Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I have settled on re-reading one of my fav books of all time….The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

I decided to read Dorian Gray for the Gothic Reading Challenge, I had it on my list to read for both the Gothic Reading Challenge and the Victorian Literature Challenge but decided to use it for the Gothic Challenge since I am in a ‘dark’ mood with all the madness happening…..why not have madness in my literature too LOL.

Oscar Wilde is one of my most fav authors, he literally just didn’t care who he made mad and wrote about what he loved….he is eccentric, carismatic, and philosophical in his writing style, I just cannot get enough Wilde :).

In Dorian Grey, we as readers are introduced to many “monstrous” sides of vanity and pride. We first met protagonist, Dorian Gray, as a naive young man who is gentle and kind. He is oblivious to the idea of age, maturity and growing “old”. The story focuses on the moral disintegration of Dorian which of course is a metaphor for the Victorian/Gothic era….the who era is about ‘darkness’, moral corruption, and the ‘daemons’ in us all. 

After his conversation with Harry at Basil’s house, Dorian becomes more aware that he is growing older everyday. Harry uses Dorian’s “fear” as almost an experiment to see what would happen if Dorian was shown how naive he truly was. Harry uses this experiment, because he is bored and simply wanted to see Dorian’s reaction.

Harry points out how much youth Dorian has in chapter two, “You, Mr. Grey, you yourself, in your rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood, you have had passions that have made you afraid, thoughts that fill you with terror, day-dreams and sleeping dreams whose mere memory might stain your cheek with shame” (21). Dorian ponders what Harry has said and realizes Harry is right. Harry also realizes the stubble change in Dorian’s facial expression and gives him a “subtle smile” and knew it was the “right moment to say nothing” (22) but let Dorian figure out the meaning of his words. Here we see a shift in Dorian which prepares us for what is to come. A young man being easily influenced by a man older than him who is exciting and persuasive.

Basil finally has completes the painting and gives it to Dorian, Dorian suddenly realizes that the painting will forever be young, naive, and beautiful while he shall grow old and ugly. He prays that the painting should grow old instead and he would forever remain youthful and beautiful. This is the first moment where we know Dorian will never be the same. He is uncharacteristically upset and out of sorts, Harry has gotten to him. Basil is rather taken back by this and tries to brush off Dorian’s rashness however Dorian continues on his rant, “Lord Henry Wotton is perfectly right. Youth is the only thing worth having. When I find that I am old I will kill myself” (28).

Vanity, or beauty, can also be interpreted as pride on Dorian’s part. We see Dorian becoming prideful in his appearance and as well as in his life. Dorian meets a young woman, Sybil who Dorian sees as an amazing actress, however one fateful night, Dorian sees she is not. He is so prideful and embarrassed by her lack of skills so he rejects Sybil’s love and is very cruel to her. Here we are first introduced to the “magical” painting. When Dorian returns home he discovers the impulsive promise he made at Basil’s that fateful day has come true and the painting is bearing all the visible markers of his sins (wrinkles and old age). At first Dorian is bothered by this, he tries to convince himself the painting is playing tricks on him, but  then Dorian seems to think this is a brilliant “he portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all” (102).

Dorian was purposely trying to defile his picture and it seems to be almost a game to him. He would sin as many times as he could and do evil things and run back and see the effect on the portrait. While we see the character corruption of Dorian, no one can see the physical toll it is taking on him, which is the way Dorian wants it. He is taking pride in his actions and magically youthful face. He uses these assets to his advantage.

As the book goes on, we see how pride is taking over Dorian’s personality and it truly becomes a deadly sin. Having felt real concern for Dorian Basil came to visit him one night and try to reach out and help Dorian, or at least discover the truth of the rumors he has heard. Dorian tells Basil “I love scandals about other people, but scandals about myself don’t interest me” (143). Dorian is mocking the rumors and at the same time, begging for more since he almost knows his soul is safely hidden.

Dorian has sold his soul to the devil, or to the painting in this case, to remain beautiful and young. He is willing to sacrifice his friends and his morals in order to remain youthful. Here we see how  Harry’s experiment has gone dreadfully wrong. He just planted the seed of wonder in Dorian, however he did not create the evil within Dorian, Dorian’s pride and vanity did that it self, Harry’s suggestions did lay the foundation however. Dorian goes through a series of emotions and seems to become more paranoid and disenchanted with the portrait. He is haunted by his “sin”, Dorian desperately tries to cover up Basil’s murder and his involvement. Dorian is in denial about his soul. He knows that the soul is “dying” but he doesn’t want to see the evidence one his face everyday in the mirror, it is just easier to lock it away and not thing about it. He does not care about anyone else, or his soul, as long as he looks good and live his life any way they he chooses.

In this story there are many horrible things, but the thing which stood out most in my mind was human actions due to vanity/pride. Not only was Dorian vain, he was also cowardly, evil, uncaring, inconsiderate, and greedy. He hid his soul from view of the world and did other cowardly things such as ridiculing Sybil, killing Basil and luring a young girl only to leave her broken hearted. Dorian did not care if he had a great friend like Basil who was just trying to look out for him and help him he thought only of himself. Dorian was rotten in the core from his pride, but a shiny apple to the world because of his beauty, but like a rotten apple, one bite and one will know it is bad regardless of ascetics.

I think this book had an excellent way of showing how pride can eat away at one’s soul. It is truly the most deadly sin.

I love the darkness and the ‘despair’ feeling….I also love the ‘old foggy London’ feel in this book….it’s like I can close my eyes and feel the damp streets and the mist rolling in off the Themes….it’s really great example of Gothic lit.

I would highly recommend this book to Gothic lit fans….not only is this book a classic, it is also a Gothic classic. It was an enjoyable story that really grabs you and sucks you in.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

  • ebook
  • Published (first published 1890)

This book counts toward: Gothic Reading Challenge

Recommendation: 5 out of 5 (Amazing and a classic for Gothic lit fans!)

Genre: Classics, Gothic Literature, Victorian Literature, Historic Fiction, Gaslight Fiction

Memorable lines/quotes: 

Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes

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