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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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

by Oscar Wilde, Robert Mighall (Introduction)

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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.


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



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 (366)  Spanish (10)  French (9)  German (2)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  Hungarian (1)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (393)
Showing 1-25 of 366 (next | show all)
Unexpected twist at the end ( )
  siok | May 2, 2016 |
  MrsDoglvrs | Apr 24, 2016 |
This is one of those classics that I have wanted to read forever but really didn't want to have to read. Glad I forced myself. I think it is brilliant because of Wilde's ability to put the debauchery of man to pen in a fascinating story that just begins with a little art and vanity and ends in total self destruction. Dorian Gray's slip into wickedness, step by step, is totally predictable but executed in a completely plausible way. This book puts strength to the idea that a master writer is someone who can actually look at the problems in society and not only face them, but can write about them in a believable way, and in a way that helps us face them, too. ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
Art is not moral. What was he thinking? Truly his thoughts were as tangled as his character's sins. So much pain when we seek only to placate and amplify ourselves. Fascinating! ( )
  jnmwheels | Apr 3, 2016 |
read the book from our local library first, then borrowed the DVD to see the 2009 film starring Colin Firth and Ben Barnes
  frahealee | Apr 3, 2016 |
Littérature classique! ( )
  Gerardlionel | Apr 2, 2016 |
I could have skipped Chapter 9--Wilde just got carried away here--there had to have been an easier way to say "Dorian went nuts with excess and greed." But this is a great study in human character. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
I could have skipped Chapter 9--Wilde just got carried away here--there had to have been an easier way to say "Dorian went nuts with excess and greed." But this is a great study in human character. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
  zombiehero | Mar 25, 2016 |
Book Club #3 March 2016 ( )
  aine.fin | Mar 8, 2016 |
The novel begins with Lord Henry Wotton, observing the artist Basil Hallward painting the portrait of a very handsome young man named Dorian Gray. Dorian arrives later, meeting Wotton. After hearing Lord Henry's world view, Dorian begins to think that beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life, and the only thing left to pursue. He wishes that the portrait of himself, which Basil is painting, would grow old in his place. Under the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian begins an exploration of his senses. He discovers an actress, Sibyl Vane, who performs Shakespeare in a dingy theatre. Dorian approaches her, and soon proposes marriage. Sibyl, who refers to him as "Prince Charming," rushes home to tell her skeptical mother and brother. Her protective brother, James, tells her that if "Prince Charming" ever harms her, he will kill him.

Dorian then invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet. Sibyl, whose only previous knowledge of love was through the love of theatre, suddenly loses her acting abilities through the experience of true love with Dorian, and performs very badly. Dorian rejects her, saying that her beauty was in her art, and if she could no longer act, he was no longer interested in her. When he returns home, Dorian notices that Basil's portrait of him has changed. After examining the painting, Dorian realizes that his wish has come true - the portrait's expression now bears a subtle sneer, and will age with each sin he commits, while his own outward appearance remains unchanged. He decides to reconcile with Sibyl, but Lord Henry arrives in the morning to say that Sibyl has killed herself by swallowing prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide). Over the next eighteen years, Dorian experiments with every vice, mostly under the influence of a "poisonous" French novel, a present from Lord Henry. Wilde never reveals the title but his inspiration was possibly drawn from Joris-Karl Huysmans's À rebours (Against Nature) due to the likenesses that exist between the two novels.[6]

Dorian faces his portrait in the 1945 The Picture of Dorian GrayOne night, before he leaves for Paris, Basil arrives to question Dorian about the rumours of his indulgences. Dorian does not deny his debauchery. He takes Basil to the portrait, which is revealed to have become as hideous as Dorian's sins. In a fit of anger, Dorian blames the artist for his fate, and stabs Basil to death. He then blackmails an old friend named Alan Campbell, who is a chemist, into destroying Basil's body. Wishing to escape his crime, Dorian travels to an opium den. James Vane is nearby, and hears someone refer to Dorian as "Prince Charming." He follows Dorian outside and attempts to shoot him, but he is deceived when Dorian asks James to look at him in the light, saying that he is too young to have been involved with Sibyl eighteen years ago. James releases Dorian, but is approached by a woman from the opium den, who chastises him for not killing Dorian and tells him that Dorian has not aged for the past eighteen years.

While at dinner one night, Dorian sees Sibyl Vane's brother stalking the grounds and fears for his life. However, during a game-shooting party a few days later, a lurking James is accidentally shot and killed by one of the hunters. After returning to London, Dorian informs Lord Henry that he will be good from now on, and has started by not breaking the heart of his latest innocent conquest, a vicar's daughter in a country town, named Hetty Merton. At his apartment, Dorian wonders if the portrait has begun to change back, losing its senile, sinful appearance, now that he has changed his immoral ways. He unveils the portrait to find that it has become worse. Seeing this, he begins to question the motives behind his act of "mercy," whether it was merely vanity, curiosity, or the quest for new emotional excess. Deciding that only a full confession would truly absolve him, but lacking any feelings of guilt and fearing the consequences, he decides to destroy the last vestige of his conscience. In a fit of rage, he picks up the knife that killed Basil Hallward, and plunges it into the painting. His servants hear a cry from inside the locked room and send for the police. They find Dorian's body, stabbed in the heart and suddenly aged, withered and horrible, beside the portrait, which has reverted to its original form; it is only through the rings on his hand that the corpse can be identified.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Αριστούργημα ( )
  varsa | Feb 28, 2016 |
Maybe 3.5 stars. I really don't know that I'd recommend this one to anyone and I don't need to own it.

The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, and when he subsequently pursues a life of debauchery, the portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging. (From Wikipedia)

I struggle with books that have huge sections of monologue about someone's strange theories of the meaning of life. Yet there are some intensely boring monologues and descriptions in Frankenstein, one of my favorite classics of all time. So there is more to my disappointment than that. If we compare the two, Dorian pales in comparison in the area of character development. I find the monster in Frankenstein much more rounded than Dorian. I failed to see any true movement from the young innocent to what he turned into. And honestly I found Lord Henry more detestable than Dorian himself (maybe that's part of the point).

Needless tragedy is hard for me in a story. I found the same disappointment in An American Tragedy and Native Son, and those acts actually sort of made sense. It made no sense in this story - again, probably part of the point - but I don't get past such senselessness very easily.

Yet at the end, I was pleased with the outcome and enjoyed the meaning of the last chapter. A lot. It raised the rating for me. The message of the story I'd recommend. The book itself, not so much. ( )
  MahanaU | Feb 26, 2016 |
A moral thriller, this story tells of a young man who inadvertently becomes the owner of a portrait so lifelike, that it takes on the appearance of a looking glass into Mr. Gray's soul. No matter what Gray does, his own appearance changes little, but his bawdy lifestyle affects him deeper than he will know. ( )
  Ermina | Feb 25, 2016 |
I can say a enjoyed the plot of the book and that some passages shows the real soul of a true libertine, I think that the long speeches of Lord Henry Wotton makes the book a piece of filosophy more than a book of action. And for that perhaps I must admit that I might not be totaly ready to understand. ( )
  Glaucialm | Feb 18, 2016 |
How is it that I've never before read this book? What a masterpiece! A story that is fascinating and horrifying all at the same time. Oscar Wilde is brilliant! ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
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 |
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 |
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