Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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!

 


30 thoughts on “Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

  1. Great review. I was unaware of the existence of this masterpiece before I watched Penny Dreadful (featuring Eva Green, season 3 running now). It had the Dorian Gray character. You might know but there was a 2005 (I guess) film of the same name as the book.
    Great review again. And the quotes were masterly in themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oscar Wilde, the name is enough I think. Such a great writer so great quotes were a given, no?

        Penny Dreadful is good. I didn’t watch the second season completely but the first was standout. It has been written by John Logan (writer of Bond films). A friend told me the third season is great too.

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  2. Loved your review and loved the book, too! The movie with Ben Barnes (my love) as Dorian was lovely, too, as well as (as in the comment by bloggeray mentioned) Reeve Carney as Dorian in Penny Dreadful. Pretty much just love anything to do with Dorian Gray. 😁💕

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  3. I think I didn’t appreciate it enough when I read it back in college, but I do love Oscar Wilde’s writing, it’s beautiful and complex. As for difficult passages, I just remember everyone in my class struggling with chapter 11, which is the description of the book that influences Dorian greatly. It was a running joke for us. I admit having skimmed that one, because it was so hard for me to concentrate on all the descriptions! I think I failed this book and I need to give it a second chance, because I know that I will enjoy it more now.

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    1. Wilde’s writing is wonderful. I read this on my Kindle, and I highlighted a majority of the book. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts if you re-read the book and see if they have changed at all.

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  4. Lovely review! This is my favourite book – and I made sure it was the first book I reviewed when I started blogging. I love it so so much.
    There is something captivating about this book that has drawn me to reread it countless times. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it. Although it was published in 1890, it was some timeless lessons for us all. I hated Dorian for what he does to Sybil, and from there it doesn’t really get any better.
    But yeah, great review, and I’m so glad you liked it as much as I did!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I can certainly see why this is your favorite book! I’ll have to check out your review. I was surprised at how much I loved it – I was expecting to like it, but not to love it as much as I did. I will definitely be rereading this one at some point. The writing was so beautiful. Dorian’s speech to Sybil is one of the cruelest I have ever read. And then with Henry and Dorian talking together afterwards? My word, that was difficult to read.

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      1. The writing style is wonderful. Definitely one of the reasons I love it, but a lot of people think it’s too much.

        Yeah, that part really got to me. Sybil didn’t deserve it at all. It says so much about Dorian. I’m still not over it, and it’s been years.

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  5. This is one of my all-time favourite books, excellent review! There are two different versions – most people read the 20 chapter version, but i think the original 13 chapter version is the best one. Also do NOT watch the 2005 film, it is awful ☺️

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    1. Thanks! I read the 20 chapter version. Next time I read it I’ll try to find the shorter version. Did he just edit out a lot of the philosophical ramblings? Thanks for the advice on the 2005 film.

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      1. On the contrary – he wrote the 13 chapter version first, and was forced to rewrite it to make it more palatable to Victorian audiences 🙂 changes made include lengthening the time over which Dorian’s downfall took place, toning down much of the homoerotic overtones and introducing the entire character of James Vane (who, in my opinion, is the worst part of the book)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh my gosh! I hadn’t realized that!! Now I really must read that 13 chapter version. Interesting about James Vane. I actually liked him, but his ending was rather odd and a bit too convenient. I kept wondering if Dorian really recognized him while hunting and deliberately shot him, rather than the other guy. Wow. I really must read that other version !!!

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  6. This is a great book, and I really enjoyed your review. I saw the old movie from the 1940s as a child, and the horror of the portrait at the end has always stayed with me. I’m so excited to learn there is a version with Colin Firth as Lord Henry.

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    1. Thanks! 🙂 I’m glad that I didn’t know too much about the plot going in, so the scenes with Sibyl really shocked me when I got to them!! Now I need to watch the different movie adaptations. Should be interesting to see how the book is interpreted onscreen.

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  7. I didn’t connect to the story as much as other people have, but I do appreciate it and perhaps I will re-read it in the future.
    I am also very curious about how this book was received when it was originally published. Must have caused quite a stir!

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    1. I can certainly understand not connecting to this story, as much as I loved it, I know it isn’t for everyone!
      Oscar Wilde was a very brave man I think. This is such an important book, and I’m glad he wrote it.

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    1. It’s a very dark book with terrible characters. But it is definitely a must read! One of those classics that you always hear referenced. I didn’t really know the plot going in, just the basic “his portrait ages but he doesn’t”, so I was surprised by various plot points. It really is worth reading just so you can understand all the references.

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