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.