Arguably literature's greatest study of shallowness, vanity, casual cruelty and hedonistic selfishness, Wilde lays it down here with ABSOLUTE PERFECTION!! This story read somewhat like a dark, corrupted Jane Austen in that the writing was snappy and pleasant on the ear, but the feeling it left you with was one of hopelessness and despair. Despite the dark (or more likely because of it) this is one of the most engaging, compelling and lyrical pieces of literature I have read. The three main characters are Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton and Dorian Gray. My favorite parts of the story were the extensive dialogues between the characters, usually Dorian and Lord Henry. Wilde said, Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry is what the world thinks me: Dorian is what I would like to bein other ages, perhaps. I was somewhat floored by this as I found Dorian to be a truly stark representation of evil and could not see how Wilde could find an idealized form within the character.
Like Frankenstein, it starts out with a great premise: what if a portrait bore the brunt of age and sin, while the person remained in the flush of youth? Every time Lord Harry starts talking (and believe me, he likes to talk) he's so witty. I actually ended up skimming most of the book. So to save you, dear reader, the same pain I went through, is the summary of Dorian Gray (spoilers, of course): Dorian semi-consciously makes Faustian bargain to transfer all his sins and signs of age to his portrait. UPDATE 9/3/12: Since this review is still around and kicking four years later, I thought I might point like-minded individuals to a new parody of classic literature to the tune of Call Me Maybe: Call Me Ishmael!
When I first read this book in the fruitless years of my youth I was excited, overwhelmed and a blank slate (as Dorian is, upon his first encounter with Lord Henry) easily molded, persuaded, influenced, etc. Lines like: "It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." "But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face." "If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat." "Genius lasts longer than Beauty. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place." "You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know." Re-reading this masterpiece and coming upon these highlighted lines was possibly more interesting than the book this time. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvelous to us. It is a silly habit, I dare say, but somehow it seems to bring a great deal of romance into one's life. I suppose you think me awfully foolish about it?" "Yes; she is a peacock in everything but beauty." "Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is far the best ending for one." "I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects." "Ah! And it seems most of my reviews end up being mostly quotes from the book itself, but I figure this is what shaped and informed my reading, so I want to share it with all of you. That said, poor Sybil Vane! I don't think I shall read Against Nature, for fear of being seduced like Dorian. I am going to include two more quotes from the book that truly fucked me up. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. And yet-" "And yet," continues Lord Henry, in his low, musical voice,"I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream-I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal-to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal, it may be. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. You, Mr. Gray, you yourself, with your rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood, you have had passions that have made you afraid, thoughts that have filled you with terror, day-dreams and sleeping dreams whose mere memory might stain your cheek with shame-" "Stop!" faltered Dorian Gray, "stop! Outside, there is the stirring of the birds among the leaves, or the sound of men going forth to their work, or the sigh and sob of the wind coming down from the hills and wandering round the silent house, as though it feared to wake the sleeper, and yet must needs call forth Sleep from her purple cave. Veil after veil of thin, dusky gauze is lifted, and by degrees the forms and colors of things are restored to them, and we watch the dawn remaking the world in its antique pattern. Out of the unreal shadows of the night comes back the real life that we had known. We have to resume it where we had left off, and there steals over us a terrible sense of the necessity for the continuance of energy in the same wearisome round of stereotyped habits, or a wild longing, it may be, that our eyelids might open some morning upon a world that had been refashioned anew in the darkness for our pleasure, a world in which things would have fresh shapes and colors, and be changed, or have other secrets, a world in which the past would have little or no place, or survive, at any rate, in no conscious form of obligation or regret, the remembrance even of joy having its bitterness, and the memories of pleasure their pain." Yep.
And I believe this is especially true of The Picture of Dorian Gray more than perhaps any other fictional work I've read. The homoerotic undertones between Dorian Gray, Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton are, I think, the author's little expression of his own secret "sins" within his work. By 1891, when The Picture of Dorian Gray was published, Oscar Wilde had met and fallen in love with Lord Alfred Douglas and they had begun a semi-secret affair. I think if you familiarise yourself with Oscar Wilde, this becomes a very personal novel, much more than just a disturbing horror story where a man sells his soul.
His prose is like spilled honey flowing across a wooden table and waterfalling onto the floor beneath. The viscous liquid flowing slowly over the edge. We hit the floor as we finish and we see nothing but sweetness amassing around us as we escape from Wilde's prose.
I think I must have been about fifteen when I read The Picture of Dorian Gray for the very first time and I was totally blown away by it. There was this book, written in such a beautiful way, using such colourful and flowery language and there were those three amazing characters that made me feel and wonder and question their lives and decisions! I didnt know that there were books like that out there, that there actually existed morally grey characters, corrupted characters, book characters that felt like real people and could make you question their behaviour. I love his character to bits and pieces and hes definitely one of the most intriguing book characters I ever had the pleasure to read about. At the beginning of the book hes so innocent and naïve and I totally agree with Lord Henry when he says that this is charming. Dorian definitely is a charming character! Hes beautiful and pure and whenever I read the beginning of the book I get a sudden urge to protect him against everything thats going to happen over the course of those 256 pages! Hes like a child that gets corrupted by the bad influence of others and when I write this I really mean it! I mean he was corrupted and tainted by Lord Henry, and he ends up corrupting and tainting his friends but despite all of this he still wonders why they have become like that. What is even more intriguing is that Dorian actually wants to be good! The fate of Dorian Gray makes you think and it involuntarily causes you to face your own demons and weaknesses. Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins he was to have all these things. Hes the person that stirrs Dorians soul! Hes the man who leads him down that dark road and just like Dorian he is completely oblivious to the magnitude of his influence! Yes, he knows that hes corrupting Dorian, he even finds pleasure and joy in it, but throughout the entire book he never truly realizes how much his words actually changed him! Lord Henry is the kind of character you just got to love. Lord Henry is basically the embodiment of temptation and young and innocent Dorian wants to be seduced! And honestly, who wouldnt be drawn towards a character like Lord Henry? If Lord Henry is the devil on Dorians shoulder then Basil certainly is the angel that sits on his other side. Hes clearly the counterweight to Lord Henrys corruption, but unfortunately he doesnt have a lot of leverage. The relationships: Dorian Gray & Basil Hallward: He wont like you the better for keeping your promises. The very first time Dorian Gray finds himself at a crossroads and choses the wrong path. Hes infatuated with him and basically worships the young and innocent Dorian. Poor Basil, if he would have known what his picture would make of Dorian, if he would have known how much Lord Henrys negative influence would change his innocent and pure friend. Dorian Gray & Lord Henry: Words! Okay, and here comes the moment when I say that Lord Henry and Dorian Gray are in love with each other. I think their dynamic and their interactions are very interesting and to me it seems like Lord Henry is some sort of catalyst. Hes the impulse that changes Dorians soul, hes the first person who opens Dorians eyes and tells him that hes beautiful. It feels like Dorians and Henrys relationship is wrong and Im not even sure if Wilde was aware of that? I mean yes, their friendship led Dorian into the abyss of his soul, which is pretty obvious if you ask me, but theres some subtle note about their relationship. Its like deep down Oscar Wilde thought that it was wrong to have intense feelings for another man. In contrast to Wilde no one holds Dorian Gray to account though. I still wonder and guess about certain characters and The Picture of Dorian Gray still causes me to think. Oscar Wilde drags us into the dark depths of the human soul, and once you get there you dont want to return to the surface anymore.
This book is exquisite; it is an investigation into the human soul, the power of vanity and the problems of living a life with not a single consequence for your actions. So if youre a young man whose appearance is your singular quality, then this is some damn scary news. Dorians world has no consequences. Only through seeking new experiences, these pleasures, can Dorians being remain animated. I intentionally used the word being for Dorians body no longer harbours his soul; its in the painting. The character of Dorian Gray is an interesting study because he is representative of many things. He shows how a seemingly pure soul can be corrupted if its left in a sense of privation and given terrible guidance. Also he is suggestive of the Victorian ideal of the perfect societal image. He is suggestive of the hidden evils of Victorian society as behind the mask was many dark things. Wilde wasnt the only Victorian author to suggest such things. The novel also shows that despite being corrupted to such a degree, to commit murder in such a terrible sense, Dorian (the Victorian man?) isnt beyond all redemption.
Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest.