The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Dover, 1993 (Originally Published in 1891)
Fiction; 165 pgs
First Sentence: The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.
Reason for Reading: This is my final selection for Kathrin’s Classics Reading Challenge and my second for the Book to Movie Challenge. I first decided I wanted to read this book after seeing the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Although the movie itself didn’t impress me, several of the characters did, especially Dorian Gray.
From the Publisher: Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray makes a Faustian bargain to sell his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, where he is able to indulge his desires while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only Dorian's picture bears the traces of his decadence. A knowing account of a secret life and an analysis of the darker side of Victorian society, The Picture of Dorian Gray offers a disturbing portrait of an individual coming face to face with the reality of his soul.
Comments: I am not sure what to say about this book. It is difficult to take on a classic, a book revered and analyzed by many. I read this novel more out of curiosity than to gain a deeper meaning. Dorian Gray is a famous character that is mentioned and alluded to in all forms of media. I wanted to experience the “real” Dorian Gray and read his story.
Oscar Wilde is well known for his play writing, but he also wrote poetry and short stories. I had seen one of his plays in college, The Importance of Being Earnest, and remember enjoying it. The Picture of Dorian Gray is Wilde’s only novel, and it caused quite a stir in its day. It was deemed as being immoral, in part for its theme of aestheticism, which places value on youth and beauty, as well as hedonism and a rather superficial view of society. The other concern that many people in Wilde’s day had was the homoerotic undertones throughout the novel; this theme would play a part in the author’s own life, resulting in his arrest and conviction in 1895 on charges of gross indecency under British sodomy laws.
I was not overly impressed with Mr. Wilde's novel. The author’s penchant for poetry was obvious in his descriptions and drawn out thought sequences, which occasionally left my mind to wander. The playwright in him ensured there was heavy dialogue during the first third of the novel where the characters seem to engage in endless discussions. The conversations were at times amusing and had definite political and social overtones to them fitting to the time period. There was quite a bit of melodrama in both the characters’ speeches and actions throughout the book. I wish now I had counted how many times someone flung himself onto a couch, chair or whatever during a moment of anguish.
I did not care for most of the characters. I did have some sympathy for James Vane, the brother of Sibyl Vane who was a young and beautiful actress that fell madly in love with Dorian. Lord Henry Wotton annoyed me quite a bit in the beginning of the novel; however, he was one of the more interesting characters. He was quite comical, really. I cannot say if that was intentional or not. Basil Hallward seemed out of place most of the time, overly anxious, and only occasionally the voice of reason. His part was well played against Lord Henry during their discussions—the two balanced each other out both in opinion and manner.
Dorian Gray himself was somewhat in the shadows for the first half of the novel, only solidifying later on. A lot of his actions go unwritten but are alluded to throughout the book. I found myself feeling sorry for him early on, during his more impressionable moments, while at the same time wanting to shake him and tell him to stop being so egotistical. The author did a good job of conveying the pain and frustration that Dorian felt over his situation.
The last fifty-eight pages of the book were by far my favorite part. Oscar Wilde spent quite a while setting the stage for those final chapters, and once the book reached the twelfth chapter, the story took off, the plot moved forward quickly, and I did not want to put the book down.
I can see why The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered a classic. It captures several of the social and political movements of its time and stirs up controversy even today. The character of Dorian Gray is one that has become an icon of sorts through the years.
I am glad I took the time to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. I did not dislike it so much as to want to toss it in the unread pile. I liked it enough to finish it.
Visit The Official Oscar Wilde website for information about the author and his works.