Original Instagram Poet: Lord Henry Wotton10/12/2019
“You are a wonderful creation. You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.”
Oscar Wilde first published the philosophical The Picture of Dorian Gray in a magazine in 1890. However, the editor considered the account too indecent for his magazine’s audience and cut roughly two pages from the story without consulting Wilde. And yet, the book still offended the critics of the Victorian age whose moral sensibilities were violated by a man breaking the laws of the British Publics morality.
Much of this was edited for the physical publication of the novel. Luckily, the pompous aristocrat and the main antagonist survived with his vulgarity intact. Yes, Lord Henry Wotton then, was everything wrong with the British gentile, but today he would be admired on Instagram for his use of words. A true Instagram poet before anyone knew of such a thing.
“I make a great difference between people. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. I have not got one who is a fool. They are all men of some intellectual power, and consequently they all appreciate me. Is that very vain of me? I think it is rather vain.”
Is poetry on Instagram an acceptable form of poetry, or is it a scourge on the beautiful and complex world of word binding ideas? Anyone who posts poetry on Instagram would disagree and call it an evolution, myself included, but that doesn’t mean the platform is without its faults. It’s full of lacklustre pieces that aim at gaining nothing but engagement.
“I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.”
However, judging the story of Dorian Gray and his immaculate portrait by this artform would make Lord Henry Wotton a fantastic Instagram Poet. Lord Henry is perfect for the role, and Wilde uses colourful dialogue to force through the ideals of his character. His long speeches are packed with quotable lines, and his unpopular opinions breathe life into the fictional lords’ values. Without a doubt, if he was able to find his audience on the platform, Lord Henry Wotton would become an internet sensation.
Who is Lord Henry Wotton?
Lord Henry (Harry) Wotton is a charmer, and a smooth talker, infatuated by the picture of Dorian Gray. He’s described by the narrator as a man possessed with “wrong, fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories.” His words draw a young Dorian into him, and the young man falls victim to his new friends’ radical theories. Throughout the novel, Harry never learns the negative impact his words have on others, specifically, Dorian, and this has disastrous implications.
“Ah! realize your youth while you have it. Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age. Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing. A new Hedonism – that is what our century wants. You might be its visible symbol.”
Although an intelligent person, Henry Wotton values material wealth and beauty over art and intelligence. He forms a friendship with Dorian but strives to convince the young man of his incredible gift; his boyish good looks. It’s these conversations that drive the story’s plot and lead to catastrophe for everyone but Lord Henry Wotton.
“But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid.”
What Does Lord Henry Wotton Represent?
“Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world. No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him.”
Lord Henry Wotton is responsible for the corruption of young people and seeks out new souls to degrade. At first, Harry is insistent on meeting Dorian, possibly viewing him as another life to corrupt and turn him against the ways of society. However, they eventually form a strong friendship, although Dorian would later blame his friend for the way his life has turned out.
The character represents the pull of greed and hedonism and how easy it is for a mere mortal to succumb to eternal bliss. The portraits painter, Basil Hallward, described Dorian as an uncorrupted mind and refused to allow his friend Harry to meet the young man. However, Lord Henry Wotton was used to whatever he wanted.
His survival suggests a loss of soul. His bitterness at Dorian everlasting good looks began to show his true nature towards the lost boy. Dorian felt detached, and Lord Henry Wotton showed no desire to help him. Harry doesn’t realise how impactful his views are and refuses to believe the consequences of his beliefs can affect so many young lives.
“I would say, my dear fellow, that you were posing for a character that doesn’t suit you. All crime is vulgar, just as all vulgarity is crime. It is not in you, Dorian, to commit a murder. I am sorry if I hurt your vanity by saying so, but I assure you it is true. Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders.”
The Yellow Book
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
Dorian Gray receives a copy of the vulgar yellow book from Lord Henry as a gift. Although it remains untitled, it’s described as French, and an entire chapter charts the adventures of a protagonist who seeks out nothing but pleasure. The holy grail for someone like Lord Henry; however, it leaves an impression of the young Dorian.
“One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.”
Dorian bases his life and actions on the teachings of the book. However, once he commits sins that cannot be forgiven, he confronts Harry over the wicked book. Lord Henry refuses to accept responsibility and suggests that art can have no such impact on a person. Responsibility ultimately belongs to people.
‘Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.‘”
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed my profile of the aristocrat, Lord Henry Wotton, and his contribution to the fall of Dorian Gray. If you like Instagram Poetry, you can find more of mine here. Before I go, I’d liked to leave you with one more quote that I feel captures Harry’s personality better than anything else. It’s his superiority over everything else. His way of thinking that leads him to believe that his actions are dignified because he is ultimately better than everyone else.
“Yes, we are overcharged for everything nowadays. I should fancy that the real tragedy of the poor is that they can afford nothing but self-denial. Beautiful sins, like beautiful things, are the privilege of the rich.”