18 July 2010

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray is gorgeous. No, really, he is. Just ask anyone, including Dorian. If 19th century England had People magazine, he'd snag Sexiest Man Alive every year. Sadly, though, as so many wise sages have pointed out, "Beauty fades." And Dorian is terrified of the idea that his youthful good looks will leave him. One day, after viewing a painting that his artist friend Basil has done of him, Dorian has a sudden fit of petulance, in which he wishes the portrait would age for him and that he would never have to have his stunning face marred by the effects of time. As luck would have it, his wish is mysteriously granted. He never ages, but the painting does. In fact, the painting doesn't just age; it also reflects all of the nasty sins and debauchery that Dorian engages in. Dorian initially finds this amusing and tries to see how much he can alter the picture through his own actions, but then things get complicated. As in involving murder complicated . . .

The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde's only novel. I am more familiar with Wilde's plays and his famous witty one-liners, of which I am a big fan. (Nobody comes close to Wilde when it comes to wielding sarcasm.) When I finally sat down to read this Victorian horror classic, I knew with Wilde as the author, it would be a true original. I was not in the least disappointed.

This is not one of those stories that's going to keep you up at night, expecting to be attacked by a boogie man. But it is creepy and very atmospheric. What I especially liked about it was the story's setting and tone. Most Victorian Gothics feature brooding country mansions and remote settings. I love these kinds of Gothics, but this tale is set in London and follows Dorian through the superficial urban upper class society that he is such an intrinsic part of. The resulting tone is amusing and at times more reminiscent of a comedy of manners that lampoons society's hypocrisy. This novel was denounced as hedonistic in its time, which amuses me because at one point in the book, Dorian's mentor, Lord Henry, explains that "The books that the world call immoral are books that show the world its shame." Speaking of Henry, he's easily my favorite character here. No, he is not the noblest character in this book. In point of fact, he's actually even more dissolute than Dorian. But Wilde gives Henry all of the best lines, including somewhat mystical sounding philosophical quips that never failed to put a smile on my face, even when they made absolutely no sense.

This book was written in the 1890s, so if you dislike the more flowery style of the 19th century, you may find this book a bit slow in spots. Nevertheless, The Picture of Dorian Gray is the fascinating tale of one man's moral collapse and the portrait that reflects his inmost secrets and haunts him relentlessly. Extra kudos for one of the best ending paragraphs I've read in a horror tale. If you're a fan of atmospheric literary horror or Victorian literature, you'll love this book.


Next Week: Hmm . . . I am not sure. I have a huge stack of books I am reading through as summer winds down, so I can't guarantee what will be reviewed next time.


This Week in Literary History:

16 July 1951: J.D. Salinger's classic coming of age novel The Catcher in the Rye is released. I must admit, when I first read this novel, I sorta hated it. Holden's rambling narration nearly drove me to the brink of insanity. But I talked to so many people who said the book changed their life and I felt like a bad English major for hating on it (and secretly I did love the episodic plot and the extremely realistic dialogue-like tone of the narration), so I kept reading this novel. It became a bit of an obsession to uncover what it was that was so magical about this book. Each time I read it, I liked it more. Finally, after the third read, something clicked and now I really like this novel and defend it to people who hate on it. The Catcher in the Rye features a complex protagonist with a memorable voice in an adventure that is alternately poignant and hilarious. I'd venture to say that you won't soon forget Holden Caulfield.


  1. Nice review, Zk. Very well-written and entertaining. I had to study this book in school, and it wasn't my favorite. I'm more of a Gatsby lover.

  2. This book always kind of haunted me. I'm glad you liked it, though. I liked it too! I listened to it on tape, and the narrator's voice was REAL scary. :O


  3. This book is another one of those waiting on my bookshelf for me to eventually read. I am keen to get to it though.

    Also, I understand you not liking Catcher in the Rye at first. It definately has a "what's so good about it?" vibe. But I love it. And... you already know how I feel about Holden :P

  4. Thanks so much for this wonderful review, Zella! I've had Dorian Grey sitting on my shelf for ages and I've always wanted to read it, but never gotten to that stage where I actually pick it up :P but after reading your review, I am definitely reading it! Thanks :)

  5. Hey, Penguins. Would you bring Dorian Gray with you to uni so I can read it? I keep running out of books :(

  6. @Christy: Thanks! Ah, yes, I am a big Gatsby fan myself. I just love the way Fitzgerald brings the 1920s to life.

    @Scott: Yes, it is haunting, especially the latter part when everything begins to spin out of control.

    @Penguins: Hehe Yes, Holden has his charm. :D Actually, one of the reasons I gave it another chance was because I saw that you and TheGenius93 liked it so well. I knew you guys both had great taste in books, so I wanted to go back and reread it. :)

    @Lucy: You're welcome! :)I would love to hear what you think of it when you do. This book sat on my shelf for awhile before I decided to read it this weekend.

    @The Chairman: I remember you talking about your book shortage. I hope you get some more books! A book shortage is cruel and unusual. :(

    Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting! :)

  7. Okay. I'm definitely going to read it now. I just have to convince my teacher to let me do it for extra credit. And I'm no longer afraid of it (for now at least).

  8. Yayayay! Tell me what you think of it when you finish it. :)

    Which English class are you taking?