Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian GrayThe studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn. 

"Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, where he is able to indulge his desires while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only Dorian's picture bears the traces of his decadence. A knowing account of a secret life and an analysis of the darker side of late Victorian society. The Picture of Dorian Gray offers a disturbing portrait of an individual coming face to face with the reality of his soul."

I just saw the world premiere of Oscar, an opera about the life of Oscar Wilde this summer, so I wanted to read one of his most famous books, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I had a copy of but had never read before. I remember picking it up once, but putting it down again for whatever reason.  Probably because I thought it was too overwritten. 

I have to say, I didn't love The Picture of Dorian Gray.  There were almost too many "profound" statements in it. Every other sentence was an opinion on life or Beauty or something like that. I mean, many of them were very intriguing, but it was almost too much for a novel. 

In some ways, these elements of The Picture of Dorian Gray reminded me of Fahrenheit-451, in which every other sentence is a metaphor or symbolism or a literary statement of some sort. For some reason, I really like that in The Great Gatsby. Here, it's not so charming. I suppose F-451 and The Picture of Dorian Gray do have some other things in common; they're both about a destructive and greedy society and the people who live in it, and I like both of the two books despite their faults. 

The story itself is masterful, brilliantly conceived and executed. There's such foreshadowing of what's to come, right from the very beginning of the book. The beginning was a bit slow, but once one gets into the middle of the story - the meat, shall we say - the book is very engrossing. 

As I was reading, I compared both Lord Henry and Basil's fascination with Dorian, a younger, beautiful man, to the almost neurotic one Wilde would later have with Lord Alfred Douglas, or "Bosie". And indeed in the introduction, Peter Ackroyd describes it as almost prefiguring Wilde's later relationship with Bosie. It was quite interesting. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray definitely had a very dark feel to it; the sins of Dorian are put upon his picture, so he's always the same, beautiful and young, in a sinister sort of way. The very first thing that happens to the portrait is that it gains a bit of cruelty to the face, after Dorian rejects an actress who he did love but no longer loves. He is very sorry, but it's too late: the portrait has changed, and the actress commits suicide. Later, Dorian gets less and less remorseful for every bad thing he does. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of those books that are really painful to read; the reader sees Dorian inexorably, inevitably heading towards his doom, because of that cursed portrait. And when it is broken, all of those sins come back upon the unfortunate Dorian. 

I would definitely recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray; it's an interesting and also entertaining novel, and very thought-provoking. 

264 pages. 

Rating: ****

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