The Picture of Dorian Gray
A so-so 3 out of 5
Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work.
The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it ﬁrst appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting inﬂuence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment.
Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic story and book I’ve been meaning to read ever since I heard about it. The story of a man who imprints his misdeeds into a painting of himself, remaining young while the portrait ages in his stead? That’s the kind of story I’d want to read.
At the end of it, the premise which was presented and story itself, traveled parallel up until the end and then it all felt to end abruptly – like a story that realised at it’s end, that it had reached its word count.
We follow the lives of three significant people; Dorian Gray the young beautiful man the story is based on, Basil Howard the painter who captures Dorian Gray, and Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian’s friend who is present during the painting.
The book begins with Howard’s meeting of Gray at a party, where the painter finds himself completely drawn to the young man, finding in him a new muse. He invites Dorian to have his portrait painted and during the painting, Lord Henry Wotton comes to visit. Gray and Lord Henry hit it off, with Lord Henry imparting new ideologies and philosophies to the young man… only the new awareness may be too much for young Dorian.
As Henry postulates and Dorian’s world is exposed to new knowledge, something occurs during that moment, forever altering the lives of all three men.
There is no denying that Oscar Wilde is a great writer. Descriptions are flourished with colour and sound, characters within their lives vividly imagined, all creating an immersive world; one can imagine themselves in those times, interacting with the people and exploring various locations as they would.
As a reader (and writer) who enjoys suspending reality long enough to appreciate the descriptions, there may be a few who might be put off by the long-winded writing. I personally enjoyed this style of writing as Wilde adds all senses into his writing such as scent (perfumes and flowers) to visuals (clothing styles, unique locations), all used to paint a deeper portrait of each character and their lives – including sub characters.
I may have enjoyed the writing and general story, but there were moments I felt unnecessary, descriptions that dragged too long, characters that didn’t really do much, and an ending that leaves much to be desired.
To be honest, when I reached the end of the book, I was underwhelmed and disappointed. It felt like the whole narrative was an elongated short story, or an incomplete novel. I was pining for more… sadly there wasn’t any.
The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in July 1890.
Did you know: Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially “The Importance of Being Earnest”.
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish playwright, poet, and author of numerous short stories, and one novel.
Known for his biting wit, and a plentitude of aphorisms, he became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day..