Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: Classics/ Fantasy/ Horror
Publication date: 1998
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” is Oscar Wilde’s classic tale of the moral decline of its title character, Dorian Gray. When Dorian has his portrait painted by Basil Hallward and wishes that he would stay young while his picture changes, his wish comes true.
In exchange for this Dorian gives up his soul and as he ages the bad deeds that he commits are reflected in his painting and not him.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray”, arguably Wilde’s most popular work, was considered quite scandalous when it was first published in the late 1800s in Victorian England.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only novel of the infamous author Oscar Wilde, and one that I find strangely controversial. I rarely read classics (like everybody else, don’t lie) but I was really looking forward to this one. It was mainly due to movies I’ve watched some time ago – the adaptation on ‘Dorian Gray‘ from 2009 and the TV Series – Penny Dreadful. And unfortunately I have to say that I was more interested in the movie adaptations than the book (and that says a lot).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I was mesmerized by Wilde‘s prose and eloquent expressions, by the concept and depth of his thoughts and ideas. I love the idea of the portrait that is supposed to capture the beautiful innocence of the young Dorian. And then, in contrast, the real version of the handsome man who loses his innocence and becomes cruel, conceited and self-absorbed. But that’s pretty much where the positives stop for me. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
The story revolves around the young, outstandingly beautiful Dorian Gray who poses for Basil Hallward (the painter) to have his portrait drawn. The main cast ends with sir Henry (Harry) Wotton, a nobleman with the affinity towards talking too much and inspiring people (mainly Dorian) to act on their primal desires, without regard for consequences, on every possible occasion. The whole book consists of scenes mainly between those three or two of them and in each of them it is repeated again and again how beautiful Dorian is, how pure and good, and how he should not ruin his beauty with intellect or morals (that’s Harry’s position while Basil’s is, naturally, the opposite).
When one night Dorian is staring at his finished portrait he makes a wish that he retains his beauty forever and in his stead the portrait bears the traces of age and wrongdoings in his life. And somehow, his wish is granted. Years pass during which Dorian lives a life of indulgence, duplicitous dealings and moral degradation and his face remains untouched by time, his selfishness or cruelty. All the while, his painting remains hidden away in an attic, growing older and uglier after every hideous act he commits.
I have never read a book where I’ve hated every single character in it. I’ve read boring books, silly books, annoying books but I’ve always found something to like, that being a character or a plotline. In The Picture of Dorian Gray I struggle to find anything that I can even tolerate. Dorian is so egoistic and self-absorbed that even the acts he thinks he does in favor of others are painfully obvious for the reader as the opposite – acts of selfishness and search of self-interest. Harry is super annoying with his ten-pages monologues that evoked the maddening need to stab him eighteen times. Basil, the only one with the hint of morals, was as dull as all of the other characters described him.
Along with the extremely slow pacing of the book and the rather uneventful plot, I had hard time finishing the story for over a month. I had to put it down at least three times until I finished it today and this rarely happens.
I know you’ll say I’m wrong or maybe I don’t appreciate deep, intellectual and thought-provoking books. Maybe you’re right, maybe not. The truth is that today’s reader is so much different than readers a hundred years ago. Decades ago reading was one of the few pastimes that can entertain and the world was much different, the ideals, morals, way of life was nothing like now. So it is only natural that readers and books changes with time – especially today when they have so much to compete with: movies, games, clubs, etc. Nowadays books must be entertaining first and deep and intellectual later. Sad, but true. And for me The Picture of Dorian Gray was anything but entertaining – there was barely anything happening apart from Harry talking out lout for pages and Dorian reminiscing about his looks, his belongings and his ‘loves’.
I gave this book 3/5 in Goodreads but after writing this review I realized I may have been too generous 😀 But I do know many people who would disagree with me and who are in love with the book for one reason or another.
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on The Picture of Dorian Gray?