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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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21,63732361 (4.01)13 / 878
Waldstein's review
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 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 Tannhaeuser 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 the poor Tannhaeuser. 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 |
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Very witty and a great plot. A fair few monologues which are very well written but I definitely wasn't smart enough to follow everything in this book! ( )
  Tilda.Tilds | Jul 23, 2014 |
A very simple narrative, but Wilde embraces the prose and embellishments of the time. Quite pretentious for the modern reader with constant references to classic literature and mythology.

Very much of its time, but it has inspirid much modern literature and consequently has become embodied in our culture as a reference novel.

I would not put this onto a general reading list and would only recommend to academics. ( )
  johnny_merc | Jun 30, 2014 |
Dorian Gray is a beautiful and likable young man until presented with opportunity to remain unchangingly young. The influence of an immoral friend and the temptation to do wrong without showing any signs of his corruption soon prove too much for Dorian.

The most intriguing part of this story is the premise and it’s possible I would have enjoyed it more if each revelation of what was happening had surprised me. As is, I felt like there wasn’t much of a plot. There was a certain fascination to the beginning of the story, although it was a fascination I felt bad for, like I was watching a car crash. Even that interest want away after Dorian realizes what’s happening. The story becomes a lot of excessively specific descriptions of all of things Dorian collects mixed with excessively vague descriptions of what he’s actually doing.

Like many classics, the book was an interesting reflection on human nature. In addition to the plot itself, the characters have many conversations about morality and beauty. However, with no characters expressing a view of human nature I could agree with, I found those sections un-enjoyable as well. Despite the interesting premise, the book itself was turned out to be fairly bland and disappointing.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Jun 29, 2014 |
My first encounter with Mr. Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray has left me feeling my soul has been put under the microscope and I have been forced to look into those secret dark places that I keep hidden from the outside world. The language and attention to detail envelopes the reader and at times seems to go on for pages with no end in sight (the section on jewels and music for instance). I love this about Oscar Wilde's writing style. How deliciously dark and disturbing this book is. I am astonished it has taken me so long to read such a brilliant book. ( )
  allgenresbookworm | Jun 24, 2014 |
Q. What's Dorian's least favourite spice?
A. Basil.
* ba-dum cha*

Seriously though, it's an amazing novel. The world just needs to stop doing adaptations and focusing on queer culture IMO. ( )
  Inky500 | Jun 14, 2014 |
I would have given it five, because I loved the premise and the moral, but it took like half the book to get interesting. Great payoff though! ( )
  MeriwetherR | May 19, 2014 |
I will preface this review by saying that, while I am a huge fan of classics, I am not the hugest fan of pure horror. Thrillers, yes, but horror, no. Nevertheless, this book was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I hold in the highest regard, and since I've heard wonderful things about this classic, I gave it a go.

This is magnificently written. I didn't expect anything less, of course, being that it was written by Oscar Wilde, and I am a huge fan of some of his other works. The language used is rich and flowing with class and beauty. Although you're reading a book within the horror genre, his use of language is almost erotic in my eyes (although not in the way you are all thinking...). I adore his vivid descriptions of the men and the scenery involved, and it really does create such a strong image in your mind that you can picture yourself there without even thinking about it. The dialogue isn't choppy or clunky, and everything just flows together perfectly.

The only thing that let this book down for me, personally, was the plot. Obviously it's horror, and as such there aren't that many psychological twists and turns and figuring out whodunnit and whatnot, which is definitely the thing I like most about thrillers. I continue to admire his other works and rich tones.

This book is absolutely spectacular, it's just not to my tastes personally. Nevertheless, if you are interested in horror novels, I give this book my highest recommendation and I hope you pick it up. ( )
  kerryelizabeth | Apr 4, 2014 |
Despite a hasty bargain with his soul which left him perpetually youthful-looking, Dorian Gray was unable to avoid one heck of a midlife crisis.

I didn't like this book as much as I expected I would, but I did enjoy it. The description is lush, and there's some fabulous dialogue---to be expected from Wilde---some of which is almost entirely gratuitous (like the conversations between Lord Henry and the Duchess near the end), but it's so great, I didn't even mind.

There is a lot about the separation of the soul from the body and if it's even possible to have such a separation. At times, it sounds like a perversion of Buddhist philosophy, like when Dorian says to Basil, "To become the spectator of one's own life, as Harry says, is to escape the suffering of life." It got me thinking about what exactly the difference is between mindfully allowing emotions and physical sensations to go by and completely separating oneself from them, as Dorian does. Of course, the separation in Dorian's case causes him to abandon his non-physical self to corruption and degradation, which isn't really in line with Buddhist philosophy at all.

Dorian muses, "Beneath its purple pall, the face painted on the canvas could grow bestial, sodden, and unclean. What did it matter? No one could see it." What does it matter that our souls become corrupt so long as they remain hidden? But of course, it does matter, both in the book and in real life. There's such a focus in the book on beautiful-looking things necessarily being beautiful in nature (or that it doesn't matter whether someone/something is good or evil so long as it looks good). I think that Oscar Wilde is criticizing the focus on physical beauty and material excess of his own age; with our culture's worship of youth and rampant consumerism, this criticism easily applies to our own age as well.

There were a couple of encouraging bits, though, like when Lord Henry says, "The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists," which was encouraging to me as someone who, though possessed of many good qualities, has never been described as "delightful." It made me feel hopeful for my writing, if the converse is true. Of course, coming from Lord Henry, perhaps I shouldn't accept that as encouragement. He says a lot of things that appear wise but really shouldn't be taken seriously.

But I absolutely love what Wilde writes in the Preface about art and criticism:

"The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

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."

Next book I read needs to be a lot more positive, though. I think Dorian's incorrigible poverty of spirit may have been responsible for the very hopeless mood I was in all of Tuesday. ( )
1 vote ImperfectCJ | Mar 28, 2014 |
A great story that held my interest to the end, but I couldn't help but feeling that it's a stretched novella rather than a short novel. I think the same story could have been told just as well in half the length. ( )
  tim.taylor | Mar 25, 2014 |
Dorian Gray is a young handsome, wealthy man who is painted by an artist, Basil. He meets Lord Henry, a man that Basil thinks he will be a bad influence for Dorian; and he is right. After a conversation with Lord Henry, Dorian worries about the dissapereance of his young beauty in the future and he pledges for an eternal youth. As years pass by he does not age, but the evidence of his sins are proyected in his portrait which changes with each transgression. He hides the portrait in the atic but his mysterious behaviour and permanent youth and beauty begin to attract suspicion.
  lauragesc | Mar 24, 2014 |
It was an okay book. Not exactly a book that you'll love reading, it's not really something you'll never forget. An easy , classic read. It felt eerie, creepy in a way. I felt sad for Dorian. Maybe he was around too many bad influences (or just one). If he never met Lord Henry then things may have been different. Too bad for him. ( )
  krizia_lazaro | Mar 16, 2014 |
This is the only novel that Oscar Wilde ever wrote. Basil Hallward paints a portrait of Dorian Gray who laments that the portrait will never change even though he will age and lose the beauty of youth. In a strange twist, Dorian never ages, but the portrait ages and becomes grotesque with the signs of the guilt of the deranged life that Dorian lives.

In addition to the obvious symbolism about the lack of artistic movement, one of the best things about this novel is Wilde's wit. Full of aphorisms, the dialogue in this novel is funny, insightful, and paradoxical. My favorite quote was the bittersweet, "A poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of creatures." This reflects Gray who is really beautiful despite living a grotesque life, and I assume that Wilde would say that it reflects himself as well. ( )
1 vote fuzzy_patters | Mar 9, 2014 |
Getting a head start on getting through the 1001 books to read before you die list, Dorian Gray was next on my list. The premise of this book is that a young man states out load that he wants to be young and let the picture painted of him age instead.

For the rest of the review, visit my blog at: http://angelofmine1974.livejournal.com/68322.html ( )
  booklover3258 | Mar 8, 2014 |
This is the first Oscar Wilde I have read. Initially I thought it was the most boring and irritating thing I had ever picked up. The topic of oh my I am aging and I won't be pretty anymore bores me to death. If you haven't grown out of that attitude by 30 at the latest, you are not someone I want to read about probably. And 30 is rather late. And no doubt you would not want to hang out with me either, but then I'm not writing a book. I kept reading because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I ended up thoroughly enjoying it and I don't think I can say why because I'm not sure. (Maybe I need to grow out of my uncertainty.) The writing was captivating, as I should have known it would be, but that doesn't always make up for a bad story. However, the description of a sunrise alone was worth reading the whole book. Not the beautiful peaches, pink and oranges usually talked about, but the earlier black and white of dawn. I could see it and be there for it. I very much enjoyed the other topics in the book, specifically about projection, i.e. the painting of an artist can only be the artist's projection, as can the viewed painting only be the viewer's projection. Three and a half stars, but I will read more. ( )
  mkboylan | Feb 28, 2014 |
I’m glad I finally read this famous book. It’s easy to see both why Victorian pundits despised it and why Oscar Wilde claimed to be baffled that anyone would find it “immoral.” Maybe he was being disingenuous; after all, the most enjoyable parts of the book are Lord Henry Wotton’s devilish and highly quotable maxims. (Isn’t it strange? He talks just like Oscar Wilde.)

Rather than meditate on the famous fable-like plot, I'll offer up some nearly random impressions:

Most Wildean sentence: In the grass, white daisies were tremulous. I’d say white and tremulous are Wilde’s two favorite adjectives, and flowers are among his favorite props.

Regarding the flowers, two examples:

1. As Lord Henry preaches his gospel of hedonism to Dorian at their first meeting, notice how the bees plunge lustily into the flowers as if to prove that Henry’s doctrine really is a “law of nature.”

2. In the climactic Chapter 13, Dorian’s treatment of the flower in his coat demonstrates how cool and detached he is, in contrast to his doomed guest.

Then there are what I'll call the Edward Said elements, rife with capital-O Orientalism:

Turn to almost any page and you’ll find some sign of the plunder accruing to the elite of the British Empire. Where would our London gentlemen be without their Astrakhan coats, Turkish rugs, Moorish lamps, Chinese boxes, African ivory, ebony, tea, tropical flowers, Florentine furniture, or South American silver?

There are a number of “oriental” touches to Isaacs, the Jewish manager of a theatre frequented by “tawdry” East Enders. Our gentleman protagonists find it hard to believe that the two-legged creatures in the audience, although English, are really of “the same flesh and blood” as themselves. The Jew, of course, is assumed not to be, although he gets credit for being willing to bankrupt himself for the sake of Shakespeare. (Wonder how often he staged The Merchant of Venice?)

Ch. 16: The opium dens of London are peopled by Malays, “half-castes” and other “grotesque” beings from the fringes of the Empire, human objects with hideous, crooked grins and “lustreless eyes” that can flash red sparks.

The cover of my 1986 edition was no less monstrous, and not in a good way, so I'm glad Penguin changed it. Given the hundreds of editions of this book, which never goes out of print, it's unlikely that you will ever see this particular cover, so it's not worth belaboring how its every detail clashes with the narrative. I only mention it because it's frustrating to see a major publisher be so obtuse. If you happen to acquire a copy that pictures someone holding a candle up to a gaudily framed portrait of a red-nosed man, just ignore it. Tear it off and throw it away.

Notes: The endnotes in this Penguin edition are as good as the cover is bad. But do you really need to refer to them? You do. This is why: Dorian Gray moves in a world of 1890s fashion and fads, and terms such as “a Patti night” were bound to fade fairly quickly. And if you already knew a “Blue-book” from a “Blue Book,” you’re way ahead of me. Wilde also assumes that his reader knows which London neighborhoods are wealthy and fashionable, and which aren’t, but these facts have changed more than slightly since 1891.

So the notes are good; brief and helpful. Only one runs longer than a few lines, and that’s because Wilde insisted on including several stanzas of French verse in the novel. The note translates them for you.

P.S. I read this book in 2003, the year that Dorian Gray reappeared as a character in one of the American empire's fantasies, viz., The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It's a comic-book epic, transferred to film, in which we re-imagine the turn of the 20th century rather than face the consequences of our own actions at the turn of the 21st. Instead of a tragic hero, Dorian Gray becomes a sort of cross between Beau Brummel and the Terminator. The movie is ridiculous for countless reasons, but may be worth your time anyway. It's an artifact of, I don't know, something.
4 vote Muscogulus | Feb 22, 2014 |
Oscar Wilde's only novel, published in 1891 I believe, begins with the painting of Dorian Gray's portrait by Basil Hallward. One day, as Basil is putting the finishing touches on what he believes to be his best work up to that time, Dorian comes for a final sitting and meets Lord Henry Wotton for the first time. Admiring the finished portrait, Dorian expresses the wish that he could always look like that and wouldn't it be wonderful it the portrait could do the aging rather than himself. To Basil's dismay, Lord Henry introduces Dorian into his rather decadent circle and Dorian begins to experiment and indulge himself. Then he discovers that the portrait is showing the signs of his dissipations while he is not.

I had read this book once before many years ago but I had forgotten everything save Dorian's name and that it is the portrait that ages rather than the man. But there is more to the book than that. There is the relationship between the three men, the seduction of the young and beautiful Dorian by the 'world', and Dorian's fear of and fascination with the portrait. And there is finally the twist at the end. I didn't precisely enjoy this book but I do think it was worth reading and thinking about. However, for those who have never tried Portrait, there really aren't any likable characters and some of the attitudes expressed may offend some readers.
  hailelib | Feb 12, 2014 |
Although I'm not a fan of Oscar Wilde, I decided to make it through this book. Wilde has a way with words and descriptions of anything like no other author. He slowly built Dorian Gray into what he wanted the reader to see. It made me wonder whether Dorian was like this all along or was it the fault of his friend Henry. I trudged through pages of what I felt was too much detail, but in the end the book was worth reading. ( )
  DMYates | Feb 10, 2014 |
If I hadn't been reading this book for LT's online discussion group, I probably would have thrown in the towel and moved on to a book I actually enjoyed. As it is, I can now check this classic off my “I really should read that some day” mental list. That is just about the only plus for me. The book is short, but reading it felt like it took forever.

Wilde's prose is overblown and has a tendency to be somewhat purple. His major characters, well, about all his characters, are unlikable. Vapid, self-centered, spoiled, and quick to dismiss any inkling of conscience that might briefly come to mind. The relationships between the three main characters is downright creepy, more so that the tale of the portrait itself.

The version I read was a free Kindle version, and I don't know whether is was complete and unabridged, whether it was censored to protect our tender sensibilities, or how it compares to the original. At any rate, I read into it homosexual tendencies of the characters, and don't know if that was stronger or weaker in different editions. Gay men as part of a story would not bother me if they were not so immoral and, well, such self-absorbed twits, and if their sexuality had not been so shrouded in innuendo.

This book should engender some interesting discussions, so for that reason, reading it was not a complete loss, but I cannot say I enjoyed it. ( )
  TooBusyReading | Feb 9, 2014 |
Has a bunch of classic, witty lines and is a quick, simple read. It didn't completely work for me on the level of the plot, though. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
'Dorian Gray' is based on the premise that one's sins show on one's face and the old and ugly must be the most evil. I'm not sure how Wilde felt about the pseudo-science of phrenology, but the idea is not particularly new. There has always been an idea that criminals should look a certain way.

The book has entered the cultural milieu as being more about some one who keeps from aging - when: when we say 'he must have a portrait in the attic' when speaking about ,say, Morten Harket, it means he looks surprisingly youthful, not he must have a secret life visiting opium dens.

When a painting takes on the visual representation of Dorian's sins, he is able to fool the world about the true nature of his personality. People like to keep him around for his looks but no one realy listens to him, his crimes escalate and he eventually dies of ennui...

This book could have been pared down quite a bit. I got a bit tired of conversations and witticisms, most of which are spoken through the character of Dorian's corrupting friend Lord Henry and have subsequenty been taken out of context and printed on coffee mugs and T shirts. ( )
  dylkit | Feb 3, 2014 |
The story of a young man who pursues all that is pleasurable in life. The story begins with his having a portrait done and all his evil acts is played out in the portrait. Many different ways or facets can be followed in this book. Very worthwhile read. 5 stars ( )
  oldman | Feb 2, 2014 |
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

*****

Dorian Gray has become a major inspiration for the artist Basil Hallward. Basil persuades Dorian to sit for a portrait, but when the portrait is finished Dorian declares his jealousy. The portrait, he says, will never age, but he himself will get older. He wishes that the situation were reversed, that the portrait would bear the burdens of aging while he remained young. He thought it was an offhand remark, but then one day, after a terrible incident, he discovers that the painting has developed a cruel sneer around the mouth. And that is just the beginning.

This is one of those classics that I picked up through cultural references before actually reading it. On that level it was interesting to read and finally see the story behind the references. And because I didn't actually know much about it other than the general idea of the portrait, it proved very surprising, especially when Dorian murdered Basil, and when he tried to destroy the painting at the end.

I must admit to skimming Chapter 11, which contained lengthy digressions about Dorian's various interests and enthusiasms and which didn't seem to add much to the story, and I became cross with Lord Henry's constant need to turn everything into an epigram. Other than that, I quite liked the book and found it surprisingly quick to get through. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jan 31, 2014 |
READ IN ENGLISH

A friend of mine told me about The Picture of Dorian Gray and she is quite a fan of it. I wanted to read it as well, to see if it really was as good as she said. I enjoyed reading it. For me, it wasn't the best book I've ever read and there wasn't much surprise for me in it (my friend told me the story) but it was still interesting to read in my opinion. It took me quite some time to finish the book, but that hadn't to do with the story. It was also the first book I read online (instead of on paper) so I had to get used to that as well. ( )
  Floratina | Jan 23, 2014 |
It is a story that will question one's morality and beliefs. The character's cynical views on things were overwhelming and wordy at times. The author cautiously remind us how we can be influenced and persuaded to be immoral by those we consider friends and yet sometimes those who are honest and good to us are the ones we push away because we are blinded with sin.

This story reminds me why it's important we read classics. I can imagine long discussions or an essay being assigned for this story in a college brit lit class. Indisputably, everyone must read this book at least once. ( )
  nu-bibliophile | Jan 11, 2014 |
Approximately half of the sentences in the book are contrived paradoxes, mostly spoken by Dorian's friend Sir Henry, whose cynical, half-serious commentary Dorian took without a grain of salt. The author's beliefs about anything are mostly obscured in ironies. ( )
  krista.rutherford | Jan 6, 2014 |
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