I’ve had The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) sitting on my Kindle for years. I found a number of free classics on Amazon ages ago, downloaded them all, and then didn’t look at them again. But after finishing my last book, I wanted something different, and The Picture of Dorian Gray called out to me. I’ve also associated this book with an ex of mine. He was significantly older than me but aging very well, and I remember someone asking him if he had a picture of himself in an attic somewhere. Now that I’ve read the novel, I’ve realized Dorian Gray’s life is not one to be envied.
Dorian Gray was a beautiful youth. The gifted painter, Basil Hallward took a liking to him and used him as his muse. Dorian featured in many of his paintings until Basil decided to paint Dorian as himself. It was Basil’s masterpiece. Basil put all of his adoration of Dorian into the painting and worried that it revealed more of himself than Dorian. While sitting for this painting, Dorian meets one of Basil’s friends, Lord Henry Wotton. Lord Henry is something of a cynical asshole and he takes no time at all before be begins to corrupt his friend’s muse. Lord Henry makes Dorian realize that he will lose his beauty and wishes that the painting will show his age instead of him. Basil gifts Dorian his portrait, and it is delivered to his home.
Dorian wastes no time in falling in love with a young actress, Sibyl Vane. She is the bright spot of a small run-down theater, and she can’t help but love the beautiful Dorian. But once she’s in love, she loses her interest in faking love on stage. Dorian is embarrassed by her bad acting and says he never wants to see her again. Arriving home after heartlessly abandoning the woman he had professed to love, Dorian first notices a change in the portrait of himself. What I didn’t know before reading this book, is that the portrait doesn’t just protect Dorian from aging, but it also reflects the ugliness in his soul.
The book goes on in this vein. Although Dorian never explicitly makes a deal with the devil, he did give up his soul for his good looks. Lord Henry is the man that leads him down the path of evil while Basil tries to save him. It did bring up some interesting questions for me, though. Dorian blames the painting for what his life had become, but did the painting make him evil by allowing him to avoid some of the consequences of his actions? Did the painting also take away his conscience? Dorian did seem to care very little for anyone but himself. Or did Lord Henry make him evil with all of his talk? Or was Dorian just a bad, selfish person even before the painting?
On the whole, I found this novel interesting and well written. I thought Wilde did a very good job with his descriptions. I enjoyed the action of the story much more than the philosophical, rambling talks with Lord Henry and others. I sometimes had to struggle through those parts. Reading this book also made me wonder about Oscar Wilde. On the one hand, what would Oscar Wilde have been like if he’d been born in a different era that accepted homosexuality? Wilde was jailed and kept from his partner. That is tragic. At the same time, the book had a fair bit of misogyny and antisemitism. I also didn’t like pretty much any of the characters. It’s hard to guess the author’s attitude from a story, but my gut was saying I wouldn’t have liked Wilde in real life. I am intrigued, though, and might read a biography of him.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.