The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) – Oscar Wilde


Four stars

Read Sep 17 2014 – Oct 01 2014

Dorian Gray, a handsome and narcissistic young man, lives thoughtlessly for his own pleasure – an attitude encouraged by the company he keeps. One day, after having his portrait painted, Dorian makes a frivolous Faustian wish: that he should always remain as young and beautiful as he is in that painting, while the portrait grows old in his stead.

The wish comes true, and Dorian soon finds that none of his wicked actions have visible consequences. Realizing that he will appear fresh and unspoiled no matter what kind of life he lives, Dorian becomes increasingly corrupt, unchecked by public opinion. Only the portrait grows degenerate and ugly, a powerful symbol of Dorian’s internal ruin.

Wilde’s dreamlike exploration of life without limits scandalized its late-Victorian audience and has haunted readers’ imaginations for more than a hundred years.

Another classic down, and boy do I feel so cultured! But on a serious note, I really am getting into classics over the guilty-pleasure-YA-kinda-trashy-but-I-still-love-it genre. Which is great, because they really do make you think.

So what was Dorian Gray about? Well, I’m not sure how many people saw the film adaption a few years ago (starring Ben Barnes, what a cutie), but I can’t really comment having not seen it myself. I guess that was just a way to have a good mmm over Barnes.

Dorian Gray is a superbly handsome fellow in his prime years – permanently. He doesn’t age or change appearance at all. Instead, he owns a portrait of himself, originally depicting him at 18, that ages for him. Along with getting old and wrinkly it also displays evidence of all the sins and crime that Dorian, in his wild and crazy and youthful years, gets up to.

The three main characters in Dorian Gray are Lord Henry Wotton, Basil Hallward (a painter) and of course, the eponymous Dorian Gray. Basil is the one who paints the portrait of Dorian.

Lord Henry has outrageous and controversial ideas (and one that did annoy me oh so much is his constant belief that women are useless and stupid and just decoration pieces) about the wonders of youth, which Dorian is greatly influenced by. Dorian falls madly in love with a poor and beautiful stage actress, Sibyl Vane, because of her amazing talent in Shakespearean plays. Sibyl’s brother is understandably wary of Dorian, and promises to kill him should he break her heart. After a whirlwind engagement, Sibyl claims that Dorian opened her eyes to real love, and that the stage held no passion for her after that, leading to an awful performance. Dorian falls out of love with her, and he ends it with her right after the show backstage. And no lie, it was a pretty harsh break up.

Sibyl commits suicide that night, and Dorian finds that his image in the portrait changed subtly, to show lines of cruelty around the mouth. Henry uses his wit and way with words to sway Dorian out of any guilt or sadness the day after Sibyl’s death.

So begin a tumultuous twenty years, where Dorian gets up to all the shenanigans that a exceedingly handsome boy can get up to, corrupting and ruining many of his societal peers along the way. This culminates in Dorian killing Basil after showing him his portrait – the portrait that was now changed to display the ugliness of Dorian’s soul. After the murder, blood appears on painting-Dorian’s hands.

Dorian gets away with murder (and is also responsible for the suicide of another Lord or whatever) and starts spiraling out of control. Sibyl’s brother discovers the identity of Dorian and attempts to kill him, but is foiled when he is accidentally shot. Dorian realises he is free, and resolves to be a better person. He tries to make up for his past actions but realises that he is still in fact atoning out of selfishness and fear, and not for a “good” reason at all.

Dorian wants to get rid of his conscience and so stabs the portrait that he kept hidden in a room. The household hears a cry, and upon entering the room find a decrepit corpse (who they identified as Dorian by his rings) and an intact portrait showing Dorian’s former beauty.

Despite being written more than two centuries ago, Dorian Gray was an easy read. The characters were interesting, the dialogue was snappy and there wasn’t too much description drivel that usually bores me to death. Except for the transition chapter in the middle of the book – was that one hard to struggle through.

I do wonder whether Dorian actually meant to kill himself (if he knew or suspected that destroying the painting would destroy himself) or if he wanted to cover up his crimes by hiding the evidence. I personally like the latter.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Alannah82 says:

    The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite ever novels. Thanks for reminding me to give it a new read again.


    1. Cat says:

      Some of my friends had to read it in high school and hated it, so I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was!


      1. Alannah82 says:

        It is quite a good read indeed 🙂


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