Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Review: 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde

'The Picture of Dorian Grey' is one of those books you will eventually hear of and desperately want to read. But, like me, there is a chance you will perhaps not find the time or get distracted by life before you are able to truly lose yourself in the London Wilde creates. But thank God for those quiet evenings where you are the only one still awake and you can sit on the couch with a glass of wine and immerse yourself in Wilde's writing and read the novel within hours. 
Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, his dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged; petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral; while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying, enchanting, obsessing, even corrupting readers for more than a hundred years. 
Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Grayis not only a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde’s fin-de-siècle world and a manifesto of the creed “Art for Art’s Sake.”
I greatly enjoyed Oscar Wilde's plays, which are such a perfect example of wit and intense scrutiny of human behaviour coming together. Wilde has an eye for character, which comes across perfectly in his plays. He wrote only one published novel, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and I couldn't help but wonder whether his writing style would work in this form of literature. In some aspects plays are easier than novels. The audience is aware of the artificiality of what they are reading, or especially when they see it performed. The reader approaches a play differently to a novel. Whereas we want to be swept away by a novel and want to believe what is written in its pages, we remain, mostly, on the outside of a play. We may sympathise with the characters, but we regard them rather than become them. 

I believe that, in some ways, Wilde suspected the same. Much of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is devoted to explaining the characters' moods and actions and feelings. In a play, you would see these through actions or perhaps through a soliloquy, but it doesn't happen often in novels that a character talks to himself for pages upon pages. An actor addresses the audience, and therefore the soliloquy works. A character, as such, does usually not address the reader. Therefore we know much about how Dorian Gray feels, or at least how he thinks he feels, but we don't see much action. Some novels are descriptive in the sense that they convey action and let the reader fill in the thoughts and emotions. Wilde focuses
 in on Gray and his soul and allows the reader to imagine the actions that contributed tot he decay of the latter. 

Much has been written about the context of the novel and of how it mirrors Wilde himself. Therefore I do not think I need to detail that, except to express a hope for Wilde that his life was not like Gray's. What I loved about the novel and what fascinated me was the way Wilde uses language to express emotion, desire and thought. His slight misogyny aside (I am not surprised he was gay, if this is how he thought of us women), Wilde creates beauty with language:
'Soul and body, body and soul - how mysterious they were! There was animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality. The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade. Who could say where the fleshy impulse ceased, or the psychical impulse began.' p. 71
or dispenses wisdom with it:
'To get back my youth I would do anything int he world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.' p. 238.
It is a true joy to read something so both ridiculous and true. The reader is very much at Wilde's mercy throughout 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. In some ways the plot moves very slow, too slow compared to the character development we see. On the other hand, years pass of which we only see or hear glimpses. However, when the final page has come, the culmination of everything has occurred, there is a feeling that you have witnessed something. We have seen youth and innocence be corrupted, we have seen Gray fight his inner and outer demons unsuccessfully, his largest corrupter himself. And throughout all of this, you have spend a great evening, resting on a couch with a classic in your hands.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

This novel is a true classic and very enjoyable. The many intertextual links are bound to get literature fans excited. For Wilde fans it is, of course, a must read. His talent is ever present and his talent for staging dramatic events makes it the best "Gothic" novel I have read in a very long time. 
Have you read 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?


  1. Ah...I enjoyed reading Dorian Gray too, Wilde wrote it beautifully. One of my fave Gothic classics!

  2. When it comes to famous authors books, Oscar Wilde is the most honored name. Especially this book is something out of this world.. Must-read book..

  3. Ridiculous and true...that's a clever way of putting it. Literally the story is quite absurd, but philosophically very poignant. Excellent review. My thoughts: http://tinyurl.com/yddrzl5e