Synopsis: Painter Basil Hallward meets young, beautiful Dorian Gray and paints his portrait. Dorian Gray is seduced by Lord Henry Wotton’s ideas about youth and beauty, and makes a wish that his portrait will age, while he himself remains young and beautiful.
Review: What a book!! Can I rate this book higher than 5 stars? Because I loved every word of this book. It was delightfully creepy and atmospheric. I cannot possibly do justice to this beautiful work of art that Oscar Wilde has written, but I will try.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a fascinating character study that makes you think. There is the young and beautiful Dorian, with two characters trying to influence him, almost an angel on one shoulder (Basil) and a devil (Lord Henry) on another. Lord Henry’s views on youth and beauty are fascinating, but oh-so-scary. One gets the idea that Lord Henry is just toying with Dorian. Spouting off ridiculous statements just to see what Dorian will do in response.
One day Dorian takes Lord Henry’s advice (manipulations?) and wishes that he could keep his good looks and youth forever, while his portrait ages instead. How the portrait is used as a window to Dorian’s soul was brilliant. And the logistics of this are never explained which I think is good. There is a sense of the supernatural permeating the book, and if the magic behind the portraits’ abilities was explained, I think we would lose that creepy vibe.
Dorian’s first “sin” is a horrific one. He is cruel and heartless in his treatment of the actress Sibyl Vane, and these scenes were terrible to read. Dorian’s cruelty hurt me, the reader, and surprised me, and this is a testament to the strength of Wilde’s writing. We know we are reading about despicable people (with the exception of Basil and Sibyl), but we are still shocked by what those despicable people do.
I won’t go into any specific detail about Dorian’s actions, many of which are implied but never explicitly stated. When the explicit actions came, I was surprised and horrified. Dorian is truly a despicable character on the inside, while looking beautiful on the outside.
Oscar Wilde has written a brilliant story here. I can only imagine the controversy when it was first published in 1890. I feel the book is still controversial now, with its ideas about youth, beauty, and pleasure, and our society’s obsession with that. This would be a wonderful discussion book, as there are certain statements made that everyone has an opinion on.
I do fully realize that this book is not for everyone. There are philosophical passages that I found fascinating, but many may be bored by these sections. This is a very unsettling book that makes you think. Some may find this book too creepy, too dark. Some may not like reading about such horrible people. I found it all absolutely compelling, and will read this book again at some point.
Bottom Line: I loved this book. It was creepy and beautiful and thought provoking. A true work of art.
My favorite quotes:
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
“Never trust a woman who wears mauve, whatever her age may be, or a woman over thirty-five who is fond of pink ribbons. It always means that they have a history.”
“One’s days were too brief to take the burden of another’s errors on one’s shoulders. Each man lived his own life and paid his own price for living it. The only pity was one had to pay so often for a single fault. One had to pay over and over again, indeed. In her dealings with man, destiny never closed her accounts.”
“I have never searched for happiness. Who wants happiness? I have searched for pleasure.”
Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray? What did you think? Did you dislike the book? Did you love it? My classics run continues with War and Peace, but it may be awhile before I finish that behemoth.
Thank you for reading!