The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

February 20, 2010 § 16 Comments

Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.

I almost cannot believe that this book was first published in 1891. That’s more than 100 years ago. I started reading this book without really knowing which era Oscar Wilde was from, but halfway through the book, and really enjoying it, I started to wonder why the language felt so easy, so fluid? I thought classics were books that took half your brain cells away with them!

The Picture of Dorian Gray is the story about how one man, so vain about his physical beauty, one day makes a spontaneous wish in front of his own portrait. Not wanting to have to bear the lines and marks of his sins and age, he wished that instead the portrait could bear those for him, that he could remain forever the same as that fateful summer’s day, and that the portrait instead should grow old and weary. Little did he know that his wish was granted.

Dorian is not really a character to love. He’s vain, for one, and doesn’t seem to think of anyone but himself. He lives a double life because he can. He can afford to drink and waste himself away, be mean and cruel, and still rest assured that none of that would show on his face or body. No one but himself would know of that terrible portrait that is turning more ugly by the day. As a character in the later part of the book says about Dorian, “he has sold his soul to the devil.”

Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed. People talk sometimes of secret vices. There are no such things. If a wretched man has a vice, it shows itself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids, the moulding of his hands even.

He looks at the portrait some times, and even looks for those subtle changes in his face; those lines around the mouth, or those crowfeet growing from the edges of the eyes. Then he compares the painting to the face he sees reflected in the mirror; a young innocent face, boyish and handsome, forever young. In some weird way, the portrait is the actual reflection of himself, of what he should look like, of what he has become, and yet the mirror lies and shows what he was before he made that bargain. The story is twisted, Dorian is twisted, and Dorian’s close friend, a Lord Henry is also a twisted man who was the main person to influence Dorian into what he has become.

But somehow, just like Dorian the character has a certain charm that seems to attract the people around him, he attracted me. He pulled me in, he tricked me, he flirted with me. He almost made me conspire with him, made me hope that everything might actually turn out all right for him. It was weird, because while I knew of the horrible things he’d done, he almost had me convinced that he could, maybe, be forgiven for them.

Who exactly was Dorian Gray? Was he an innocent man, victim only to his vanity, and sheer bad luck? Or was he evilness wrapped and disguised as a charming young lad? Did he deserve his ending?

It’s a story about physical beauty, about what we can see, about which parts of ourselves we show to others. But in searching the surface, we’re sucked right into the depths of our own souls, of our own principles and thinking. If we judge Dorian Gray for what he did and deem it immoral, or if we are unable to judge and say that it is ambiguous and all Fate’s joke; what does that tell us about ourselves?

Rating: 4.5

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Note: Oscar Wilde was a gay man, so this is also for the LGBT Challenge.

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