“the picture of dorian gray” by oscar wilde
i thoroughly enjoyed this and it totally met my expectations, even though it wasn’t exactly what i expected…. 🙂
dorian gray is a beautiful, blonde-haired and rosy-cheeked and above all innocent, young man and is the subject of what looks to be the best portrait that basil hallward has done to date. as the portrait nears its completion basil receives a visit from lord henry wotton who is instantaniously fascinated with basil’s beautiful young sitter – not least of all because dorian is utterly naive to his own beauty.
henry cannot resist the temptation to reveal to dorian just how beautiful he is and embarks on a long speech in which he seduces dorian with his hedonist idealogy which proclaims beauty to be above all else. dorian is fascinated by henry’s words, but they don’t fully hit home until basil finishes the portrait of dorian gray. when dorian sees his image he fully reaslises just how beautiful he is and henry’s perversion of dorian’s values is complete.
dorian’s wonder and joy at his image are short-lived, however, because upon discovering the value of beauty he immediately realises that while his portrait will remain immaculate and forever beautiful, he will grow old and decay. he is filled with an immense hatred and a very real envy for the painting and in a moment of desperation utters a fervent wish that he could remain eternally youthful and that the painting would age in his place…
old oscar certainly knows how to tell a story and i must say this is one of the most perfectly paced novels i’ve read. his pacing is particularly impressive considering that its a novella – as we all know, novellas tend to be either too short (should’ve been a novel!) or too long (should’ve stayed a short story!). as you roll into the last chapter you can feel that its the last chapter, and when the conclusion comes it just feels right. this takes more than just pacing, it takes that rare ability of being able to set a story up and follow it through and give the reader a conclusion that is satisfactory and right, even if they don’t necessarily see it coming. i love that in a book and a film, and it is something that i really appreciate (and expect).
the book didn’t start perfectly, mind. uncle oscar goes just a bit too far with all his paradoxes and platitudes. i like them as much as the next person and they invariably hold a truth, but temperance, my friend, temperance…
aside from that it was really cool. dorian’s transformation into the horrid creature he becomes (at least on the inside) is both subtle and thoroughly believable. i particularly enjoyed how slow his degeneration was. i also liked the way that the painting degenerated, which was totally different from how i thought it would change. my impression was that the painting itself, the fabric, aged and decayed – but it is actually the image of dorian that changes. and how. just thinking of it now gave me a chill! aside from the dorian in the painting aging and gaining wrinkles, it also slowly becomes evil, starting with just a slight sneer that creeps into the lips and the eyes.
wilde’s characters are well crafted and interesting. dorian, in particular, is very well written – so much so that the novel bears rereading just for him. he is incredibly complex and has many shades to his personality. the dialogue (once the paradoxes subside) is sublime and the best i’ve read all year. the characters responded to each other and i truly believed what they were saying – which, of course, made the gothic moments all the more exciting!
i’d certainly recommend this book, especially to those who enjoy gothic literature, although i must add that i don’t think that its meant to be really scary – i think its more of a psychological examination. it particularly reminded me of the tone of “dr. jeckyl and mr. hyde” and for the way in which it explores the darker side of morality.