So this week, I am looking over a book that is a favorite of a friend of mine at their request. It’s one I’ve read a few times now and each time I pick up something new from it. When it was first published in 1891, it offended a great many people and many claimed that the author should be prosecuted for breaking the laws regarding public morality. This week, I’ve been reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
The Picture of Dorian Gray tells the story of (suprise, suprise) Dorian Gray. One summer, Dorian Gray meets painter, Basil Hallward who, infatuated with Dorian’s beauty, paints his portrait. During this time, though Basil, Dorian also meets Lord Henry Wotton. Henry opens Dorian’s eyes to a world of hedonism. With his influence and a few other events that I don’t want to spoil for new readers, Dorian embarks down on a journey to experience every vice and sin that he can think of. Through plot magic, the portrait that Basil painted at the beginning ages and tracks the physical signs of his sins, enabling Dorian to remain handsome and young.
This story is a slightly strange one for me. I love the concept and all the stories that have been inspired or influenced by it. Yet there are just some aspects of this story that I just don’t get. For one thing it always bugs me that there is no better explanation as to why the portrait acts the way it does. Dorian expresses a wish to sell his soul so that the portrait age and suffer instead of him but there is no explanation as to why this wish is granted or how. It’s not a big issue and I know it doesn’t stop other people from enjoying the story but it’s a constant nag at the back of my brain while reading.
Another example, James Vane. In an attempt to keep this as spoiler free as possible, I’m not going to say what his part in the story is but will leave it at the fact that he doesn’t like Dorian and wants him dead. However, before he can really do any damage, he dies! Now, after this, Dorian does swear to try and be good and it lasts for about a week I think, so there is kind of a point to James’ death but every time I read it, it just feels like Wilde was going to have the story end one way and then changed his mind half way through. Again, it’s not a big deal but just leaves you thinking “really?!?”
However, those two issues aside, this is a really interesting idea and I can fully understand why people have been enjoying it for over 100 years. There are so many layers and ideas to be explored; love, beauty, morality and consequences, just to name a few. These issues are laid bare for you to examine and yet are discussed with the book such a way as to allow you to think them through for yourself without ever being told what you should think.
The language of this book is beautiful and the story is laid out is a very poetic way. It might not be the easiest read and I can’t say that it is one of my favorites but it is remarkably good and I think that everyone should read it at least once. After all, there’s a reason that it is a classic.