You’re so Vane! Is there any Justine in the world?

Having recently read The Picture of Dorian Gray (hereafter referred to as TPODG), I was struck by how much it reminded me of another Gothic book that I had read about a year ago. So great was this striking feeling, that whilst I was reading it, I kept getting characters confused between the two novels.

Never a good idea unless you want Dorian Gray to be chased to the Arctic, pursed by a hideous monster fashioned by a man called Victor.

The other Gothic book was of course Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley- another read that I particularly enjoyed and one that seemingly has a number of similarities with TPODG. Here are a few of them that I noticed:

  • Characters: As I was reading the marvellous TPODG, I was struck by the similarity between the characters of Sybil Vane and of Justine Moritz in Frankenstein. Both are two, relatively minor characters who only appear for part of the story’s duration but when their subplots are brought to the fore, the two suffer greatly because of the manipulation of the apparent antagonists in the novels, thus highlighting their corruption.Sybil is a young and talented actress that appears in small and earnest productions until Dorian comes along and spots her. He admires her talent greatly and loves her for it. But Sybil finds the fake reality of performing pointless after their meeting, as she has experienced what real life is like and so she can no longer act it out and pretend (how romantic/soppy). Dorian cannot love her anymore because of her lack of ability though and this drives her to drastic action: suicide.This is similar to the tragic case of Justine. The Creature, created by Victor, is found to have escaped the laboratory just before Victor’s younger brother William goes missing. Victor knows that it is surely The Creature that has abducted his brother but then a sleeping Justine is found with a locket, which belonged to William, on her person. William is then found dead and with evidence to suggest that she killed him, Justine is blamed for the death- even though The Creature’s want for revenge made Justine a victim of the antagonist’s corruption. She is also hanged.

Can you see the similarities?
Both the characters were totally innocent yet both met their demise through being manipulated. Not convinced more? There’s more!

  • Names: Both of the names, Sybil and Justine, have significant meaning because they reflect upon a major theme that is present in the respective novels and from this theme, the basis of the moral that is told is formed.
  1. Justine- can be seen to represent the lack of justice her character gets and also how unjust the treatment of The Creature is.
  2. Vane- can be seen to represent vanity and how vain Dorian is by valuing his own appearance so highly and the talents of Sybil so highly.

Bad hair day?

Still not satisfied that there is enough evidence to justify a comparison? (Really?)
Here’s some more evidence for you then!

Homosexuality: It is commonly suspected that Oscar Wilde was a homosexual himself and it has often been debated whether this comes across in his work or not. In TPODG, ostensibly, it looks like the relationships are largely heterosexual. For example: Dorian and Sybil Vane and Lord Henry and his wife. However the male relationships, when studied more closely, reveal that perhaps they are anything other than platonic. Basil’s admiration for Dorian for example certainly pushes the boundaries when he admits how he “worships” him.

More modern interpretations of Frankenstein also suggest that there are homoerotic themes in the novel, which admittedly, I didn’t pick up on straight away. One of the prevailing homoerotic interpretations suggests that The Creature represents Victor’s homosexuality and that Victor makes him as a way of studying his sexual orientation.

For example: Victor is clearly in awe of the creature’s body at the start: “The yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles beneath his arteries. His hair was of a luxurious black and flowing” but later on, when The Creature runs amok in society, Victor vehemently rejects his creation and feels guilty for creating it. Whether this guilt is because he is ashamed of his sexuality or because of the terrible deeds The Creature does, it is fascinatingly unclear.

Are we reaching the happy state of ‘convincedness’ yet? I hope so! But there is certainly a lot more to explore when it comes to these two classics! But for the sake of any readers, I have tried to shorten it to the points that I personally noticed and have explored a little.

Feel free to comment your thoughts on the two texts if you have read either of them!

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”- Mary Shelley (Wollstonecraft)


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