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1001 Group Read: October, 2011: The Picture of Dorian Gray

1001 Books to read before you die

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1george1295
Sep 29, 2011, 4:44pm Top

Starting this thread a couple of days early because I know some of you have already started reading and may want to start your discussions. Enjoy!!

2kiwiflowa
Oct 16, 2011, 4:25pm Top

Started reading Dorian Gray this weekend. I'm about halfway through. I got to chapter 8 and all of sudden began to like the story, until then it was a bit irritating.

The preface was weird. A list of statements not all of which made sense to me.

I found Lord Henry was a bit too much at first. His cynical observations were unrelenting and they were supposed to be funny but reading them the humour quickly evaporated, I think in a play or movie it would be funnier (I'm remembering The Importance of Being Earnest - movie). But I wonder if Wilde purposely wrote Lord Henry like this to demonstrate the influence he has on Dorian? If I as a reader am worn down by his commentary then how must it be like in person?

My penguin edition also has a whole bunch of end notes. Usually I ignore these as it interrupts my reading too much. For example I already know that White's was a gentlemens club in London and I don't need to know the year it was established, it's official full name or the street it's located. However I noticed an end note attached to a sentence that seemed to make perfect sense in this day and age so I flipped to the end of the book to see what it was about and discovered the Wilde wrote two versions of this book, including new chapters and obscuring some parts that were objectionable to the prudish Victorians, his editor also made changes to this end. This was irritating as the the first version almost always made more sense to me so I have to read the end notes every time now. I feel like I'm reading a novel and a history book on homosexuality in Victorian England at the same time.

Is anyone else reading this?

3wookiebender
Oct 16, 2011, 8:44pm Top

If anyone hasn't yet read this New Yorker article, it's definitely worth it: How Oscar Wilde painted over “Dorian Gray.”.

4george1295
Oct 17, 2011, 9:04am Top

Wookie, thanks for bringing that to our attention. It was definitely worth it.

5chrissybob
Oct 17, 2011, 4:42pm Top

I finished this a few weeks ago and have been trying to decide what to say about it. I saw the film before I read the book and enjoyed it so was looking forward to reading this - I can't say I enjoyed the book much though. I thought it was really heavy going especially once Dorian had accepted his 'eternal youth'. Some of the ongoing references to art and beauty just started to feel self indulgent and I felt like I was reading a museum programme and that detracted from the narrative of the story. That said I will admit that my knowlegde of art is not good which maybe explains why I found this hard going.

I liked the concept of the story though and the debate between beauty and conscience was interesting.

I'd like to know what others thought of this - and whether people enjoyed it?

6dste
Oct 17, 2011, 5:00pm Top

I'm about halfway through as well. I'm reading the Kindle version, which was free, so I have no clue which of the two versions it is. I didn't even know there were two versions. I haven't seen anything that strikes me as being objectionable to a Victorian audience... What's this about homosexuality?

Anyway, I don't see Lord Henry's comments as being funny at all. I really love The Importance of Being Earnest, and I laughed at what I read there, but here I think the epigrams (that's the word, right?) are used in a different way. At first I was confused because Basil kept saying that he couldn't really mean what he was saying, but I think that he does. As I said, I'm at the halfway point, and Lord Henry's influence is starting to appear downright sinister. I think the effect he's supposed to have is of trying to confuse Dorian by throwing in at random things that seem to make sense in a way in order to build up trust and other things that encourage him to join the dark side as it were. I'm getting a real angel/devil vibe with Basil and Lord Henry.

Anyway, I'll read on and come back to talk about what I think of the whole thing.

7kiwiflowa
Oct 17, 2011, 6:02pm Top

I'm only at Chapter 10 so far.

I watched the 2002 movie version of The Importance of Being Earnest again last night - laughed the whole way through.

The article that Wookie linked was very interesting and really helpful. Thank you!

I liked that Wilde thought that Lord Henry is how the world saw him, Basil is how he saw himself and Dorian is how he would have liked to have been, maybe, one day.

8hdcclassic
Oct 18, 2011, 4:13am Top

6> There is a Faust-Mephistopheles vibe going between Dorian and Lord Henry, and while the quips of the latter are definitely Wildean, they are more sinister than in his plays. The Importance of Being Earnest this ain't.

9johnnypies
Oct 29, 2011, 7:15pm Top


I started this a year ago and only made my through a measly few pages, thinking it appeared horribly hard going. I'm very glad to have been proved wrong on that and it's a lesson to me not to give up on some books so early in future.

Like others, I enjoyed the concept and the debate on the role of conscience versus beauty. Unfortunately, I've never yet quite chimed with the value attributed to beauty by some authors and poets so a lot of the discussion is still a bit lost on me. Again like others, there was a patch of about 10 pages where the lists of jewels, tapestries and suchlike just seemed to me like a pointless exercise. Otherwise, I found it flowed well and I got through it unusually quickly.

While I've enjoyed the tone and structure of some of Wilde's other work, there were two things I found difficult there. Firstly, Lord Henry's epigrammatic barrage - if this was a real human character, no matter how dazzlingly shocking he might be I can't imagine many people being anything other than bored after a while. An hour of a dinner party later and it'd be tiresome - if sat next to him I'd be forced to comfort eat, which he'd probably make some awfully witty remark about.

Secondly, I thought that Wilde's voice just sounded too clearly at many points. There was one paragraph in particular which was almost a diatribe and only at the very end of it, almost as an afterthought, was added something like "or so thought Dorian Gray". I do prefer the author to be a little more subtle - although, I have to say, the ending did balance things up somewhat. A big part of me did want Dorian to have more of a chance at redemption, though.

Overall, enjoyed it a lot and was interested to read about the background in the article linked above. Thanks, Wookie.

10dste
Oct 29, 2011, 8:58pm Top

9- I agree about Lord Henry, his talk would definitely wear on people in the real world!

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