Date of Award

Fall 12-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Lynda Hall

Second Advisor

Joanna Levin

Third Advisor

Jan Osborn


“Narcissus and Echo” is a myth cautioning against excessive self-adoration and fixation on beauty. However, in the late 19th century, this ancient myth underwent a transformation, taking center stage as a prominent symbol in the emerging Aesthetic Movement. Contrary to warnings present in the myth, this movement celebrated the pursuit of beauty and pleasure in art above all else. Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, claims and reworks the myth to suit a new, aesthetically indulgent purpose. In the novel, the “Narcissus and Echo” myth is adapted to characterize Dorian's allure and character flaws as well as Dorian’s relationship with Sybil. Ultimately, the novel serves as a cautionary tale against the Aesthetic Movement's hubris in pursuit of beauty and art above all else. While acknowledging Dorian as a metaphorical Narcissus that critiques societal norms, a deeper exploration comparing the myth and novel’s narratives unveils a broader critique of the Aesthetic Movement itself, echoing the timeless Greco-Roman theme of hubris leading to downfall.

While Wilde wrote that “[t]here is no such thing as a moral or an immoral [art]” (17), asserting the amorality of art does not equate to depicting morality or immorality within art. The interconnection between art and humanity, or art and didactic function, is inseparable and that is made clearer by Wilde’s full use of the Narcissus myth within his narrative. By recognizing the entirety of Dorian Gray as a retelling of the Narcissus myth exposes a darker facet of Aestheticism, warning of inevitable downfall when artistic pursuit succumbs to vanity and pleasure-seeking ideals.

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Available for download on Thursday, December 31, 2026