Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Author: Oscar Wilde
Release Year: 1890
Reviewed by: The Bookwyrm Review Date: March 7, 2014
Type of Book/Film: Fiction, Period/Historical
Synopsis: The Picture of Dorian Gray is a Gothic Classic published in 1890. It follows the life of Dorian, a handsome, charismatic young man, who when realizing the futility of time, wishes his portrait would age and bear the marks of his sins instead of him. What follows is a very Faustian affair, as Dorian loses himself in his vanity, selfishness, and hedonism, while his beauty and youth remain. Lord Henry, and his persuasive world view only drive Dorian deeper into his new life of depravity, and the artist Basil despairs over what has become of his old friend. His narcissism eventually drives Dorian to depths from which he can never escape, and the consequences are dire.
Setting: The book is set in Victorian England. This makes it all the more interesting as Wilde challenges the restrictive ideals of the era. Controversy surrounded the book when it was first published because of the questionable morality, as well as ‘contaminating ideas’ by Victorian standards.
Characters: Dorian is a complex character in that you aren’t supposed to like him, but you can sympathize with him. He speaks to the darker side of human nature. He’s utterly charming one moment and the next you see what a manipulative person he is and go back to despising his actions. I found myself nearly letting some of his actions slide simply because I had come to expect it from him. So while Dorian can be related to on some levels, likeable he is definitely not. Most of the other characters are unimportant save Lord Henry, who instigates the entire affair and can be devilishly persuasive, and Basil Hallward, who is the only one desperately attempting to save Dorian from his destructive ways.
Plot: The plot of this novel is fairly straightforward. There are no major puzzles or mysteries for the reader to dwell upon, instead allowing you to focus on Dorian’s emotional journey. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a book that uses ideas, emotions, and dialogue to wax poetic on human nature, and a complicated plot wouldn’t suit it. That being said, it’s far from predictable and there are a few major scenes bound to surprise you. It follows a very Faustian pattern, beginning with the fateful deal, then the gradual descent into depravity as the reality of that deal comes to light, and ends in a finale where the consequences are ultimately revealed. Once Dorian realizes he can sin without any outward effect on his person he casually ruins the lives around him in his own hedonistic pursuits, seeming to shake off any moral inhibitions without a second thought, but in the end those actions catch up with him. The end left me sitting with an odd feeling of hollow satisfaction and reluctant acceptance, which is more than I can say for most books.
General themes and special attractions: This novel touches broadly on human nature, but it focuses on many facets. Vanity, selfishness, accountability for one’s actions, aestheticism, and hedonism are recurring concepts, but certainly not the only ones.
What the reviewer liked: This is one of my absolute favorite books. The prose is gorgeous, the story compelling and it explores the many avenues of humanity, especially the darker ones. It’s a great social commentary that was extremely daring for it’s era, and every time I read it I find something new to enjoy.
- “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
- “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.”
- “I love acting. It is so much more real than life.”
- “I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”
- “It is perfectly monstrous,’ he said, at last, ‘the way people go about nowadays saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.”
Further Recommendations: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, Frankenstein, Various adaptations of Goethe’s Faust, The Invisible Man.