Lord Henry Wotton is often viewed as a “pessimistic, cynical, and intellectual” character that has no moral emotions. However, the author builds Lord Henry’s character in a way that gives him good reason to behave in this manner. In the article Character Design in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Sheldon W. Liebman notes that critics simplify the novel into “a battle between ethics and aesthetics.” In this “battle,” Lord Henry constantly rallies for the readers’ attention in the arena of aesthetics. This is because the principles that he lives for are concerned with nature and the appreciation of beauty (especially in art). Unfortunately, while those principles standing alone are virtuous, Henry is so pessimistic he has twisted beauty into ugly hedonism.
In a perfect world we live under the Theory of Cosmic Justice. Basil believes that there is a moral order in the world, and fate (or God) punishes wrongdoers and rewards good deeds and behavior. Lord Henry believes that life has no moral order. In his mind, the universe is indifferent to all actions that happen, either good or evil. This position allows him to withdraw from human connections, to become indifferent to the pursuit of any type of pleasure. This step back from morality and human emotions may at first lead the reader to believe Henry is a heartless antagonist, like the many before him; however, this withdrawal allows him to see beyond disillusionment and maintain a clear view of the environment around him.
Liebman claims: “Henry is, first, a scientist and an intellectual...” Lord Henry’s interests are driven by his observation of nature, and his naturally curious mind. “Human life - that appeared to him the one thing worth investigating: Compared to it there was nothing else of value.”(82) It would be simple to view the character as nothing more than a skeptical old man, who has lost all possibility of living his own life, consequently lives vicariously through others. However, when a deeper analysis is made, he turns out to be a scientist, studying the behaviors of the seemingly mindless human beings around him through trial and error. Dorian’s “innocence” and Basil’s belief in the “theory of cosmic justice” make them perfect trial subjects, because they are easily molded into a character worth observing. The ability of Lord Henry to manipulate others’ decisions quickly allows him to experiment with their emotions and stretch them as close to snapping as possible. He then swiftly lets go and watches them unravel into a stretched out tangled pile.
Lord Henry brilliantly takes reality and “transforming everyday human events into aesthetically distanced drama” so he can have a new form of self-expression. Experimenting like a scientist is a sort of role-play for Lord Henry. His “scientific and artist approach to human experience is…