The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

By , London, United Kingdom
This book has shot straight up to one of my favorites!
To start with, I have a crazed obsession with Oscar Wilde, and had high expectations. I certainly was not disappointed.
The story is about a young, beautiful man of about 20 years old called Dorian Gray. At the very beginning we are introduced to Basil Hallward, an artist with an obsession for Dorian Gray. The young man's company alone has made his art greater and more beautiful than it ever had been. Hallward is also friends with the witty cynic, Lord Henry Wotton (Or Harry) , who speaks many of Wilde's most famous quotes, and is sure to corrupt the 'rose-white boyhood' of Dorian Gray. When Dorian and Harry do meet, they are engrossed in one another for opposite reasons. Dorian in Harry for his wit and experience, and Harry in Dorian for his purity and innocence. Basil is in the final steps of completing a portrait of Dorian Gray, and as Gray sits for his picture, Lord Henry tells him of the beauty of youth and the foulness of old age. Dorian's eyes are opened to how temporary his youth is and how beautiful it is. Basil, too, has told him millions of times just how good looking he is.
When the picture is finished, Dorian bursts into tears as he realises that forever the picture will stay pure and beautiful while the marks of age and sin will carve themselves into his innocent face. He prays that he can stay young and fabulous forever and that the picture will carry the burden of his age and his sins.
Soon, Lord Henry and Gray grow very close, and Basil feels that he has lost his most precious inspiration to the hands of his best friend. Later, when Dorian falls madly in love with Sibyl Vane- a poor actress- he takes his friends to see her and she acts poorly for the first time ever.
After the performance he goes back stage and is horrible to her about her poor acting. He declares that he never wants to see her again, and we see the turn from good to evil within him.
Later, back at his house, he notices that his portrait has changed.
It's smile is cruel, it's eyes colder. It has not been altered- but it appears strangely, eerily more horrible.
Dorian looks in the mirror and sees he has not changed a bit.
We soon discover that his wish has come true, and his portrait will carry all the ugliness of his soul, while his body will stay beautiful and young forever.
The story takes us through Dorian Gray's life of corruption, full of romance, sin and scandal!
We watch the picture (which he hides) change from beautiful to ugly, while his eyes stay kind and trusting.
It is a compelling novel, full of wit and little quirks, as well as being one that leaves you questioning the good and bad of life.
Is life too short to worry about purity? What is right and wrong? How much do youth and beauty really matter?
Henry Wotton is the most comical character. He also brings most of the interesting ideas into the story.
Some quotes from Lord Henry Wotton:
"If I could get back my youth, I'd do anything in the world except get up early, take exercise or be respectable."
"No civilized man ever regrets a pleasure, and no uncivilized man ever knows what a pleasure is."
"Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense and discover too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes."
"I'm analyzing women at present. The subject is less difficult than I was led to believe. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals."
"There's no shame in pleasure. Man just wants to be happy. But society wants him to be good. And when he's good, he's rarely happy. But when he's happy, he's always good. "
"The only way to get rid of a temptation, is to yield to it."
Lord Henry is a sexist, shallow character but his philosophies are both intelligent and insightful! The only 'flaw' in this book was the unrealistic amount Harry had to share. He spoke more than any real person. I suppose one could not quite consider this a flaw, though, because I enjoyed every single thing he said! Had Wilde cut out a single word, I would be traumatised!
Basil Hallward is one of the most realistic of characters, even if he is not as interesting or unusual as the other two. His feelings toward Dorian early on in the story hint towards more than just a friendship. He seems to be in love with him. Wilde was probably trying to imply some secret homosexual feelings between the two of them -or at least from Basil to Dorian. Oscar Wilde being homosexual, or at least bisexual, himself has obviously tried to put that side of him into Basil's character.
Basil Hallward describing his first encounter with Dorian to Lord Henry in chapter 1:
"I turned half-way round, and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me, I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole sould, my very art itself....I have always been my own master;had at least always been so, till I met Dorian Gray. Then- but I don't know how to explain it you. Something seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life. I had a strange feeling that fate had in store for me some exquisite joys and some exquisite sorrows."
"Suddenly I found myself face to face with the young man whose personality had so strangely stirred me. We were quite close, almost touching. Our eyes met again."
Dorian Gray, of course, is the main character. He is not originally the most interesting of people, but his progression from good to evil is the most interesting part of the book. He doesn't have the wit of Lord Henry, or the romance of Hallward, but he is the most beautiful character in the story. And in it's own strange way, this makes him more intriguing than one would expect.
A visual description of Dorian Gray:
"Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that makes one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth's passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world. No wander Basil Hallward worshipped him."
And Dorian of course, continues to look like this throughout the story, while the portrait carries lines of age, stress and evil. It's eyes grow cold, the gold seeps from it's hair, the scarlet from it's lips. The hands become veined and wrinkled.
Some of the reasons I think Wilde would have questioned the right and the wrong so deeply, is because he lived in a very homophobic world, as a homosexual. The places/ways in which he found pleasure were considered wrong and sinful, and this book promotes the ideas of pleasure and sin. Or at least it questions them.
The funniest thing of all is how easily I found I could relate to the characters. I wouldn't consider myself a bad person, but the temptation to do wrong is a feeling I can recognise. I do not agree with all that is suggested in this book, but aside from the philosophical side of things- it is utterly compelling and full of fun! The final lines too, left a strong impact.
I found that the metaphors were not subtle, but exaggerated. In some cases, this could make the whole thing feel a bit obvious and predictable, but in this case, I found it only emphasised the final feeling the book left with me. I was left with chill I could not shake.
The edition which I have read is from 1891, which is censored and edited so that is much less homoerotic, but the hints toward homosexual feeling between Basil and Dorian were much less subtle in the original version from 1890. I believe that Oscar Wilde was an amazing person, and that 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is an incredible book that changes the way anybody views the world. A real good read.
"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.”-Oscar Wilde





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squadge said...
Oct. 18, 2012 at 11:04 am
Ratintgs and/or feedback would be greatly appreciated. :)
 
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