Posted in Book Reviews

The Picture of Dorian Gray – A Classic For A Reason (Despite A Couple Of Issues)

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

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.

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6 thoughts on “The Picture of Dorian Gray – A Classic For A Reason (Despite A Couple Of Issues)

  1. Interesting comments. I am an avid Dorian Gray fan myself, but it’s always interesting to hear other people’s perspectives.

    With respect to the lack of explanation – I feel like maybe that’s a preference thing? There are many horror/supernatural/fantasy novels that explain how something is possible in great detail, and then there are many that don’t explain how, at all. For these latter novels, a thing just IS. I think both manners of storytelling are fine, but would not be surprised if readers tend to like one more than the other.

    I went to a talk of Audrey Niffeneger’s once, where she talked about The Time Traveller’s Wife. One of the most difficult things, she said, was the HOW. How does Henry travel through time? How to explain that to the readers, while keeping the writing flow, while not interrupting the story? And then, she realized that she didn’t have to. It was a biological thing that she didn’t need to explicate in great detail.

    Yet some authors would have explained every detail of how the time travel occurred, and those stories could be equally well written and vivid and wonderful (though, perhaps, focused less on the time traveller’s wife).

    I love that you hate the plot twist. I think there’s at least one plot twist in literature that bothers all of us. Have you read Misery? That book haunts me because of the, to me, biggest plot twist of all at the end. Very spooky. Plot twists can be hauntingly used, and I wonder if the story of Dorian Gray stays with you longer because of this one?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think for me, the lack of explanation breaks the fantasy a bit. I get side tracked wondering how it works and then I stop being absorbed in the story. It’s not always the case though, there are books that don’t explain every little thing and it doesn’t bother me – maybe it’s because, even though I enjoyed Dorian Gray, I didn’t find it a very easy read so had to concentrate quite a bit on it.

      I haven’t read Misery – who is it by and I’ll check it out.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay – interesting. So maybe it has something to do with level of difficulty… Misery is written by Stephen King. 🙂 You should check it out!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this. Thanks for sharing! And I’m sad to see that you hated the plot twist. I loved it, purely because how terribly executed it is. Either way, if you’re ever interested in some other great book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol i do agree with you – it was pretty badly executed, to the point where i didn’t really consider it a plot twist. It really just felt like Wilde had had a change of heart. I will certainly check out your blog and thanks for following mine! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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