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Beautiful corruption: the portrayal of beauty in The picture of Dorian Gray and Lady Audley's secret


  • Karoline Müller

Summary, in English

The novels Lady Audley’s Secret and The Picture of Dorian Gray both feature a beautiful but corrupted character as protagonist, the corruption of whom only gets revealed slowly to the reader while the fascination for the characters’ beauty is vanishing. This essay is investigating how this beauty is used in the two novels respectively and gives a general overview of contemporary readers’ perception of characters, based on 19th-century novels and reviews of the time. The claim is that too much beauty in the protagonist of a novel is making it harder for the audience to identify with and/or trust him/her, but also that that the depictions of the two beautiful but corrupted characters are exceedingly objectifying. This essay divides the subject into an overview of 19th-century life, morals and religion, the 19-century ideal and the different way in which Lady Audley, Dorian and similar characters from contemporary novels are depicted. This essay comes to the conclusion that there are several types of beauty in 19th-century fiction and that two of them are the mature beauty and the naïve beauty, the latter being the beauty which Lady Audley and Dorian possess. In addition, I conclude that the transgression of gender stereotypes is the main reason for the 19th-century readers’ suspicion toward the two protagonists.
Key words: Lady Audley’s Secret, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Fiction, 19th century, beauty, corruption


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Lady Audley’s Secret
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Fiction
  • 19th century
  • beauty
  • corruption
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Elizabeth Braddon


  • Cecilia Wadsö-Lecaros (PhD)