Home > books > “the picture of dorian gray” by oscar wilde

“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.

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Categories: books
  1. September 30, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    I can’t say that I’ve read much of Oscar Wilde’s but this does sound like a very enjoyable read. I have always found novellas easier to enjoy than (what I’d call) ‘doorstop novels’!

    The fact that we’ve never been as obsessed with our personal images as we are in the West today is widely accepted, I believe. The story’s questioning of morality with regard to the cherishing of one’s beauty couldn’t be more appropriate now, could it?

    Is the tone of the novella one of a cautionary tale?

  2. October 1, 2007 at 12:04 am

    What a great review JP! This is one that I have really been meaning to read for so long and that Megan has been trying to get me to read for so long too…it’s one of her favorites and Oscar Wilde is her favorite author. It’s one of those books that keeps getting pushed back behind something else. I really have to just read it! What I’ve read of Wilde’s (his complete fairy tales) I absolutely loved. His writing has such a charm to it.

    This one sounds like it’s certainly a tale that remains culturally relevant and I suspect it always will as beauty becomes more and more important. Ok….I’m going to read it!!

  3. Eva
    October 1, 2007 at 3:13 am

    I loved this review. 🙂

    On the other hand, that cover is so weird looking! Maybe it’s just me, but that chair has some odd curves to it.

  4. jean pierre
    October 1, 2007 at 7:21 am

    HARRY:

    while i like “doorstop novels” just about as much as i like novellas, what is definitely cool about the latter is that they are often more succinct. also, they have less embelishment, which, with some authors, is a very good thing! 🙂

    the novel certainly touches on (although i never thought of it) the self-centredness that we westerners have. and our obsession with beauty has only increased!

    obviously, with the issue of beauty, wilde is also addressing superficiality in general, as well as issues like hedonism, morality, as you said, and responsibility. the issue of responsibility is probably one of the key ones in the book!

    so yeah, i think its definitely very appropriate and, yeah, wilde writes it as a cautionary tale.

    CHRIS:

    thanks!! 🙂

    i know what you mean! and with all the books that you buy and all the blogs you get around to (i swear, almost every blog i go to, even if its random, has your blog on its blogroll! 🙂 ) your Gotta-Check-It-Out list must longer than most!

    and if you like wilde already, well, then you can just expect more of the same. like i said to carl, though, it is nice to keep bankers in the closet, just so you know theres always at least one good book waiting unread for you…

    its funny that you should mention how relevant the novel is… harry, above, said the same thing, and when i thought about it, it certainly is. but oddly, while i was reading it i just thought of it as a victorian novel.

    EVA:

    i’m glad you liked it! 🙂

    i’d never actually noticed that it was a chair on the cover – thanks for pointing it out! ironically the cover doesn’t look as weird for me anymore… imagine what it looked like for me before i knew it was a chair. 😉

  5. October 1, 2007 at 8:50 am

    This is one book I’ve been meaning to read for an age. And your review has persuaded me that it will be read. As soon as I get through the next few on my tbr list 🙂

  6. October 1, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    I really fancy reading this. I have read a couple of his short stories which I loved and I always meant to read more. You have just given me that final push I need thanks!

  7. October 2, 2007 at 3:11 am

    JP, this is one of my favorite books!! I love, love, love Oscar Wilde. He is just so witty! Of course, did you notice how many people kept “flinging” themselves on the couches! Cracked me up! I’m really glad you enjoyed it…..and it was a great review!

  8. jean pierre
    October 2, 2007 at 7:27 am

    FENCE & RHINOA:

    i’m glad you liked the review!

    STEPHANIE:

    yeah, it was insane! hahaha! 🙂

    its a great book, isn’t it? i can see why its one of your favourites…

  9. Nymeth
    October 3, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Wonderful review JP! I agree with you, this novel is paced perfect, and it manages to be everything it could be despite its length, which isn’t always easy to achieve. Plus there’s just something about his writing that I love…his books always have such wonderful quotable bits.

  10. October 5, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    I skipped most of this because Dorian Gray is a book I have read about a third of but have yet to finish and don’t want to risk any spoilers. I am glad you enjoyed it though.

  11. October 10, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    You are right, the characters were great. I would have enjoyed a little more graphic scenes but none the less enjoyed it very much.

  12. jean pierre
    October 24, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    NYMETH:

    thanks nymeth!

    and you’re very right… there’s just something about his writing…!

    CARL:

    i hope you enjoy it when you read it!

    RYAN:

    yeah, it is good, isn’t it?

  1. September 30, 2007 at 7:07 pm

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