Fiction

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Book Review

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

credit: Goodreads

About the Author:

Oscar Wilde

Born on October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish playwright, poet, and author of numerous short stories, and one novel. Known for his biting wit, and a plentitude of aphorisms, he became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day.

As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde was imprisoned for two years after being convicted of “gross indecency” with other men. After Wilde was released from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry. He never returned to Ireland or Britain and died in poverty on November 30, 1900.

(source: Goodreads)

Synopsis & Genre:

Oscar Wilde’s only novel is the dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty.
In this celebrated work, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England.
Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centres on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigour while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde's most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.
(source: Goodreads)

Philosophical fiction, decadent literature.
(source: Google)

My Thoughts:

“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

There’s an ethereal beauty to Wilde’s prose and the way it’s imbued in his characters. The portrayal of youth and the wild recklessness and purity that accompanies it have all been so beautifully captured and expressed. But personally, I didn’t quite consider Dorian Gray to be the main character of the book that bore his name.

I immensely loved Lord Henry’s character, his witty and scandalous but very bold talk and the natural ease and charm with which he spoke. And it was Lord Henry that kept my interest piqued throughout. Nevertheless, as the book progressed and Dorian’s fall to doom became more and more evident, I have to admit, it felt strangely sad but thrilling all the same, to experience the rise and fall of a young man who was admired by all of society. This thought-provoking backdrop coupled with Wilde’s exquisite prose made for a fantastical read – a strangely influential novel but fleeting in its effects.

The exaggerated glorification of beauty, the manifestation of sin and the terrible desire for immortal youth have been pondered upon greatly in this fantasy novel, which many consider to be a reflection of Wilde’s own life.

Wilde wrote in an 1894 letter:

The Picture of Dorian Gray] contains much of me in it — Basil Hallward is what I think I am; Lord Henry, what the world thinks me; Dorian is what I would like to be — in other ages, perhaps.

Wilde wrote in an 1894 letter:.
Credit: Wikipedia

Dorian’s introduction as a young, innocent youth and his apparent nonchalance at his own youthful beauty has been emphasised rather well that, when the iconic dialogue that set the path for this piece of gothic literature arrives, the moment of exhilaration passes without so much as a flinch. But the realisation of what that utterance has caused is terribly great and Dorian’s fall from grace is painfully strong and a reminder to readers everywhere – that overindulgence in pleasure can be one’s downfall.

How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June…. If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

What kicks this entire story into being is Lord Henry’s influence on Dorian. Dorian’s arc as a character changes significantly throughout the book – innocent youth, influenced, corrupted, hedonistic, evil, regret, and death; these are the main stages I can think of right now. The subtle change in atmosphere as Dorian slowly but steadily appears to dedicate his life to pursuing pleasure at the behest of Lord Henry is cold, piercing and ever-present.

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

While I loved every character, I do wish Basil had been given a slightly more strong aura, for want of a better word. Throughout the novel, I felt Basil was too naive for an artist but then again, I suppose it is that purity which contributed to his beautiful art and futile efforts to keep Dorian away from Lord Henry. I thoroughly enjoyed Basil’s take on life, his views on art and his beautiful but complicated relationship with Dorian and Lord Henry.

It’s been a while since I read this book but other favourite moments that I can recall include Henry gifting Dorian a book that ends up deepening the urge to sin and corrupt himself, and his boyish fling with poor Sybil. I think what crowned my reading experience (lol) was the gorgeous descriptions of how the portrait changed as Dorian sunk deeper and deeper into the immoral, corrupted and sinful pit that his hedonism caused. Wilde’s ability to write to such fine detail to the extent, the portrait appeared to be downright terrifying is what I think drove me to give this book five stars.

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Needless to say, the story, the characters, the writing and everything about this book was absolutely splendid. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’m steering clear of the ending but I’ll mention it’s very rarely I agree with a book’s ending but this one was perfectly brilliant.

This novel that questions morality, and ponders on truth, art and beauty is rooted in humanity’s base desire to seek comfort and pleasure while at the same time, so powerfully portraying the life of a man who paid the price for a soul lost and a life tainted. In all honesty, I felt rather influenced, by this book and its suggestive prose so I’d recommend this book to all but hope you read it with a clear mind and open heart.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray


Previously on Random Specific Thoughts (my creative writing blog):
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