Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: "The Picture of Dorian Gray" Classic a Month #2.2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
3 out of 5 stars

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. 
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

I asked a group of friends for a suggestion for a "romantic" classic for February and this book came up. Since it had already been recommended by another friend before, I decided to give it a shot. Now that I have finished it, I find it incredibly interesting that the first friend considered this a romance. Brief warning: my classics reviews always discuss the books in full, so if you haven't read it and prefer to remain spoiler free, please stop here! :) I read this on my Kindle, which had the boring plain cover, so I found this one instead. It was the most how I pictured Dorian (get it? "pictured Dorian"? I crack myself up).

This book is, in its essence, a story of the constant struggles between the soul and the brain. Sin and guilt, beauty and intellect, youth and mortality. It is also highly quotable, so I apologize for that in advance! A young man, Dorian Gray, sits for an artist named Basil and the two become close friends. Basil is enchanted and inspired by Dorian's beauty and creates his most perfect painting in the boy's likeness. He refuses to show it to anyone beyond his immediate friends though, as he is afraid he has put too much of his own soul into the painting and people will be able to read all his secrets. Basil's good friend, Lord Henry (or Harry as he is confusingly called throughout the book), insists on meeting the innocent Dorian and when he finally does, succeeds in turning the boy's head with fancy double talk and flourishing soliloquies. 

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. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also.

For nearly ten minutes [Dorian] stood there, motionless, with parted lips and eyes strangely bright. He was dimly conscious that entirely fresh influences were at work within him. 

At times reading this book, I wondered if Henry were the devil or a truly magical creature of some sorts, but it seems that he is only brilliant at putting ideas into people's heads, especially Dorian. After Henry changes his entire outlook on life and Basil shows him the true beauty of his soul, Dorian utters those magic words that make the story what it is..."If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that--for that--I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!" And with that the handsome, young man stays forever youthful while his soul shrivels and twists within the picture. At first he is horrified when he sees what is happening, but eventually he delights in his new freedom. Soon rumors are flying around about the perpetually young man who seems to bring shame to everyone he encounters. Respectable young men can no longer show themselves at the club, fine upstanding ladies are now rumored to be ruined. He no longer has any close friends, except for that rascal Lord Henry.

Henry's attitude towards women must be discussed as it is truly abysmal. But really, it's kind of laughable as well because we get little gems like this: "My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals." Henry's blatant sexism is counteracted by Dorian's love for women and his assertion that "women give to men the very gold of their lives." Dorian seems to be in love with the idea of love and most definitely enamored with his own reflection.

The story continues on, with Dorian living in sin (literally it seems, there are strong hints of homosexuality throughout the book, which was illegal at the time). He reaches his breaking point though, when Basil confronts him about all the nasty rumors. Dorian blames Basil for all his troubles and ends up killing him in his attic, after showing him the painting. He then blackmails one of his former friends into disposing of the body. But soon the guilt starts eating at him and after a strange conversation with Henry, who implies that he knows Dorian's secret, Dorian decides that he can't take it anymore. He'd rather grow old than be so corrupt. He gets it in his head that if he destroys the painting, then he will be able to live his own life again. But of course, it doesn't quite work that way. By stabbing the painting, he stabs himself thru the heart and is immediately transformed into the hideous man from the portrait and dies. And that's the end of the book.

I am too fond of reading books to care to write them.


  1. Haha i recommended it as a classic of the month, i wasn't the one who said it was romantic ;-P It took me so long to read this, because i had to put it down and read something else, because it's so dark and depressing at times. But it is amazingly written :-)

    1. I thought it might have been you! :) I did enjoy it, there are so many wonderful quotes in it, my Kindle almost ran out of yellow highlighter haha!