The tale of a youth whose features, year after year, retain the same appearance of innocent beauty while the shame of his abhorrent vices becomes mirrored on the features of his portrait. (Summary from Goodreads)
I have been wanting to expand my reading of the classics and I thought I would start with The Picture of Dorian Gray. I knew the premise of the story and had watched the 2009 movie version starring Ben Barnes but I knew I was not getting the entire story, so I decided to read the book.
What if we could stay young and beautiful and channel all of the worst parts of ourselves into a repository for our sins? Well that is just what Dorian Gray does. I am an avid reader of speculative fiction and while the book hints at the supernatural (the painting) it plays only a minor role and instead focuses on Dorian’s life of pure hedonism.
Oscar Wilde’s prose is beautiful to read and adds such an air of romance to the book that every page blossoms. The characters are very passionate, not just in a physical sense, but in everything they do. Dorian in his quest experience all the pleasures of life, Basil in his pursuit of art, and even Lord Henry and his social experiments.
Dorian comes across as a self-centered and egotistical dandy, whose physical beauty keeps him popular in social circles even if his acts do not. Dorian is such an interesting character and I have to wonder, was Dorian destined to fall in such a way, or was he pushed? The opening scene where Basil is finishing the painting of Dorian and meets Lord Henry is, in my opinion, the pivotal point of the story. Basil and Lord Henry are the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. One pushing him to goodness and purity and the other pushing him seek only pleasure. It is interesting to think what Dorian might have become had he never met Lord Henry.
While Dorian’s story is fascinating (though the story did slog a bit for me at chapter 11 but picked up afterward) , Lord Henry is even more interesting. I think he is just as much a villain as Dorian. He moves through the book pushing Dorian to heights of excess and all the while never doing those things himself. He is like the drug dealer that sells but never partakes. He is content to sit back and watch events unfold after setting them in motion. He makes mention early in the book of his love of social experiments and I would say that Dorian is his greatest achievement.
Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray made to realise the plethora of classics that I have not read but would most certainly enjoy. I will certainly be reading more in the future.