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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
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The Picture of Dorian Gray (original 1891; edition 2003)

by Oscar Wilde, Robert Mighall (Introduction)

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23,64637947 (4)13 / 974
Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Penguin Classics, Paperback, 2003.

8vo. xliii+253 pp. Edited with an Introduction [ix-xxxiv] and Notes [pp. 231-253] by Robert Mighall. Selected Contemporary Reviews [pp. 214-223]. Original Penguin Classics Introduction by Peter Ackroyd, 1985 [pp 224-230].

First published, 1891.
Published in Penguin Classics, 2000.
Reprinted with minor revisions, 2003.

Contents

Acknowledgements
Introduction
Chronology
Further Reading
A Note on the Text

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Appendix I
Selected Contemporary Reviews of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Appendix II
Introduction to the First Penguin Classics Edition, by Peter Ackroyd

Notes

============================================

I think it was Bertrand Russell, of all people, who once said that the purpose of reason is to explain the conclusions of intuition, or other words to that effect. It is the same with book reviews and me. The purpose of things like reviewing and rating, as far as I am concerned, is merely to rationalize an essentially non-rational experience, especially when fiction is concerned. In this respect, reviewing Dorian Gray is a formidable challenge, but not because its status as a classic and the hymn of false modesty "What Can I Say That Hasn't Been Said Many Times?" The reason is in the contrast: the book is rife with exasperating faults and shortcomings, yet it has been an extraordinarily powerful experience I wouldn't like to miss. How does one reconcile reason with intuition in this case?

To begin with the beginning, the famous preface to the book, namely ''The Preface'', consists of one page of epigrams which characterise what follows pretty well indeed. Together with some perfect nonsense like this:

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.


There are some speculations not altogether devoid of sense:

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

And there is not a negligible amount of wisdom:

All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.


The novel is pretty much the same hotchpotch, but on a rather greater scale. Let's try to disentangle the pastiche from the profoundness, the weaknesses from the strengths - starting with the former.

Dorian Gray is often described as Oscar Wilde's only novel. I really don't know how such grossly inaccurate description has ever been put forward at all. One of a kind it may well be, but it's definitely not a novel. It's a play, or rather a cycle of many one-act plays on the same subject, with somewhat expanded stage directions and a couple of purple essays thrown in for good measure. There are plenty of long monologues which are more suitable for the stage than for the printed page, and there is a good deal of poetry in prose much more akin to Oscar's fairy tales (his second volume, The House of Pomegranates, in particular) than to anything that can safely be called ''a novel''. Not the least interesting thing about Dorian Gray is that it was first published in book form in 1891, thus filling the niche between Wilde's complete short fiction, including the aforementioned volume of fairy tales which appeared in the same year, and his legendary, if short-lived, success on the stage, which started in 1892 and led to the writing of three brilliant social comedies and one fairly mediocre farce.

''Timeless'' is an adjective usually associated with the classics. While true to their value, it is quite false to their form. Like more or less any other classic, Dorian Gray is very much a book of its own time, too. It is extremely class-conscious and stupendously sexist. Wise critics will tell you that Wilde did outrage the Victorian morality at several different levels (e.g. suggesting that aristocrats can lead double lives and frequent vile brothels, too), and this is quite true. But it doesn't change the fact that the high classes are consistently regarded as the better ones. Feminists with limited imagination who are offended by the harsh sexism that creeps in here and there will no doubt be gratified by the appearance of the Duchess of Monmouth. She is that rare creature, virtually unknown during the Victorian era: a woman with brains. But she appears only in the very end of the book, and her presence is entirely insignificant for the plot or the other characters. Do you think it a coincidence that all three main characters are males from the high strata of society?

(Yes, there is a great deal of subtle homoerotic nuances between them. No, these are far from being of any importance. Enough about that.)

Speaking of main characters, in terms of complexity and development, Dorian Gray delivers the goods nowhere near as good as one might expect from a novel. Basil Hallward is a fine painter, and perhaps a great one, but his single truly outstanding work, the picture of Dorian Gray, is rather an accident, in more than one sense of the word as it turned out. He is also a colossal prig and a most tiresome prude whose chief occupation is preaching to others how wicked they are. Lord Henry Wotton is one of those epigram chatterboxes that only Oscar Wilde could create. He is the proverbial cynic who never takes anything seriously; for him life is an amusing game of observation of people's emotions and influence over their minds, and vice versa. Then there is Dorian himself, whose by far most important asset is his heavenly beauty. He is the only one in whom there are hints of complexity and development, insubstantial and unconvincing as they are. Finally, there is Dorian's portrait which takes the burdens of both his age and his soul. Its own development seems to put Dorian Gray in the category of ''speculative fiction'' - whatever that means.

Nor is the plot any more realistically, plausibly or convincingly drawn than the characters. For one thing, it is rather weirdly paced. The ''novel'' can be split into two halves, each spanning no more than a few weeks yet separated by some twenty years. There is only one chapter (XI) that serves as a link. Rather unfortunately, this is by far the most horrible chapter in the whole book. Here Oscar really did reach the peak of deliberate perversity. Together with important information about Dorian's degradation, he goes into absolutely intolerable detail about his passions for exotic musical instruments, precious stones, embroidery and what not. If Oscar wanted to show off the range of his culture and the richness of his vocabulary, he certainly succeeded. I am duly impressed by both. But this doesn't make the chapter less misguided. Such stupendous digressions are the most crass mistake any novelist can make, and there is no excuse for them (not even the notorious serial publication so fashionable in Victorian times, and this is not the case here anyway). Chapter XI is one of the most important in the book. It is a sad observation that at least 80% of it can be skipped without any loss whatsoever.

Having delivered the retribution, I now have to deal with the apologia. This is rather more difficult to put into words.

Despite being a mess of a novel, full with one-dimensional stereotypes rather than with characters, despite its rambling structure and monstrous digressions, despite its badly misplaced purple prose, despite all that, Dorian Gray is compulsively readable and completely compelling, if you excuse the alliteration. Whatever lame description one wishes to attach to it - ''speculative fiction'', ''Gothic'', ''novel'' - the bottom line is that it must be experienced personally and intimately. It has a rare combination passion and grandeur. All numerous faults it does have do detract from its value, but much less than it might seem at first glance. In fact, under closer scrutiny, most of these faults are either obliterated by significant merits or reduced to minor nuisances.

I may start with Wilde's prose, so ill-suited for a novel. I confess right away that I dislike purple patch, especially more or less all the time. But I guess one of the best, if intensely personal, definitions of a great writer is how much he can get away with. Well, Oscar's record is nearly perfect here. His melodious and visionary language often produces unforgettable effects that leave me all but breathless. To take but one among many examples, the love story between Dorian and Sybil is absurdly melodramatic, yet it is often strangely touching, even affecting. (For the record, there is also, in the characters of the mother and the brother, a good deal of delightful satire.) Here are two examples about ravishing descriptions, one of Sibyl herself and one of the surroundings, that might easily become parts of a poem:

Then she paused. A rose shook in her blood and shadowed her cheeks. Quick breath parted the petals of her lips. They trembled. Some southern wind of passion swept over her and stirred the dainty folds of her dress.

The tulip-beds across the road flamed like throbbing rings of fire. A white dust - tremulous cloud of orris-root it seemed - hung in the panting air. The brightly coloured parasols danced and dipped like monstrous butterflies.


As far as the surrealism of the book is concerned - and by this I mean, not its supernatural elements, but its artificiality - this is surely something that shouldn't be held against Wilde. For realism is not what he tried to do; indeed, he did his best to avoid it. In Oscar Wilde: a pictorial biography (Thames and Hudson, 1960, rev. ed. 1966, written by his second son Vyvyan, by the way) there are several revealing quotes from letters Oscar wrote to the press in defense of the numerous attacks on his book. They made it clear that the last thing he tried to do, in this book and his oeuvre as a whole, was to achieve anything even remotely resembling realism. Nobody who has read Wilde's absorbing essay-dialogue The Decay of Lying will remain unconvinced in that, either. It's always a dangerous business to judge about author's views by the words of his characters, but it's a fairly sure guess that with the following words of Lord Henry Oscar spoke his mind:

That is the reason I hate vulgar realism in literature. The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.

As soon as the "novel" thing is discarded, both the sketchy plot and the flat characters become easy to accept. Indeed, they should be expected. Speech being more or less the only means in drama, to expect verisimilitude and plausibility is surely to expect too much. That said, the plot of Dorian Gray, though badly paced, is not at all badly constructed. As Somerset Maugham might have said, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It also has several twists which I at least didn't expect at all, and which are executed with all of Oscar's consummate dramatic skill. The ending is thoroughly predictable, yet not without suspense. The long monologues, too, should be expected, not so much because of the theatrical nature of the work, but because it was written in time when conversation was a carefully cultivated form of art. As for the characters, what they lack in credibility, they more than compensate for in vividness. At least two of these marvellously evocative stereotypes deserve a more detailed discussion.

It's difficult to deny that Lord Henry is a man of incredible charm; not for nothing does pretty much everybody call him Harry*. Among the constant streak of epigrams that pours from his lips there is a good deal of junk whose only purpose is to be amusing. That it certainly is, but Harry's finest creations are much more than that. They give me pause for reflection on myriad of things, sometimes they bring to a well-known conundrum a positively devastating illumination. There is so much more below their glittering surface. Small wonder that some of these epigrams are among Wilde's most famous ones; and some he liked so much himself, that he used them again in his brilliant comedies. But several favourites will doubtless illustrate what I mean much better than any words of mine:

Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Basil. Conscience is the trade-name of the firm. That is all.

It is only the intellectually lost who ever argue.

The thoroughly well-informed man - that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.

Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love: it is the faithless who know love's tragedies.

The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.

Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world's original sin. If the caveman had known how to laugh, history would have been different.

Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes.

Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.

The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly--that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one's self.

The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are.

When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one's self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.

My dear boy, the people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination. Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect--simply a confession of failure. Faithfulness! I must analyse it some day. The passion for property is in it.


It is to be regretted that none of us will ever meet anybody like Lord Henry. For one thing, there is no second Oscar Wilde; for another, in our hectic times of mind-numbing technology, such leisurely existence and such refinement of speech are all but unattainable ideal. It is Lord Henry, too, who is there to espouse Oscar's aesthetic ideals. It is safe to say, perhaps, that the following passage mirrors the author's thoughts to perfection:

People say sometimes that beauty is only superficial. That may be so, but at least it is not so superficial as thought is. To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible

But Harry, despite all his verbal brilliance, is not the protagonist. This, of course, is Dorian Gray - and his portrait, or his soul to use the proper names. The most curious thing about Dorian is the ambiguity that surrounds him. On the one hand, though there is nothing really explicit in the book, Oscar is nothing if not suggestive. To contemplate Dorian's escapades in opium dens and sordid slums, his seduction and destruction of many aristocratic beauties, is a rather chilling business. On the other hand, however, Dorian's life comes as close as possible to the highest of all goals: self-realisation. For all superficial decadence, degradation and debauchery, a little deeper his life has a genuine Beauty. It's a work of art. Except for a short time towards the end, Dorian is never a fake, a poser or a humbug. Whatever he does, however immoral, despicable and vicious by the common (and commonplace!) standards of society, Dorian remains true to himself and his nature. For my part, a most fascinating and inspiring character, if not exactly likable and not a little frightening as well.

A curious parallel with Wagner's Tannhäuser can be drawn here. Passing over one of Oscar's poorest attempts for a joke at the expense of Wagner's music - "It is so loud that one can talk the whole time without other people hearing what one says." - his casual mentioning that Dorian closely identified himself with the ill-fated knight from the eponymous opera is surely not accidental. On the surface Dorian Gray does look like an ordinary Victorian morality tale: if you lead a dissolute life, you will be severely punished. I don't think this is the case, though. For why does Dorian, figuratively speaking, end in the gutter? Simply because he tries, at least according to social standards, to be good and virtuous and noble and all that kind of stuff. He tries to go against his nature. Pretty much the same happens with poor Tannhäuser. The fool searches for solace and consolation in religion and God as well as in Elisabeth's saintly love, whereas his heart truly lies in the kingdom of Venus where an endless celebration of everything sensual in our nature takes place.

(To continue the opera thread a little bit, Mozart's Don Giovanni presents an interesting example of the opposite case. Or so, at least, seems at first glance. It is true that the rake, having led a fabulously dissolute life, is punished with a vengeance. But the important point to appreciate is that he defies all supernatural forces that demand penitence. Thus in the end Don Juan defies the conventional morality, too. And he is even more inspiring a figure than Dorian Gray.)

It is a tribute to Oscar Wilde's genius - unlike many others who boast about it, Oscar really did have genius - that Dorian Gray makes so absorbing and engrossing a read for somebody who doesn't in the least share his Beauty worship or ''Art for Art's Sake'' motto. For I certainly don't. For my part, Somerset Maugham's notions about beauty as a ''full stop'', a powerful and exquisite yet fleeting and useless sensation, are much more sensible. For Maugham ''Art for Art's Sake'' was no more than ''gin for gin's sake'', an opium for aesthetes and intellectual snobs, certainly not to be despised, but nowhere near an absolute value worthy of making life worth existing. There is nothing wrong with escapism as long as it is not the only way.

Yet, strangely, Maugham's and Wilde's notions have more in common than it seems at first glance, and they ultimately boil down to very similar things. For Maugham the value of art lies in the right action, and right action is the one that brings you closer to self-realisation. The only beauty he could praise highly later in his life was the beauty of a life lived to the full, which simply means one making the most of one's gifts, such as they are. In Dorian Gray, despite his completely different state of mind, Oscar appears to reach the very same conclusion, namely that no Beauty and no work of art are greater than the perfect life. Once and only once did Dorian betray his nature. He never had a chance for another mistake. This is an over-dramatization for the purposes of fiction, of course, but the parallel with the so-called ''real life'' is obvious, and just as relevant today.

Wilde's is a strange fiction: completely unrealistic yet, psychologically, remarkably true to life. Pretty much the same is true about Maugham as well; only he was far more realistic, although he never really was a realist, and his "major drawback" is socially dated plots, rather than deliberate artificiality. Indeed, Willie and Oscar would make an absorbing study in contrasts, and surprising similarities, but it is not here the place to elaborate on that.**

Finally, what about morality? Well, one of Oscar's most famous epigrams on the subject comes from ''The Preface'':

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

If I am allowed to paraphrase, I would say that the value of Dorian Gray can be distilled as follows: ''There is no such thing as moral and immoral life. Lives are well lived and badly lived. It all depends on the degree of self-realisation one achieves. That is all.'' Of course this is by no means all. There is much, much more in Dorian Gray to muse over. But this will have to wait until the next reading.

-------------------------------------------------​

* Compare with the following line from Somerset Maugham's play Caesar's Wife:

Why do we all call him Henry? Why does Henry suit him so admirably? If he had charm we would naturally call him Harry.

** Still, consider the following note Maugham jotted down in 1901. He was 27 at the time and still very much under the influence of Wilde's aesthetic views. Unlike "Art's for Art's Sake", this view remained with Maugham much longer, though late in his life it was viewed with some suspicion, too:

The only morality, so far as the individual is concerned, is to give his instincts, mental and bodily, free play. In this lies the aesthetic beauty of a career, and in this respect the lives of Cesare Borgia and of Francis of Assisi are parallel. Each fulfilled his character and nothing more can be demanded from any man. The world, judging only of the effect of action upon itself, has called one infamous and the other saintly.

Note on the Penguin Classics edition.

It reprints the revised version of the text, first published in book form in 1891 by Ward, Lock & Co. As pointed out by the editor, the major difference with the first version that had appeared in the Lippincott's Magazine on the previous year is the degree of intimacy between the male characters. All relevant differences between both versions are noted in the notes and the reader can judge their importance for himself. For my part, none of the changes alters the character of the novel: even in the ''uncensored'' version of the work Oscar has quite another fish to fry than mere homoerotic play. It is also worth noting that in 1891 Wilde added a great deal of new material. The 13 chapters of the original were extended to 20 (chapters III, V, and XVII to XVIII are entirely new, and the last chapter is split into two) and there are many other minor additions/omissions.

In addition to the many revisions of the original text, the notes also explore many of Wilde's allusions, hints, metaphors and other subtle ways to say more than it seems. Some charmingly obscure words are revealed as well. How could one know that "hautbois" means simply an "oboe"? On the whole, the notes are not too excessive to accompany the first reading of the book, although on occasion they do become irksome.

One silly mistake in the notes should be noted, as it is likely to slightly enrage classical music lovers. The nineteenth-century Russian pianist and composer who is referred to in the last note to Chapter XIV is "Anton" Rubinstein, not "Artur". No relationship with the great Polish pianist from the twentieth century whose name indeed was Arthur Rubinstein.

The contemporary reviews included in Appendix I make a rather fascinating reading. Most of them harshly condemn the book for being some kind of immoral and totally mediocre junk. More than a century later, it is just about impossible to see what so outraged the virtuous Victorians; even the bolder ''uncensored'' version can make blush only the most pathological prudes. There are, however, few reviews (one of them by Walter Pater himself) which are rather positive and praise the book for its power and atmosphere.

The two introductions are interesting and informative pieces, but both suffer from the favourite writing style of the critics: monstrously dry and appallingly high-handed. The best one can say about Messrs Mighall and Ackroyd is that they at least don't attach inordinate importance to the homoerotic hints.

The Chronology is well-done. The Bibliography less so. I am always dismayed when in such cases a writer's works are mentioned briefly with several collected editions and a much greater space is dedicated to biographies and, of course, criticism. Who is this book lover who would prefer reading literary criticism over literature? ( )
18 vote Waldstein | Oct 4, 2011 |
English (352)  Spanish (9)  French (9)  German (3)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  Finnish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Hungarian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (379)
Showing 1-25 of 352 (next | show all)
This is a fascinating book. No wonder it's a classic! ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 9, 2016 |
Read in kindle/Audible through Whispersync/immersion reading.

Fabulous one-liners interspersed in dialogue throughout the book.


"Like all people who try to exhaust a subject, he exhausted his listeners. "
"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."
"To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable"

Simon Prebbles narrated/performed the book superbly. 5 star performance. ( )
  nospi | Feb 7, 2016 |
Don't look at yourself too closely in the mirror or you might spot some wrinkles starting to crack through. Wilde's foray into horror is stupendous! ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
3* for me
I know it's a classic
Just not one of my favorites

Shelfari says it best
"This dandy, who remains forever unchanged—petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral—while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years" ( )
  pennsylady | Jan 24, 2016 |
My first thoughts were: What a delight it was to read such beautiful prose. The opening chapters are beautifully written and evocative. I read this on my kindle & found myself highlighting sentences and recognising various well known quotes. Oscar Wilde is quite rightly reknowned for his wit and perception.

The story itself is well known. The beautiful, unspoilt, Dorian Gray has his picture painted and whilst admiring it, wishes that he would stay beautiful forever and the picture age instead. His wish is granted and Dorian sinks into depravity knowing that he will remain the same and the 'Dorian in the picture' will become ravaged instead.

Maybe it's because this was written in an age where things were hinted at and we're now used to more explicit writing, but I found that 'nothing really happens' in this book. One moment he's beautiful and innocent, the next moment he's depraved and looking at a raddled image in the picture....we don't know what he's done, it's all hinted at and left to our imagination. I'm sure at the time it was all very shocking. Even now, it's a good moral tale but I found it quite disatisfying.

Once again I'm left wondering if it's the book or the format that I'm finding difficult. To date I haven't enjoyed anything that I've read on my kindle and I've struggled to read each book. In contrast I've flown through all the paperbacks I've read this year, except Great Expectations - which is slow going. I think I need to pick my next kindle read carefully, make sure it is something I know I will enjoy (maybe an Agatha Christie?) and see how I fare with it.

Regardless, I can still see why this is listed:
in the 1001 books you must read before you die http://www.listology.com/list/1001-books-you-must-read-you-die
&
in The Guardian's 1000 best novels http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jan/23/bestbooks-fiction ( )
  Cassandra2020 | Jan 24, 2016 |
This book started out with 3 stars from me. (Egads!) Two subsequent stars came along only after I'd sat with it for a bit (and ranted thoroughly about it). The work itself is a little like opium. The scent, the words, the depth and even the demise of it's characters being intoxicating as, rightly, any novel with gothic elements should be.

I think the reader can grandly sup on Wilde's quotable and quite revealing prose. I found the inversion of Plato's philosophy that an educated love of beauty, truth, etc. can beat out immorality to be intriguing and wonderfully wrought.

I might have wanted to sock Lord Henry one too many times, but I respect and admire how his character and the influence of said character upon Dorian is rendered. However, as mentioned before, I found myself ranting quite a bit about the annoyance and disgust I felt towards the characters as a whole or as individuals. This is definitely not one of those books to find many a redeeming quality floating about it's principal players. Which definitely serves its point well enough.

All in all, I loved the painted picture cast by Wilde's voluptuously wordsmith prose. I loved how much I hated the characters' sybaritic lives. I loved that it made me think and even draw out my dusty Plato knowledge from a humanities class that had rolled under a few ancient stacks of odds and ends in my brain.
( )
  lemotamant898 | Jan 18, 2016 |
This book started out with 3 stars from me. (Egads!) Two subsequent stars came along only after I'd sat with it for a bit (and ranted thoroughly about it). The work itself is a little like opium. The scent, the words, the depth and even the demise of it's characters being intoxicating as, rightly, any novel with gothic elements should be.

I think the reader can grandly sup on Wilde's quotable and quite revealing prose. I found the inversion of Plato's philosophy that an educated love of beauty, truth, etc. can beat out immorality to be intriguing and wonderfully wrought.

I might have wanted to sock Lord Henry one too many times, but I respect and admire how his character and the influence of said character upon Dorian is rendered. However, as mentioned before, I found myself ranting quite a bit about the annoyance and disgust I felt towards the characters as a whole or as individuals. This is definitely not one of those books to find many a redeeming quality floating about it's principal players. Which definitely serves its point well enough.

All in all, I loved the painted picture cast by Wilde's voluptuously wordsmith prose. I loved how much I hated the characters' sybaritic lives. I loved that it made me think and even draw out my dusty Plato knowledge from a humanities class that had rolled under a few ancient stacks of odds and ends in my brain.
( )
  motavant | Jan 17, 2016 |
Dorian Gray is a strikingly handsome young man whose beauty attracts degenerate aristocrat Sir Henry Wotton. Dorian's picture has been painted by a talented artist Basil Hallward and Sir Henry becomes desperate to meet Dorian. Sir Henry persuades Dorian to pose for a picture painted by Basil and during the painting sessions, Henry “educates” the young and impressionable Dorian about life. Sir Henry's obsession with youth and his cynical, materialistic outlook on everything begin to slowly affect Dorian. Dorian descends into a decadent world, where he commits despicable deeds while everyone else feels the effects. Lives are destroyed and crimes are committed but Dorian's self-indulgent and depraved life continues. The story takes a twist from here as the picture begins to develop a life of its own.

The novel is considered a literary masterpiece, complete with Gothic atmosphere and Oscar Wilde's understanding of human nature. It's seems just as relevant today where we are constantly searching for youth and our obsession with fighting age through youthful appearance. The Picture of Dorian Gray remains the symbol of the search for the Fountain of Youth, even though it comes with a tremendous price tag.

I thought this was a fantastic book and even though the language is very flowery, it's typical of novels written in the 1890's. Once I got into the cadence of it, I found the writing to be fascinating. I'm sorry I never read the book before, but maybe I needed to be older to appreciate the themes of beauty, morality and immortality. I think Wilde would be delighted to know that his book has been generating both good and bad opinions for over a hundred years. ( )
  Olivermagnus | Jan 17, 2016 |
Extaordinarily handsome Dorian Gray is the toast of London in the late 1800's. Artist Basil Hallward convinces Dorian to sit for a portrait as Hallward is totally captivated by the young man. During one of their sessions Basil introduces Dorian to Lord Henry Wotton a useless dandy who will have great influence over Dorian's life not always for the better. Dorian is quite taken with his portrait but immediately feels overwhelming sadness that his perfect beauty will never again be as exquisite as depicted on the canvas. He utters a prayer that he will always keep his youth. As the years pass Dorian's appearance does not alter but his portrait, which he has secreted in a locked room, begins to age. The painted Dorian's mouth has drawn up in a cruel smile, its perfect face has wrinkled and yellowed, the long slender fingers are gnarled and spotted. Dorian keeps the aging portrait a secret from everyone and quickly descends into hedonistic pleasures. Tragedies do not affect him any more than a gnat. Will the portrait continue to keep Dorian as the twenty-year-old youth it depicts?

I would have liked this novel more if I had liked any of the characters; what a horrid bunch of people they all were. People's emotions meant so little to them as long as they themselves were not inconvenienced in any way. They reminded me quite a bit of the characters in "The Great Gatsby" although I do think Wilde's cast is much more loathsome. On the whole it was a very interesting story but the character's incessant chatter became tedious.
( )
  Ellen_R | Jan 15, 2016 |
I think most people know the basics of this story. Dorian Gray wishes he could stay young and youthful forever. His wish is granted and he turns into a huge sinner since no one can see the proof of his misdeeds. Parts of the book dragged and the ending was very abrupt. ( )
  RachelNF | Jan 15, 2016 |
I don't really like Wilde's writing style, but I do like the book as a whole. ( )
  sashinka | Jan 14, 2016 |
This is the classic novel about a man who wishes that he retain his youth and beauty forever and instead, his portrait changes with age and with vice. When his wish is granted, Dorian Gray is free to live his life of hedonism guided by the influence of a friend that subscribes to the aesthetic philosophy that art and beauty are of paramount importance in the world. That one must experiences all feelings and follow impulses regardless of morals and virtues for the sake of art and beauty. This was an interesting novel, I learned a lot about some of the philosophy of the Victorian era and that of Oscar Wilde. I found it interesting that the character of Lord Henry often voices the opinions of Wilde and yet the end of the novel calls those views into question. I can't say that I enjoyed the novel, but it made me think about the society that it was set in and the views of the different characters. Overall, I would describe the novel as interesting, but not engrossing. I think it may be one that grows on me as I think about it, or after reading some other novels set in the same time period. ( )
  Cora-R | Jan 13, 2016 |
“He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.”

"We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account, and find good qualities in the highwayman in the hope that he may spare our pockets. I mean everything that I have said. I have the greatest contempt for optimism. As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested. If you want to mar a nature, you have merely to reform it."
Words to live by. LOL! This is surely the most quotable book I have ever read. I only chose the above quotes for a good giggle, there are many more pithy or profound ones in this novel. Besides being the most quotable book it is also one of the most misrepresented by pop culture. The movie adaptations tend to focus on the horror aspect of the book as if Wilde was a precursor to Lovecraft or something. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a more cerebral and allegorical than Hollywood would have you believe.

As with most classics I picked an audiobook version and where possible I opt for the free Librivox version over the commercial Audible one. I only require that the books are reasonably well read; this happens to be one of the good ones which I can recommend with a couple of minor reservations (more on that later). What I did not realize though is that Oscar Wilde wrote two editions of this book. The original was first published in 1890, and the considerably longer (and less overtly “gay”) 1891 edition followed in response to less than enthusiastic critics’ reviews. Any way, this Librivox version is of the original edition consisting of a mere 13 chapters instead of 20.

From the first few pages I was bowled over by the barrage of witticisms from Lord Henry Wotton who seems to have outrageous views on just about everything, and he can talk the hind legs off a donkey. Every “willful paradox” that comes out of his mouth is a gem. The first chapter alone is worth the price of the book (it’s free in Guttenberg e-book format any way). Oscar Wilde is famous for his wit and this book provides ample evidence, he did not so much write as orchestrated the language to create a work of art. The initial hilarity at the beginning of the book soon gives way to a much darker story and eventually culminates in a horrifying climax.

The central characters, like everything else in this book, are very well written. The artist Basil Hallward is decent, honest and kind (not to mention probably gay), the eponymous Dorian starts off as a naïve young gentleman and fairly quickly morphs into an infamous cad. As for the amazing Lord Henry, unfortunately for Dorian he is the sort of man who likes to talk people into committing all kinds of debauchery but never does it himself, as poor Basil points out early in the book.

I first read this book many years ago I remember liking the first few chapters very well but somehow when I first signed up to Goodreads I rated it at 3 stars as I was adding books to my bookshelf for the first time. For life of me I could not remember what the problem was. Well, I do now that I have just reread it. In spite of being extremely witty and hilarious at times this is not an entirely easy read; not because of the descent in tone into grimness, I don’t mind that at all. As it turned out the issue is only one chapter. If not for this very odd chapter the novel is actually quite easy to read.

I am talking about the lengthy Chapter 9 (1890 edition) which is Chapter 11 in the second edition (1891). This chapter takes place after Dorian has decided to adopt a hedonistic life style and reinvents himself as a very bad boy (but oh so elegant and well coiffed) under the wicked influence of Lord Henry. Almost the entire chapter is tangential to the story and consists of Wilde’s rumination on jewelry, embroidery, art and beauty etc. I dozed off a bit during this chapter (50 minutes narration, I am not sure what the page count is, 30 at least). I think Wilde should have placed it as an appendix, in fact after finishing the book I went back to read this particular chapter just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. There is a little plot in there somewhere but you have to stay awake the entire time not to miss it.

This audiobook version I just reviewed is read very nicely by John Gonzalez. My only reservations are that the book is set in England and all the characters are English while Mr. Gonzalez is an American, still, better a book well read in American accent than badly read by an Englishman. My other reservation is that there is a little bit of hiss in the background.

In any case this is a fantastic book and I will have to read the second edition before too long.

________________________
Notes: Free audiobook editions:
Link to the 1890 edition read by John Gonzalez.
Link to the 1891 edition read by Bob Neufeld.

For a hilariously unconventional review I recommend taking a gander at this Thug Notes review on Youtube.
"My man Wilde had to rewrite the book coz them publishers weren't chillin' on the bro on bro action!".
(Paraphrased from memory) ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic story that after reading it, it is more of a good idea rather than a good book. Dorian Gray is the ultimate narcissist, so much so that he makes a Faustian pact for him to be young and beautiful forever after he receives a portrait from his artist friend Basil Hallward. While his looks remain unchanged, the portrait becomes old and corrupted as he does terrible things in his life, starting with driving his fiancée to commit suicide after breaking up with her because of a poor performance on stage.

As I mentioned, it’s a cool idea but not a particularly good book. For one thing, there isn’t a single likeable character in the whole book. Dorian is agonizingly weak and shallow. Basil is soft and wishy-washy. His friend, Henry, is utterly amoral. When a peasant character dies, he’s not concerned about the man’s life but only that the man who killed him in a hunting accident will be considered a bad shot. The characters are thoroughly misogynistic and prejudiced. The novel is filled with long, painful conversations that seem to go nowhere and get old real quick. By the time I got to the end of the novel, I was glad that it was done.

Carl Alves – author of Blood Street ( )
  Carl_Alves | Nov 1, 2015 |
Took about half the book for me to "get into" it. Even then my enjoyment was a bit wishy-washy. The homoerotic under/overtones are the only thing really keeping my attention in the earlier chapters.
The ending was wonderful and the last third of the book was when things really got good. I greatly enjoyed the story. I'm not a big fan of overly moralistic stories, but Wilde handled everything really nicely. ( )
  benuathanasia | Oct 22, 2015 |
Oscar Wilde famously proclaimed that there was no such thing as a moral or immoral book, only one that was badly or well written. I would never say that Dorian Gray is badly written. It is full of pretty words, lush descriptions and witty repartee. However, it lacks a compelling central character. It, in fact, lacks any compelling characters. It works as a morality play, but not as a fully wrought novel. We never understand Gray beyond his shiny exterior. As I read, I kept thinking, "what a book this would have been if Conrad had written it!" Then I would think what if Poe or Hawthorne had.

When Marlowe sees the horror that had become Kurtz, the reader is deeply affected. Though absent for nearly all of the book, Kurtz becomes for the reader a man of substance, depth, at one time, of integrity. When Othello, Hamlet, Oedipus fall we mourn. While deeply flawed these men represented some level of worthiness. One does not mourn the destruction of a piece of frippery. From the start Dorian is nothing more than that. A pretty boy. He is vapid, callow beyond belief. His descent into turpitude is not affecting because he was really nothing to begin with.

As for the plotting, there are large chunks that could have been axed. The catalogue of collectors and collections gave Wilde a chance at heaping on gorgeous details, but bogs down the story. Gray's rumored depravity is too vague to be believed in. Granted a great bit of the novel was axed by the publisher and Wilde himself donor is hard to fault the author here. Yet, Stevenson is able to impress us with the abject hideousness of Hyde's corruption without being especially graphic. The plot only really becomes interesting with the murder of ---.

The two foils to Gray, Lord Henry and Basil, are really no more interesting than Gray. Basil the hand wringing moralist could have been the most interesting character. Lord Henry who plays Mephistopheles to Gray's Faust is a witty bore. How Gray could have fallen under his spell is mystery.

I wound not call Dorian Gray a bad book, just marginally silly one. It earns three stars on the merit of the last 1/3. Perhaps it should have been a short story. ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
Oscar Wilde famously proclaimed that there was no such thing as a moral or immoral book, only one that was badly or well written. I would never say that Dorian Gray is badly written. It is full of pretty words, lush descriptions and witty repartee. However, it lacks a compelling central character. It, in fact, lacks any compelling characters. It works as a morality play, but not as a fully wrought novel. We never understand Gray beyond his shiny exterior. As I read, I kept thinking, "what a book this would have been if Conrad had written it!" Then I would think what if Poe or Hawthorne had.

When Marlowe sees the horror that had become Kurtz, the reader is deeply affected. Though absent for nearly all of the book, Kurtz becomes for the reader a man of substance, depth, at one time, of integrity. When Othello, Hamlet, Oedipus fall we mourn. While deeply flawed these men represented some level of worthiness. One does not mourn the destruction of a piece of frippery. From the start Dorian is nothing more than that. A pretty boy. He is vapid, callow beyond belief. His descent into turpitude is not affecting because he was really nothing to begin with.

As for the plotting, there are large chunks that could have been axed. The catalogue of collectors and collections gave Wilde a chance at heaping on gorgeous details, but bogs down the story. Gray's rumored depravity is too vague to be believed in. Granted a great bit of the novel was axed by the publisher and Wilde himself donor is hard to fault the author here. Yet, Stevenson is able to impress us with the abject hideousness of Hyde's corruption without being especially graphic. The plot only really becomes interesting with the murder of ---.

The two foils to Gray, Lord Henry and Basil, are really no more interesting than Gray. Basil the hand wringing moralist could have been the most interesting character. Lord Henry who plays Mephistopheles to Gray's Faust is a witty bore. How Gray could have fallen under his spell is mystery.

I wound not call Dorian Gray a bad book, just marginally silly one. It earns three stars on the merit of the last 1/3. Perhaps it should have been a short story. ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
Oscar Wilde famously proclaimed that there was no such thing as a moral or immoral book, only one that was badly or well written. I would never say that Dorian Gray is badly written. It is full of pretty words, lush descriptions and witty repartee. However, it lacks a compelling central character. It, in fact, lacks any compelling characters. It works as a morality play, but not as a fully wrought novel. We never understand Gray beyond his shiny exterior. As I read, I kept thinking, "what a book this would have been if Conrad had written it!" Then I would think what if Poe or Hawthorne had.

When Marlowe sees the horror that had become Kurtz, the reader is deeply affected. Though absent for nearly all of the book, Kurtz becomes for the reader a man of substance, depth, at one time, of integrity. When Othello, Hamlet, Oedipus fall we mourn. While deeply flawed these men represented some level of worthiness. One does not mourn the destruction of a piece of frippery. From the start Dorian is nothing more than that. A pretty boy. He is vapid, callow beyond belief. His descent into turpitude is not affecting because he was really nothing to begin with.

As for the plotting, there are large chunks that could have been axed. The catalogue of collectors and collections gave Wilde a chance at heaping on gorgeous details, but bogs down the story. Gray's rumored depravity is too vague to be believed in. Granted a great bit of the novel was axed by the publisher and Wilde himself donor is hard to fault the author here. Yet, Stevenson is able to impress us with the abject hideousness of Hyde's corruption without being especially graphic. The plot only really becomes interesting with the murder of ---.

The two foils to Gray, Lord Henry and Basil, are really no more interesting than Gray. Basil the hand wringing moralist could have been the most interesting character. Lord Henry who plays Mephistopheles to Gray's Faust is a witty bore. How Gray could have fallen under his spell is mystery.

I wound not call Dorian Gray a bad book, just marginally silly one. It earns three stars on the merit of the last 1/3. Perhaps it should have been a short story. ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
Excellent illustration of the human psyche and the effects of status, money and arrogance. ( )
  JessLJones | Sep 10, 2015 |
Note to self: Try to read this again another time. ( )
  PiperUp | Aug 14, 2015 |
Upon seeing his own striking portrait, Dorian Gray is bewitched and offers his soul if only the painting will age while he remains eternally youthful. Believing himself incorruptible, Dorian indulges in a life of pleasure and excess. But what has become of his portrait?
  KunmingERC | Aug 9, 2015 |
There's something in nineteenth-century British literature that I am drawn to—there is a certain musicality or lyricism to it that I love, despite its inspirations often being delusional, fantastical and at times even fetishistic. So it is of little surprise that I found The Picture of Dorian Gray a sweeping read, and one that I had little dissatisfactions with, stylistically.

When painter Basil Hallward first sets his eyes upon Dorian Gray, he is a young, captivating soul of speechless beauty. Combined with his social standing, his allure sets his name aflame across countless of social spheres within England. The story begins when Basil makes Dorian his muse, and asks him to sit for a portrait that, little do they both know, will become much more than the painter's magnum opus. Lord Henry, a wealthy friend of Basil, quickly enters the scene, instilling in the Adonis a roaring, dizzying passion for life: “the few words that Basil’s friend had said to him…had touched some secret chord that had never been touched before, but that he felt now was vibrating and throbbing to curious pulses” (21). It is the whimsical, at times paradoxical musings of Lord Henry that transform Dorian Gray, whose adoration for his own portrait become the root of the story’s unfoldment.

This was my first proper exposure to Wilde’s work, and it surely was a pleasant experience. I do not know the reason as to why this was his only novel, but it certainly encapsulates his interest in the Aesthetic Movement (“Art for Art’s Sake”). Filled with a rather spiritualistic love for art, humor, and thrill it makes for a lovely (and easy) read, though it lacks the depth, the grittiness, that I was looking for. But this may very well be as a consequence of its loyalty to the values of Wilde’s movement, where art existed free of social, moral and even logical obligations. This novel lacks substance or a core, but ultimately our own conclusions, our own thoughts emerge out of it to appease our own sense of what good literature should be.

If you want to read more of my reviews, check out my book blog! ( )
1 vote themythbookshelf | Aug 8, 2015 |
I read it so long ago I don't remember as much than I do from the movie. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
Amazing. Review to come. ( )
  Diamond.Dee. | Jul 3, 2015 |
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