As the only novel written by Irish author Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray illustrates the unavoidable corrupting influence that vanity and hedonism have in the context of delaying mortality and holding on to youth.
Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely
— by Lord Acton, British historian
If we put our programmer hat on and look at this story through the lens of a software engineer as a thought experiment of sorts, we can draw unbelievably compelling parallels between the main character’s desire for unending youth and beauty and the way software is engineered and maintained over time.
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Drawing an artistic parallel like this can provide a fresh, entertaining and introspective perspective on software engineering challenges and considerations. I have previously experimented with this approach by using Dante’s Divine Comedy (Part 1 — Inferno, Part 2 — Purgatorio) as the source of inspiration and was surprised at the results!
As a cautionary tale on the perils of vanity and moral decay, a merger between The Picture of Dorian Gray and the craft of software development, teaches us about the importance of integrity, both in humans and in the software that increasingly shapes the world.
The original story, which you can read on the Project Gutenberg, is of a young man named Dorian Gray, in London, who is the subject of a painting by an artist named Basil Hallward, in Victorian upper-class society. After listening to incessant philosophical musings from Basil’s hedonistic friend Lord Henry, Dorian wishes that he could always remain as youthful and attractive as his portrait, while the painting would bear the marks of his age and even sins.