Review of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Overview from www.bn.com: The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, and when he subsequently pursues a life of debauchery, the portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of ageing.
My review for this week focuses on one of the works of Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Surprisingly I had never read this novel before. I think in my high school English class we only read, The Importance of being Earnest. While I liked that one I have always been curious about the other one. Now I have finally gotten around to reading it.
The tone of this novel is much different from “Earnest.” Whereas “Earnest” was a little comedy, this one is much darker—it’s opposite entirely.
The story centers around the title character who is convinced by another character, Lord Henry Wotton, that being young and good looking is the best think for his life. Having just had his portrait painted by an artist named Basil, he laments that the picture will stay forever young while he gets older, taunting him for the rest of his life. It is then and there that he wishes for the portrait to age while he stays as he is in that moment.
Not realizing at first that his wish has come true, he continues on with his life. He eventually falls in love with and secretly gets engaged to an actress. However, one night, in fit of anger, he denounces her and declares that he no longer loves her.
When he arrives home that night after that episode, he discovers that the image on his portrait has been marred, presumably by his cruelty.
The next day, he laments his earlier behavior and writes the actress a letter trying to make amends. He later discovers that she has committed suicide which he thinks probably accounts for the change in portrait—not only does the portrait age in his place, it seems to absorb all of his sins. But our “hero,” if he can really be called that only becomes worse in his behavior as his anger and hatred consume him.
The story is brief (less than 200 pages) but interesting, I think. The idea that Dorian thinks that he is getting away with so much but really is “losing his soul” made me wonder what my soul would look like if it were reflected on a painted canvas in all its glory (or ugliness).
The character of Dorian however, is not that likable. He has his moments of remorse but on the whole he seems mostly selfish. When he does something wrong he always finds a way to justify it no matter how far fetched the reason might be.
And everyone who challenges him makes him angry. He prefers to remain shallow so anyone who tells him he is not “the fairest of them all” is a threat to his ego.
Though the story is interesting, the main character is not. I guess it makes more sense with the ending that Wilde has written though. Anyone else would have tried to mend their ways long ago so in that sense his main character makes sense, even if we don’t like him. Still, the story is worth a look. At least it won’t take you too long to read it.