The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

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

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: dark

So apparently this is the only actual novel that Oscar Wilde ever wrote. And one of the great things about classics is the Project Gutenberg so I was able to get the book free on my iPad (thus the really fancy cover). In general, I don’t really like classics. I’m the sort of person who much prefers a good plot to flowery detailed language, so classics in general don’t really suit my fancy. That being said, I thought this book actually had a pretty good balance of both.

The book begins when Lord Henry Wotten visits his longtime friend Basil Hallward, an artist, and they discuss Basil’s new muse, a young man named Dorian Gray. Dorian has classic good looks and has sat for Basil a number of times. Basil is convinced that his art has changed for the better since meeting Dorian. Lord Henry of course is interested in meeting the young man as well. Unfortunately Lord Henry is a blathering, philosophizing trouble maker.

When Dorian meets Lord Henry, he is captivated by his “worldly ideas”. Henry tells Dorian that his youth is the most important thing and basically that he will never be as young or as good looking as he is that very moment. (Who cares about intellect or experiences or any of the good things you get out of growing older.) Dorian is easily influenced and lets this affect him greatly. He looks at the painting that he has just sat for and realizes that he has already grown older than he is in that painting. Dorian wishes that the painting could age and he could remain the same.

Dorian somewhat randomly goes to a shoddy second rate theater where he falls in love with the main actress, Sibyl. He adores her and returns night after night to watch her various performances. Eventually he decides that he cannot live without her and proposes marriage. He tells Basil and Henry and the three plan to see her the next evening in her performance. When they arrive, she has “lost” her acting prowess, realizing that it was just pretend and now she has a wonderful life to look forward to. Dorian is embarrassed and apparently was only in love with her acting in the first place. After the show, he tells her that the engagement is off and he never wants to see her again.

He goes to look at the painting and he realizes that the painting now has fine lines around the face whereas his own face hasn’t aged. He realizes that when he thought about swapping with the painting, it has somehow come true. He decides that he should right the situation and make amends with Sibyl the following day, but the next morning, he finds that Sibyl has committed suicide.

Dorian continues to do worse and worse things, never aging or looking as sinister as he really is. Eventually the mental stress catches up with him and he finally confronts Basil, blaming him for the curse of the painting. As he shows Basil the painting (the only person he has ever shown), Dorian kills him. He enlists the help of a previous friend to dispose of the body. (It goes unnoticed as Basil was about to depart for Paris when he was killed.)

He goes to an opium den that he apparently frequents regularly in the slums. As he is leaving, one of the women calls him “Prince Charming”–the name that Sibyl had called him. Sibyl’s brother, her only sibling, is in earshot and the name “Prince Charming” stirs a memory in him. He follows Dorian but relents on killing him when he sees that the man he expected is much too young to be the right man who killed his sister. James (the brother) goes back inside and the woman tells him that Dorian has not aged in 18 years (since Sibyl was killed). (I thought for a second that this woman actually was Sibyl and the suicide was a fake but it was not…)

James follows Dorian to his home and then follows him out to the country to a party he is at. James is accidentally killed by a bird hunter while he is hiding waiting for Dorian. This seems to rattle Dorian significantly, and he starts to tell Henry what happened to Basil. Henry obviously doesn’t believe him. Dorian tries to change his ways but the painting doesn’t alter for the positive. So eventually Dorian comes to the realization that he has to destroy the painting. He stabs it with the same knife he had used to kill Basil. In the end, he is the one who is killed and becomes old like the painting while the painting reverts to its original young portrait.

Verdict: 3 Stars

That’s probably the best verdict I could give to a classic. On the scale of classics by themselves, I think it would be one of the best I’ve read. I thought that the idea was interesting and probably very unique at the time of the original release. It’ll probably be another year before I read a classic so at least this was a pretty good one!


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Filed under 3 stars, Book Club, Book Review

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