Discuss representations of social and/or moral decline in Victorian texts.
Moral and social decline are essential concepts to the Victorian era, the period having experienced radical change, innovation and uncertainty. The texts: The picture of Dorian Gray, The Time Machine, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, analogously act as dynamic explorative pieces of Victorian literature, centralising on pre-existing anxieties and concerns. The three pieces focalize on the anxieties specifically associated with the Fin-De-Siècle, demonstrating the apprehensive Victorian society. This essay will explore mutual notions within the selected texts, focalizing on Degeneration, the divergence of the central to the ‘other’, and appearance in terms of surface and reality, all relative to the concept of progress and Devolution. These crucial themes will facilitate a discussion on how these texts enabled a profound understanding of the anxieties and changes. Darwinian theory as well as modern critics will be engaged in order to consider distinctive vantage points and contemplate the texts in their moment of production.
The transgression of moral codes and degeneration are central themes to all three texts. Dorian Gray, also referred to as the decadence manifesto, embodies creeds relative to art, that conflict with Victorian society’s conformities regarding art. Therefore, the book itself would have been deemed degenerate. Wilde adopts Walter’s notion of the art for art’s sake. He addresses the idea of valuing ‘Not the fruit of experience’, but’ the experience itself’ through denying that art should be didactic or morally instruct. (Pater, 1868:152)‘The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame’, this implies that the only reason Victorian would perceive these pieces of art as immoral is that they are ashamed of the reality of their society and like to put on a faced. (Wilde, 2008:208) Wilde’s philosophy of aestheticism states that art cannot be either moral or immoral. After making this opinion explicit within the preface, the idea is re-enforced with Lord Henry refusing to believe that the Yellow book or any book could hold such power. However, Dorian Gray succumbs to offering a moral lesson with its final catharsis in the end anyways.
Dorian Gray depicts the degeneration of the soul and consciousness, the protagonist, Dorian, exploits the strange privileges the portrait affords him, dedicating himself to obtaining ‘as many pulsations as possible’ as Pater encourages. (Pater, 1868:152) In order to study the “the true nature of the senses,” he indulges to studying rare musical instruments, pursues research in items of luxury and excess such as jewellery, embroidery, fashion, and perfumes. Subsequently, he is led to indulge in more sordid affairs, which Wilde refrains from explicitly stating. (Wilde, 2008:126) This novel illustrates degeneration through the decline of morals, the dandy figure, and decadent society....