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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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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.


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 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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Glad I've read this, an enjoyable novel with an interesting message. ( )
  cazfrancis | Dec 17, 2014 |
Dorian Gray is a beautiful young man in Victorian England. His beauty and youth have taken him places and afforded him many luxuries. During a sitting with a painter he rashly wishes he could remain young and beautiful all his life. This wish is granted but subsequently his personality sours and his morality rots away. With each passing cruel remark and act, the portrait grows older and uglier while Dorian's human exterior remains handsome and pure. Soon, Dorian cannot separate himself from the image that he sees on the canvas. The more hideous the portrait, the more violent his actions against humanity. It's a downward spiral with tragic results.
Wilde has a lot to say about Victorian society norms, but his tongue-in-cheek humor and wit thread through the evil demise of Dorian Gray with delightful frequency. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Nov 1, 2014 |
I'm not sure how to rate this. I read it long ago, and remembered a vague liking for it. Now, I loathe it, but recognize how well-written it is. The character who ruins Dorian with his casually-uttered philosophy, disgusted me, as did Dorian's compliance in his ruin. It's shallow, but I like the good guys to win, and here, the bad guy triumphed...and he did it without really caring all that much. Ick. ( )
  4hounds | Oct 19, 2014 |
First time I read a classic like this one. Didn't really know what to expect. Everyone knows Oscar Wilde by name and some quotes, but not many know him by books or by writing. His use of words is tempting and lures you in to read more and more and more. The theories about life and love are intriguing, yet so paradoxal. It truely reflects on how the mind of a human being works, changing your mind all the time and not really knowing what you want, who you are or how to act.
The life of Dorian Gray, where Beauty is portrayed as the ideal you have to follow, the ideal you have to reach, is of all times. The sins Dorian Gray is succumbed to, are sins everyone holds in them, as a tempting fantasy they will never act on. This is what makes this book universal and timeless.
Now, over 110 years after Wilde wrote the book, I can see myself in all of his characters: Dorian, Henry and Basil. It's one man with all of those paradoxals in him, portrayed by three men.
When coming to the epilogue, I found out that Oscar Wilde was born on the 16th of October. Suddenly it came to my realisation that today, the day I finished the book, the day I read about the end of Dorian Gray, is the 16th of October. Exactly 160 years later than the day Wilde was born. It makes me almost lyrical and a feeling of "this can't be coincidence" overwhelmes me. What theory would Henry make of it? What theory would Wilde make of it? ( )
1 vote Rosiers.Nicole | Oct 16, 2014 |
Enjoyed this book, quick read kept my interest. Didn't rate, couldn't get interested in it.
  Grandy | Oct 14, 2014 |
One of my favorite reads. Buy an expensive hardcover edition, it will be a treasure in your library for the rest of your life. ( )
1 vote DanielAlgara | Sep 26, 2014 |
Loved it and it was so different from the movie! It had such a strong message that was lost when made into film. ( )
  ChewDigest | Sep 12, 2014 |
Loved it and it was so different from the movie! It had such a strong message that was lost when made into film. ( )
  ChewDigest | Sep 12, 2014 |
I approached this book more as a classic I felt I "ought" to have read than as a book I was genuinely excited to read, but I found the story compelling, on the whole, and while I probably won't read it again, I'm happy to have read it once. ( )
  Katya0133 | Aug 28, 2014 |
What if you could look and be young forever? That is the premise behind The Picture of Dorian Gray. When Gray has his portrait painted by a enamored artist, he wishes to look like that forever and have the painting bear the years for him. Unfortunately, his wish is granted.

Although the book did start out slow and there are many pages of nothing but description, Wilde paints a vivid picture not unlike his young artist and leaves the reader with many philosophical parodies of parables from the lips of Gray's devil on his shoulder, Henry Wotton.

Definitely would recommend to someone who can survive the long descriptions and old English. ( )
  PhxDan | Aug 28, 2014 |
Shelf Notes Review

Dear Reader,

This is THAT book. The book that you know exists, you know you should read, you can even confidently say you know you'll enjoy it... but haven't read it yet. I'm in my mid 30's and I just read THIS book, the book that I know is the perfect classic for me. It has the creep factor, the large and thoughtful ideas, the punch in the stomach, and the shock value! ALL of this is included in your very own copy of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and yet, I had not read it yet. No longer! I can now say that I've read THIS classic that has all those traits I love. This wasn't my favorite "classic" book, but it surprisingly didn't disappoint. My expectations were completely met with this book. I wasn't overly impressed but on the same token, wasn't disappointed.

So if you're anything like me, you know the basics behind the story but I'll fill you in anyways. There's this guy named Dorian Gray, a wealthy young gentleman who associates with the aristocrats and artists of his time. He befriends a particular artist that develops a slight obsession with Dorian while painting his portrait. After the portrait is painted, Dorian wishes that the painting could hold all of his sins and his age. Why? Well, because of his corrupt and incorrigible "friend" Lord Henry. This man is despicable and corrupts Mr. Gray slowly and surely throughout the story. His first known "corruption" deals with convincing and lecturing Dorian on age and pointing out that this painting of him will forever be younger than Mr. Gray himself. So, from the beginning, we see Dorian as a nice enough guy, one who thinks well of others and has good intentions BUT he starts getting a little self involved (especially on his looks). So Dorian looks upon this newly painted portrait of himself and begins to hate what it represents... AGING! He wishes the painting could hold his sins and age and all of a sudden "poof", (we find out a little later on) this is EXACTLY what has happened. Boy, oh boy... could you imagine a gift more important than that? You get to live forever AND not suffer from your sins? That can't backfire can it? Hahahahaha.

Poor Dorian Gray, we see his slow descent into corruption, becoming an overall terrible human being. He becomes even worse than Lord Henry, which I would have never guessed that could happen. Without giving the ending away, I must say... this story has a lot going for it, SO many "morals". To delve a little deeper below the surface, we start to realize that Lord Henry gives us TONS of fuel to fire our inner rage. How can you not be upset when he acts as if women have no worth, the only person that matters is yourself and you shouldn't care about anything else. Ugh, so frustrating to read his lengthy horrible spouts of monologues. I think Arianna said it nicely, in her review of this book. She had a hard time liking it because the characters had such horrible qualities, and I completely agree with Arianna on this one. It was hard to finish the book because I hardly cared for Dorian by the end.

I still feel strongly about the depth of ideas the Author was trying to convey, so deep that I have a hard time describing what that IS. I keep coming back to the conscience and relating it to the "Pinocchio" story. Just like Pinocchio, Dorian has a friend that leads him astray (Honest John the Fox was the character who led Pinocchio astray). Pinocchio ends up being coaxed to Pleasure Island and we find out "IT'S A TRAP". This is similar to what Lord Henry does to Dorian with all his talk on egotistical philosophy, which ultimately leads Dorian to his own Pleasure Island (that magical place where you can be completely selfish and disregard the emotions of others). You want to scream at the book and at Dorian, telling him to STOP listening to Lord Henry and START listening to his conscience. At one point, the star-struck Artist comes to speak with Dorian and tries to warn him of this dark path he is going down (like Jiminy Cricket?), but at this point Dorian is too far gone and finds his help insulting. I won't go into what happens from that point on, this is something that you have to find out on your own. I can't say I really enjoyed reading the book per se, but I do think Oscar Wilde made a very large statement with it. I think this is an important read, it delves into subjects that very few books bring up (or none that speak too deeply on the subjects), I would most certainly recommend it as a classic and one not to miss.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug ( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
From a footnote of my book, I looked up Faust legion. Thank you Wiki.

It pretty much sums up the entire book. What happens when the handsome and wealthy Dorian Gray worries about losing his youthful bloom and will immediately look minutes, then days, weeks, years older than the just completed picture of him? His random outburst of giving his soul to stay looking the same as the picture was granted. Be careful what you ask for!

With the (mostly bad) influences of Lord Henry, a natural and encouraged narcissism, and a trigger point of the death of a potential bride, Dorian finds it necessary to test the limits of self-indulgence, a hedonistic lifestyle of the highest of the high (music, art, jewels, etc.) and the lowest of the low (opium, etc.). All the while, he blames the picture and its artist for forcing him to live such a life. How delusional and self-absorbed can a person become when they already have more in life than virtually the entire population?

Like many Victorian literature, I expected long, wordy descriptions. For this book, I additionally struggled with the put-down of women. “… no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.” Perhaps this is why I’ve known intelligent men who choose to love a woman because she is “simple”, whatever the hell that means. And “We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters, all the same. They love being dominated.” Argh, how crude. Despite efforts to place myself into the era and that this is supposed to be ‘witty’, I still find the verbatim words insulting.

The Longman cultural edition I have is highly informative with footnotes to explain references, including how this book was used against Oscar Wilde’s then-upcoming indecency trials. I recommend this edition.

Some Quotes:

On brains vs. looks – I laughed at this and then wondered if I should become dumber – kidding!!
“…But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid.”

On the power of words – perhaps this is why words can bring such joy and be so hurtful too:
“…Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”

On old age:
“…But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty, becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our sense rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were much too afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to…”

On influences – this sent chills in me in the worst way, knowing others have influenced me and vice versa, so controlling and brain washing:
“…Talking to him was like playing upon an exquisite violin. He answered to every touch and thrill of the bow… There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence… To project one’s soul into some gracious form, and let it tarry there for a moment; to hear one’s own intellectual views echoed back to one with all the added music of passion and youth; to convey one’s temperament into another as though it were a subtle fluid or a strange perfume: there was a real joy in that.”

On faithfulness – this was, hmm, interesting…
“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.”

On love and marriage – Bundy style perhaps:
“When a woman marries again, it is because she detested her first husband. When a man marries again, it is because he adored his first wife. Women try their luck; men risk theirs.”
“Women love us for our defects. If we have enough of them they will forgive us everything, even our intellects.”
“’What nonsense people talk about happy marriages!’ exclaimed Lord Henry. ‘A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her.’”

On the mind and body connection – if only it’s this simple:
“That is one of the great secrets of life – to cure the soul by means of the senses, and the sense by means of the soul.”

On experiences – this is different than anything I’ve ever read on the word “experience”:
“As it was, we always misunderstood ourselves, and rarely understood others. Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”

On the small things in life – this is sweet:
“…a chance tone of colour in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it, a line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again, a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play – I tell you, Dorian, that it is on things like these that our lives depend.” ( )
1 vote varwenea | Aug 4, 2014 |
When art itself kills its own creator there's no hope for redemption. Or is it?
For is it still art without a soul? Is art only beauty? Art for art's sake. And no one to tell the story. All vain, in vain. ( )
  henrique.maia | Aug 3, 2014 |
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 |
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