I am reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and I came across this paragraph

There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings. It is better not to be different from one's fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat. They live as we all should live, undisturbed, indifferent, and without disquiet.

I could not comprehend the meaning of this paragraph, I know that the gist of it is something related to "ignorance is bliss" but the beginning of this paragraph is perplexing me.

Can somebody help me understand with an example, “the fatality of physical and intellectual distinction” and how it is related to “the faltering steps of kings.” Oxford Dictionaries tells me that the noun fatality has two separate meanings

  1. An occurrence of death by accident, in war, or from disease.


  1. Helplessness in the face of fate.
  • What did the author mean by “fatality of physical and intellectual distinction”? Was Wilde referring specifically to death or to destiny?
  • I believe I left this comment on the earlier question you asked and deleted, but this kind of question is off-topic here (from the help center: no [criticism, discussion, [or] analysis of English literature). You can ask it on Literature (or wait for a moderator here to migrate it there, though that might take a long time if it happens at all), but you'll probably get a warmer welcome there if you indicate what your own googling and other research has turned up on the passage.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 25 '17 at 17:41
  • what is wrong with this question Dan ? Mar 25 '17 at 17:43
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a request for literary analysis, which is off-topic according to our help center.
    – tchrist
    Mar 25 '17 at 17:44
  • @DayanandChaudhary What I told you in my first comment, the bolded part, and also the same thing I told you the first time around before you deleted your question, and also what tchrist (a mod) just told you. This site is for analyzing the mechanics of English: morphology, syntax, etymology, orthography, etc. interpretation is off-topic. Literature.se might take it if you add more details around what your own research has turned up to date.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 25 '17 at 17:47
  • 1
    If you could be more specific and say what expression, or line you do not understand that would already be a great help. For instance, let's say you didn't know that dog could also be used as a verb, and despite looking up its meaning, you still fail to grasp the meaning of the sentence where it is employed. You'd post a link to the dictionary which would clearly show that its definition does not seem to fit. For instance..., obviously if the definition fits there's no question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 25 '17 at 20:25

According to the Wikipedia article on this topic, The Picture of Dorian Gray was "first published complete in the July 1890 issue Lippincott's Monthly Magazine." That same year, Merriam-Webster published its massive Webster's International Dictionary—a volume that lists three definitions in its entry for fatality:

Fatality n. ... 1. The state of being fatal, or proceeding from destiny ; invincible necessity, superior to, and independent of, free and rational control. [Example:] The Stoics held a fatality, and a fixed, unalterable course of events. South[ey]. 2. The state of being fatal ; tendency to destruction or danger, as if by decree of fate ; mortality [Examples:] The year sixty-three is conceived to carry with it the most considerable fatality. Sir T[homas] Browne. *By a strange fatality men suffer their dissenting. Eikon Basilike. 3. That which is decreed by fate or which is fatal : a fatal event. Dryden.

Of these three definitions, the one closest to what Wilde seems to have had in mind in his sentence "There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings" is the second one—a "tendency to destruction or danger." If so, Wilde may be asserting that a connection exists between being exceptional in physical or mental abilities and being in greater danger of destruction, as if at the hands of jealous Fates. Wilde seems to suggest that, by standing out from the safety and anonymity of the crowd (or the average), one exposes oneself to a heightened risk of being singled out for ruin.

Neither of the online Oxford Dictionaries definitions that you cite covers this sense of fatality at all well, and I don't think it is accurate to describe the "state of being fatal ; tendency to destruction or danger, as if by decree or fate ; mortality" meaning as obsolete or archaic. It seems to me that I encounter fatality used in this sense too often to consider it rare—but I do read a lot of old books.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, eleventh edition (2003) also yields more definitions of fatality than you might expect from the online Oxford Dictionaries' treatment of the word:

fatality n ... (15c) 1 a : the quality or state of causing death or destruction b : the quality or condition of being being destined for disaster 2 : something established by fate 3 a : FATE [in the sense of 'destiny"] b : FATALISM [in the sense of "the doctrine that events are fixed in advance" of their happening] 4 : the agent or agency of fate 5 a : death resulting from a disaster b : on that experiences a fatal outcome

Of these definitions of fatality, 1(a) seems the closest to the sense that Wilde had in mind in his sentence.

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