I will get this out of the way: I didn’t originally plan to read this. It’s not for any class, but I had an idea strike me as though a bird had pecked at my window incessantly, an idea based around two figures currently in the public domain, but I had only read through one of these figures, and not with this one.
So, here I am.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I’ll be calling from now on Dorian Gray was one of Oscar Wilde’s few novels, and it drew controversy in 1890 due to the controversial nature of the story and the “morals,” or, rather, the lack thereof. The morals seen in this book, however, are still poignant today, and should be at least heard of.
The plot of Dorian Gray is pretty simple: Dorian Gray is a vain young man who’s image is constantly painted by Basil Hallward, an artist that sees Dorian as his muse. When Basil’s friend, Lord Henry (Sometimes referred to as Harry amongst friends) appears in Dorian’s life, Dorian learns of the finite time he has with his endless beauty, and in a fit of panic, wishes that the portrait would grow old, and would capture all of his sins of his soul, leaving his body in this youthful glow forever. After falling in love and then falling out of love, and then turning to the plenty of vices and pleasures, living the next eighteen years of his life in splendor and sin, without any wrinkle to his face to be seen.
Wilde’s writing style, as a classic, has a specific structure, chock-full of metaphors and lengthy dialogue. Unlike reading something like, say, the Odyssey, I was able to breeze through this with relative ease, which was pretty jarring to me. I’ve always struggled with the classics. I’ve picked Frankenstein up and then promptly put it back down because it just wasn’t captivating me. But this kept me captivated the whole way through. It was as though with each new chapter there were poignant dialogue important to everyday life.
A part of me wishes that I had read this when I was younger, maybe freshman year of high school, and then read it this year. It would’ve been an interesting thing to see, now with a slightly older pair of eyes, just how important some of these ideas can be. It’s almost a lesson in what not to do. In college, one is always presented with pleasures – drinking, for example. Yet with one drink, it turns into two, and three, and more, and you become this stumbling mess. There’s a part in the book where it mentions drinking, and how when one drinks, the true face is revealed. I don’t drink. I’m proud to say I’m eighteen years sober, but I recognize that in this book, it’s a cautionary tale of how seeking the constant, finite pleasures in life – such as alcohol, opium, or beauty – will not leave you happy at the end of it.
Dorian, as a character, goes from bright eyed and simplistic, to someone full of paranoia and stress due to the things he does and the portrait that sits in his attic, constantly adjusting and becoming more grotesque the more his soul sinks deeper and deeper into a Hellish life. In the first “part” – there’s not a specific “parts” section but you can tell the separation due to a jump in time – Dorian is deep in love with an actress, because she can put on whatever type of perception she wants for others. It’s so serene, you feel happy for him. Yet the constant mental beleaguering from his friends about his love’s appearance and her seeming inability to act pushes him to turn rash. It’s like Wilde is telling you, “Hey, you need to think for yourself, and not listen to those that want to wish the worst for you. Do what makes you happy, but don’t damage yourself or others in the process.” Gray is mentally self harming himself, and it’s really saddening to see it, as he could’ve remained blissful and loving for all of his life, had he not listened to the whims of his friends. It shows how toxic friendships can damage a person permanently in terms of their personality. I can think of times where it’s been good to have some friends that are genuinely good people – I come out great in the end, but I’ve seen people who associate themselves with relatively bad influences, and then they, well, become influenced, and it’s sad.
The setting of London in the 1890s feels very spooky to me. Combine that with my roommate currently watching Peaky Blinders, and my mind turning to Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate which all take place around this time has basically brought my mind to a time of Victorian gentlemen and ladies, I’m invested in the ideas and theming, and it’s at times like this that I wish more stories written today would be set back then. It’s ripe with legends and concepts. London here is depicted as being full of sin at every floor and in every crevice. Even a fancy dinner feels sour because of how bad everything feels.
I think that Wilde’s writing style would get confusing when it came to dialogue. There was the occasional three or so pages in which Dorian is having a dialogue with someone else and there’d be no “Dorian said” or “Basil mentioned.” So you’d kind of had to play a context clue guessing game to know who is saying what.
It’s a really, really, tragic tale. It’s a tale, in my opinion, very similar to The Great Gatsby. Jay’s love for a woman makes him brash and it ends in his demise. Dorian falls in love, then out of it, and then leads a life of pleasure, also ending in his untimely death. I really recommend this for fans of Gatsby. It’s one of the classics that I’ve genuinely enjoyed next to it, and I think that later on in the long life I hope to live, I’ll aim to revisit it, with hopes that my soul stays young while I grow wrinkled.
I know that this is a bit shorter than my usual reviews, but I really appreciate you all for reading through it! Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray? What did you think of it? Feel free to comment with your own thoughts!
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