Friday, May 26, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My knowledge of Oscar Wilde was limited to his epigrams, and his fairy tales (The Selfish Giant, The Happy Prince, etc.) I had a vague idea that he'd lived a profligate life, but that didn't keep me from wanting to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. Maybe it should have.

The novel opens with Gray being painted by artist Basil Hallward. He is in the bud of youth and serves as a muse for Hallward, causing him to paint his best portrait yet. Hallward's friend, Lord Henry Wotton, wanders into the studio one day and meets Gray, enchanted by this perfect specimen of unspoiled manhood. He wonders how easy it would be to mold his character and begins to plant all sorts of half truths and sordid thoughts into the young man's mind.

It was at this point that I had to switch from the audiobook to the print version. Wotton's silver tongue and the honeyed voice of the book's narrator were too overwhelmingly convincing. I was hearing so many outright (yet wonderfully agreeable) lies that I was having difficulty dividing truth from fiction.

You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully.  When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will discover that there are no triumphs left for you. . . . Don't squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are sickly aims, the false ideals of our age. (p. 17)

It was easy to see how the impressionable young Gray became intoxicated with Hallward's hedonistic philosophy and plunged into a pursuit of worldly pleasures. His downward spiral was rather horrifying. Near the end of the novel, a few Bible verses were thrown in about reaping what you sow, but it was too little too late. I'm glad I can cross this off my Back to the Classics Reading Challenge once and for all. Not sure if I would recommend it. Wilde's writing is very, very good, but I felt emotionally and spiritually depleted after reading this title.

Next week, I'll be highlighting specific quotes from the book.



Barbara H. said...

I thought it was fascinating that Wilde claimed that the book didn't have any morality when it was full of moral implications. My review from a few years ago is here:

Jessica Snell said...

I tried to read this, more than once, as a young woman, and had to put it down each time because I got creeped out. I need to try again!