag.
Lord Tennyson, Alfred. Lady of Shallott. Literature of Britain with World Classics. Ed.
Kathleen Daniel. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2003. 808-12. Print. Vol. 6 of
Elements of Literature. Excerpt from Literature of Britain with World Classics. N.p.,
1842. N. pag.

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Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1831. Austin: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 2003. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton and
Company, 2007. Print.

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