Author: Oscar Wilde Series: Standalone Genre: Classic Fiction Release Date: June 20, 1890 Book Length: 360 pages Publisher: Randomhouse: Modern Library Review: 5/5
Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it ﬁrst appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting inﬂuence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”
Hauntingly beautiful, The Picture of Dorian Gray takes us into the corrupted mind of a young man who has sold his soul for eternal youth.
Dorian Gray is one of the most impressionable characters I have ever read about. It takes only one conversation with a friend of the painter of Dorian’s portrait, Lord Henry Wotton, to convince him that the sovereignty that comes with beauty is inimitable and that beauty itself is finite—he will not have his boyish good looks forever. Therefore, he should enjoy his youth and charm while he can and begin the pursuit of a more hedonistic lifestyle. This conversation, albeit brief, sends Dorian into a spiral of all consuming madness and in a fit of panic, he wishes that he could stay young forever and that the picture instead could bear the burden of his old age and the sins that come with it.
For a while, Dorian lives in ignorant bliss, until he notices the picture slowly mirroring his wrongdoings and getting increasingly uglier the more awful deeds he commits. He adopts the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and thinks that concealing the picture will put his guilt to rest. However, what he doesn’t realize is that although he can hide the painting from the world, he cannot hide its implications from his conscience.
Basil Hallward, the artist behind the picture, is in love with Dorian Gray. He put his whole heart into the painting, which is why it captured Dorian’s beauty so effortlessly. What Dorian fails to understand though is that to Basil and others like him, Dorian isn’t just beautiful in looks. He is beautiful in his innocence– mind, body, and soul. When every part of you is beautiful, not just your outer appearance, it doesn’t matter how age transforms you because you will always be lovely. If you are a person of good intentions and pure in heart, how can you ever be ugly to those who know and love you? Unfortunately for Dorian, that isn’t enough.
Basil tries convincing him that he shouldn’t have listened to Lord Wotton, but Dorian finds a way to push the blame onto Basil, claiming that he is at fault for the corruption of his soul in the painting because he captured it. I think that if Basil is the painter, Lord Wotton is the sculptor– slowly molding Dorian with every conversation. The most ironic thing was that Lord Wotton was feeding all these ideals to Dorian, yet he himself was not reaping what he sowed. It was only Dorian who suffered because he was the one who let it all get to his head. If Lord Wotton had truly believed what he was saying, he would have met the same fate as Dorian.
The thing about this book is that it made me feel something and that is why I enjoyed it so much; over one hundred years later and these words and it’s message still hold such heavy meaning.
This book took over my every thought, just as the painting took over Dorian’s. The writing is gorgeous and gripping from the very beginning, so much so that I dedicated my evenings to reading scholarly essays on this book. That’s how you know it’s good. There were many quotes as well that impacted me, which I always appreciate in a book. A definite must read for anyone looking for a good classic!
Some Quotes I Loved:
“… every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.”
“I might mimic a passion that I do not feel. But I cannot mimic one that burns like fire.”
“I only knew that I had seen perfection face to face, and that the world had become wonderful to my eyes — too wonderful, perhaps, for in such mad worships there is peril, the peril of losing them, no less than the peril of keeping them…”
“Knowledge would be fatal. It is the uncertainty that charms one. A mist makes things wonderful.”
“If a man treats life artistically, his brain is his heart.”
Thank you for reading and if anyone has any other recommendations of good classics, let me know. I’m in the mood to read a lot more of them this year 🙂