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Hi, friends! Thanks for joining me today; I’m so glad you’re here 💙. Today I’m sharing my review of one of my favorite classics: The Picture of Dorian Gray. I doubt anyone needs a twenty-first-century opinion on a nineteenth-century novel that’s been talked about far more and far better than I ever could, but I really wanted to share my thoughts!
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There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has the right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.
What is The Picture of Dorian Gray About?
The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel about one man’s moral deterioration when he discovers he bears no burden for his actions. He soon learns eternal youth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as his Victorian dream rapidly devolves into a Gothic nightmare. Wilde weaves poignant — and relevant — social commentary into his gripping tale about confronting our most formidable demon: ourselves.
Our story begins as Lord Henry Wotton presses his friend, artist Basil Hallward, to disclose the identity of the subject of his latest painting. Despite Basil’s reluctance, Henry gets his wish. Dorian Gray soon arrives at Basil’s studio. When he sees the portrait, our titular character grows envious of the portrait’s lasting beauty. As a result, he (unknowingly) curses his painted-self to grow old while he shall remain young.
Dorian takes his newfound immortality in stride, deciding to live his best life; that is until he sees the cumulative effects of his actions on the once-beautiful portrait. Is this truly a manifestation of his impropriety? Is it too late to make a change for the better? Does he even want to make a change for the better?
The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.
The Characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray
Wilde’s social status placed him in the perfect position to exploit his societal peers’ attitudes in The Picture of Dorian Gray. From Henry’s witticisms to Basil’s woes, Oscar Wilde creates an excellently satirical (and not necessarily inaccurate) time capsule of the era. Victorian England has likely never been done such a dishonor. Nor has it likely ever been portrayed with such candor.
Lord Henry Wotton
Lord Henry Wotton is a misanthropic, materialistic aristocrat. He would rather people have a good impression of him than an accurate one. Henry is the sculptor of Dorian’s moral degradation. What starts as a hobby eventually becomes an experiment to see how far he can lead Dorian astray. Henry is a nineteenth-century hipster of sorts; he manages to be both startlingly disingenuous and honest to a fault.
There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence… to hear one’s own intellectual views echoed back to one with all the added music of passion and youth.
Basil, like many artists, falls in love with the product of his work. However, listening to the truth of his words reveals Basil has also fallen in love with the subject of his work. Basil’s love so blinds him that he cannot reconcile the two Dorians: the one he first met, the one Basil captured in his painting, and the Dorian his cynical friend created, the one he sees before him now.
His personality has suggested to me an entirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style… I can now recreate life in a way that was hidden from me before.
… and of course, Dorian Gray
Basil represents all that is good and pure about the world; Lord Henry represents all that has the potential to be evil. Therefore, it follows that Dorian should represent the human struggle between these two natures. He begins as a naïve young man but quickly learns to exploit the benefits of his beauty once he is given the gift of eternal youth.
For a moment, he thought of praying that the horrible sympathy that existed between him and the painting might cease… But the reason was of no importance… if the picture was to alter, it would alter.
Should You Read The Picture of Dorian Gray?
The short answer is yes, the long answer is as follows:
So, as you can probably tell, I adore The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde packs so many themes into this novel. He discusses good and evil, the value of art, and its role in one’s moral development. My personal favorite theme Wilde explores is that of the personal consequences of emotional vulnerability. Knowing what we do about Oscar Wilde’s life, I can’t help but wonder if that is perhaps what he was getting at all along.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to read this book, I highly recommend it. It is probably one of the most accessible classics due to its length, but there is also an intriguing story on the surface with a whole lot more underneath — if you choose to explore that. There is also a lot about the artificial decadence of the age that is relevant to today. If you haven’t read a lot of classics, this is a great place to start. If you have read classics but haven’t gotten around to this one yet, what are you waiting for?!
Oscar Wilde’s first, last, and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, pulled me in with compelling characters and suspenseful story. It entranced me with poetic prose. even in moments where the suspense seemed to wane, I was enchanted by Wilde’s ability to describe such apparent mundanity with vivid language. The characters were at once lovable and loathsome; they were simultaneously relatable and repulsive. They shared my perspectives then revealed my prejudices.
I think I shall always be fond of this book.
You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.
Next on the Oscar Wilde Reading List
And there you have it: my thoughts on Oscar Wilde’s only full-length novel: The Picture of Dorian Gray. Have you read this book or anything else by him? If so, what did you think?
The only other work by Oscar Wilde I’ve ever read is his play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which I read in high school. Based on how much I’ve come to love The Picture of Dorian Gray, I wonder if it might be time to explore his other works… or maybe I’ll just re-read this favorite again 🙂.
I’ll be back soon with another blog post, so keep your eyes peeled for that! In the meantime, you can keep up with my reading on Goodreads, or follow my other social media. I’m @simplespines on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
As always: thanks for reading, and I’ll see you soon. 💙